Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How to Grow Camellias

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Camellia japonica “Red Red Rose”

As a foundation shrub, or a specimen plant, camellias (Camellia sp.) offer striking green foliage, elegant shaping, and brightly-colored blooms that make them one of the mainstays of the year-round garden. Almost any time of year, I can find a blossom or two on my camellias, and there is nothing lovelier than seeing the colorful flowers peeking out from under a late-winter snow. Here’s what you need to know to grow this nearly carefree shrub.

Features and Types of Garden Camellias

Like many landscape shrubs, there are thousands of cultivated camellia varieties and hybrids. In general, camellias have the following characteristics:

  • Size: Typically 6-15 feet tall, although there are smaller (2 ft.) and larger (to 20 ft.) varieties as well. Width is 5-7 feet.
  • Shape: Usually a dense upright shrub with a rounded, pyramidal, or small tree shape.
  • Foliage: Evergreen, glossy dark leaves.
  • Flowers: Large, rose like blooms with colors ranging from white to pink to red to yellow. A wide range of blossom size, shape, and color are available, including semi-double, double, and variegated blooms up to five inches across.
  • Growth: Slowish, around a foot per year.
  • Uses: Foundation plantings, borders, hedges, and specimen plants. Some varieties can be espaliered or grown as bonsai. Camellias can often be spotted as anchoring plants; their large size and dark green foliage provide structure, balance, and height to an overall garden design.

Camellia Species

There are two types of camellias very commonly seen in home gardens:


Sasanqua (left) vs. Japonica (right)

  • Japonica camellias (Camellia japonica) bloom in winter or early spring. They have large leaves and flowers and are the species most familiar to home gardeners.
  • Sasanqua camellias (Camellia sasanqua) have smaller, darker leaves along with smaller blossoms, and they bloom in the fall. Sasanqua camellias are hardier, more drought-tolerant and disease-resistant than japonicas, and many varieties can tolerate full sun.
  • Other varieties are available, including hundreds of species of camellias with even more cultivated varieties. Gardeners in zones 9 and higher can enjoy the lovely varieties of Camellia reticulata, and gardeners with less favorable growing conditions might find a good match in the many camellia hybrids available.

Planting more than one species will give your garden multi-season color. And, of course, as you take in the beauty of your camellias on a warm afternoon, you could also enjoy a beverage made from the leaves of another well-known species of camellia, Camellia sinensis, also known as the tea plant.


Camellia sasanqua “Setsugekka”

Planting and Growing Conditions

Your camellia will grow best in these conditions:

  • Climate: Most japonica and sasanqua camellias are hardy to zone 7, with a few varieties hardy to zone 6. Flower buds can be nipped by frost, so later-blooming varieties may do better in colder areas.
  • Light: Semi-shade or dappled shade.
  • Soil: Well-drained acidic soil (pH 6.0 to 6.5). Do not plant in waterlogged areas. Add plenty of organic matter to the planting hole to improve drainage.
  • Water: Camellias are moderate drinkers and not particularly drought-tolerant, although older plants are more adaptable.


Variegated blooms are eye-catching and colorful.

Planting Tips

  • Camellias need to be planted a little high, so that the top of the root ball is level with the surface of the soil. This helps water drain away from the trunk.
  • Camellia roots are shallow, so avoid planting them under shallow-rooted shade trees such as birch and maple. They are often grown in the light shade of tall, deep-rooted pine trees.
  • Smaller varieties can be grown in containers. Use a potting mix designed for camellias, azaleas, or rhododendrons for best results.


Camellia japonica “Pink Perfection”

Caring for Camellias

  • Pruning: Prune Camellia japonica after the spring bloom. Prune Camellia sasanqua in very early spring, before flower buds form. Usually all that’s needed is a light shaping, and pinching off the tips of branches will encourage more fullness.
  • Fertilizing: After they finish blooming, feed camellias lightly with a balanced fertilizer, or with a fertilizer designed for acid-loving plants. Use fertilizer sparingly as camellias do not require a lot of extra food. For better absorption, apply fertilizer in a wide circle around the shrub’s drip line, rather than concentrating it around the trunk.
  • Propagating: Camellias are most easily propagated by softwood cuttings, air layering, or grafting.


