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Darrell Blackwelder: Tis the season for camellias

Glossy, green foliage and colorful fall blooms make camellia sasanquas a favorite in Southern landscapes. Integrating this shrub into the landscape extends a bit of spring into late fall.
Camellia sasanquas are in full bloom now while camellia japonica blooms in late winter to early spring. The larger- leafed camellia japonica is somewhat more difficult to grow than sasanqua camellias.
Site selection should be carefully considered before planting camellias. These plants are somewhat exacting to exposure and drainage. Camellias grow best in well-drained, slightly acid soils (pH of 5.0-6), rich in humus. Most soils in Rowan County would benefit from additional organic matter, such as ground pine bark or well-rotted sawdust. Adding Permatil, a soil amendment, along with organic matter, improves the workability of tight clay soils.
A soil test helps determine the soil’s nutritional needs, especially for soils deficient in phosphorus. However, additional phosphorus can be added for bloom and root growth. Bone meal, 0-20-20 or 0-46-0, supplies extra phosphorus necessary for showy blooms and vigorous growth.
Sasanquas are more tolerant of sun and cold temperatures than japonicas. These shrubs make colorful hedge rows or can be placed as a specimen plant.
Moisture is critical for survival during the first three years after planting. Camellias are shallow rooted and should not be allowed to dry out. Frequent watering may be required during hot summer months or during fall droughts.
Trickle or drip irrigation is an ideal method of supplying water to the camellia’s shallow root system. Beware ó over-irrigating is just as serious as under-watering. Waterlogged soils often promote root diseases, which gradually kill the plant.
Mulches conserve water during hot, dry summer months. Three to four inches of pine needles or pine bark is recommended as mulching material.
Camellias are acid-loving plants with similar nutritional requirements as azaleas and rhododendron. Specialty azalea/camellia fertilizers are available at garden shops and retail outlets throughout Rowan County. Slow release fertilizers work well because they seldom burn plants when properly applied.
Complete fertilizers should be applied in April and again in June as a split application. Never lime azaleas or camellias. Avoid placing wood ashes near camellias or azaleas, since the ashes raise the soil pH.
Scale insects can be a problem in early summer. Check the underneath of leaves frequently and spray with a recommended insecticide to control these pests. Be sure to thoroughly read and understand the label before applying any pesticide. Contact the Cooperative Extension Service if you have a question about pesticide application.
Camellia sasanquas and japonicas are often grafted with named varieties so their price tag is a little higher than other shrubs. But the foliage and showy blooms in the fall are well worth the extra cost.
Darrell Blackwelder is an agricultural agent in charge of horticulture with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Call 704-216-8970.
Web sites:
http://www.rowanmaster gardener.com
http://rowan.ces.ncsu.edu

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