Camellia japonica “Midnight”

  • Blooming: Increase watering during bloom time to encourage full blossoms. As an optional practice, some growers remove flower buds (called “debudding”) to promote larger, showier blooms. To do this, you can simply remove a bud that is touching another, or you can remove all the interior buds and just leave the ones on the tips of the branches.
  • Mulching: Camellias need several inches of mulch to keep moisture levels and temperatures constant, but make sure the mulch doesn’t touch the trunk of the plant.
  • Water: Keep camellias watered, but not soggy. Water deeply to encourage deeper, more drought-tolerant roots. Water well before a hard freeze to prevent cold damage.


Tea scale is a common camellia infestation.

Problems, Pests and Diseases

  • Look underneath the leaves for signs of scale and spider mites, two main insect problems with camellias. Treat with insecticidal soap, spray, or alcohol.
  • To help prevent the fungus known as petal blight, rake up and remove fallen blooms and petals.
  • If the leaf veins are turning yellow, your soil pH may be too high. To find out, conduct a soil test and adjust as needed.
  • Camellias naturally shed older leaves, so a small amount of leaf loss is normal. Large amounts of dead, yellowed, or blotchy leaves can be a sign of disease.


Camellia sasanqua “Winter’s Fancy”

Further Information



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22 Comments on “How to Grow Camellias”

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  1. laura Says:
    August 13th, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    One camellia was planted within inches of our home. It is aobut 9′ tall. Will its roots destroy the foundation of our home?

  2. peter paling Says:
    March 9th, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Black soot like powder covering leaves, plus white and yellow lumps on the underside of leaves. Started about 12 months ago have hosed them down but still keeps coming. Would be thankful for any tips of what to do.
    THANK YOU,

    Peter G Paling

  3. Susanne Zamzow Says:
    March 21st, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Our flowers are gorgeous, but seem very heavy. They point to the ground. Most of the blossoms are low on the bush. It is such a shame that none of the blossoms face up. Do we need to stake? Nothing above mentions staking. What should we do????

  4. Karen Wells Says:
    May 4th, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Our Camilla produces buds but they fall off and never bloom. Help!!!!
    Thank you so much,

    Karen (Kay) Wells

  5. HelenS Says:
    May 19th, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    My camellia is very dense and the blooms turn brown. How do I prune it from the interior or otherwise?

  6. Ha Says:
    June 28th, 2012 at 6:55 am

    we live in austin ,TX . our summer is very hot . can i still plant camillia ? can you tell me how hot they can tolerate ?

  7. Nora Castro Says:
    July 16th, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Please help me, and I hope there is a solution to this. We bought this house and there were 3 different types of mature full grown camellia already the problem is the trunks go to the top of the house at least 10feet high eye level you only see a trunk no flowers because they are blooming at the top of the house really roof level. I would love to enjoy seening the blooms as I walk by daily and frequently. They have been shaped like a canopy. Who would do that you can’t enjoy the beauty of the flowers only if you toss your head back & look up 10 feet or more. please help. I truly would be appreciative!!!! p.s. the trunks are thick at least 3-4 inches diameter and they’re old trees like 10 years old most likely.

  8. Bev V. Says:
    November 14th, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    My Camilla is over ten years old but doesn’t grow although it has beautiful flowers. What do I need to do?

  9. james keith Says:
    January 22nd, 2013 at 11:23 am

    We have had our camilla about 7 years and have not had any trouble with it, but last year some kind of leaf eatting bugs almost ate up the bush. Every time I would look I could not find any bugs. We have sprayed the bush amd havent seen any new leaves eatten on. What kind of bug do you think they were

  10. Kelly Jordan Says:
    February 3rd, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    We have a young “Standard Camellia Japonica Tree” and it has just started developing leaves along the trunk (from top to bottom) which seem healthy enough, although the bottom ones seem to be coming along better than some at the top (odd ones at the top are turning dark before they’ve opened and then dropping off)We’ve only had it around 3 months and when bought was almost just a twig! Any help/tips would be appreciated as how to look after it, we are in the UK. Thanks.

  11. Carol Wojciechowski Says:
    March 4th, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    I am looking for a variety (in PINK) that grows well in Minneapolis. When do they bloom? the earlier the better, closest to late February. ???
    I want to send to a friend who lives there.

  12. mike rowlands Says:
    April 14th, 2013 at 7:15 am

    we have two camellias tried them in our borders, we had buds
    but no flowers. So we put them in pot,s we had buds and four flowers.That was last year this year no bud,s at all,we have had these about five years.can you help please

  13. pat conlon Says:
    August 9th, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    I planted a small camellia about 5-6 yrs ago and it never seemed to flourish. Last winter it had 2 blooms. Now it has quadroupled size, has many tiny buds but one grape size cranberry colored ? on it. I never saw what the blooms looked like before blooming and I don’t know if this “grape” is a problem? Can you please help???????

  14. judith marini Says:
    October 27th, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    I am concerned, my camelia is in full bud and it will be frosting soon. What should I do should I cover it with burlap of just mound up mulch

  15. Hala Barakat Says:
    October 29th, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    My one year old camellia tree lost all leaves and looks to me as a died tree my question is can it survive ??

  16. Michael Says:
    January 14th, 2014 at 9:02 am

    We live in North Central Florida and we have five camellias with about a quarter of the flowers having brown outer petals. I have only found five or six flowers with the entire flower having turned brown. So far this year it has only froze overnight twice but the outer petals have been brown before it froze. My question is: Is it petal blight?

  17. patricia Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    My camelia bush looks sooo healthy, almost 3 ft high. This is the 2nd yr I’ve had it but no blooms on it. Wonder why, it seems like ideal conditions for it, dappled shade, acidic ground etc.

  18. veselka Says:
    May 17th, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    our beautiful, normally heavily flowered camellia–by this time– looks like hell this spring–leaves are withered, golden brown and aiming to the earth…the buds set but are brown and dry…One of the five main trunks tho has green leaves and is trying to do its thing and bloom… looking pretty good..it was a fierce winter here on the jersey shore and i wonder that she weren’t healthy enough to fend off the deep cold..anybody have a similar camellia this spring? thanks out there :)

  19. Terri trampas Says:
    May 18th, 2014 at 9:44 am

    I live in South Florida I have a Camelia Tree medium size shiny green foliage. It was covered with beautiful red flowers when I purchased it. Now it always has buds but they never bloom. There doesn’t seem to be any bugs etc. on it. I have it in a pot on my patio. The location is West. it gets the hot afternoon sun. Would it do better in the ground in my front garden which is East exposure?

  20. Rhia tucker Says:
    May 24th, 2014 at 2:08 am

    Hello, this may seem like a silly question but I’m new to gardening but I want to buy a camellia tree, only a standard sized one about 3 ft or so. Ever since I saw my mother in laws camellia tree I’ve been in love with them and wanted to plant one in a large container in memory of my dear grandad but what I need to know is if I plant it in a large container will it grow, is there types of camellias that are certain sizes that won’t grow anymore? Because I want it to grow at least above my height. Is it a case that no matter what type of camellia tree I but it will grow by the size of the container it’s planted in?. Please please help :)

  21. J Wilkins Says:
    May 26th, 2014 at 11:07 am

    I have just noticed on my red camellia that there is a small fist sized growth on it, pale cream in colour,it appears to be like a piece of foam but it seems quite solid – any idea what it may be, please. I have two other camellias a white variety and a pink and they do not have any sign of such a “growth”.

  22. DEBORAH PARHAM Says:
    July 5th, 2014 at 10:21 am

    I LIVE IN CENTRAL FLA MY PLANT HAS PEAR LIKE THINGS ON IT I DO NOT KNOW WHAT KIND OF PLANT I HAVE BUT ITS ABOUT 12 YEARS OLD

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