There is something to be said about a plant species that allows us to enjoy a lovely, sometimes fragrant bloom when most other plants have entered their dormant phase.

When the days get shorter and the light seems to fade, the camellias take center stage and offer us a magnificent spectacle from the beginning of autumn to winter through the beginning of spring. Don’t they deserve to be in our landscape?

There are over 200 species of camellias and thousands of varieties around the world. Most are grown for tea production, including green, white, black, and oolong teas. Here in North Carolina, they are primarily grown for their ornamental value with white flowers and shades of pink and red. The two most common species are japonica and sasanqua and their cultivated hybrids. Camellia japonica will grow up to twenty feet tall and six to ten feet wide. These towering conifers bloom from early winter to spring.

Camellia sasanqua will grow to ten feet tall and three to five feet wide. Although smaller than Japonica, they have more abundant flowers from late fall through winter. A third species of camellia, camellia sinensis (camellia tea) can also be cultivated in our state. As the name suggests, it is mainly used for the production of tea. Although it also blooms, it is not normally used for landscaping purposes.

Camellias can be useful as specimen plants, as borders or hedges, as foundation plantings and as screens. They prefer acidic, well-drained soil in partial shade with protection from the afternoon sun. They bloom anywhere from three to six weeks. Planting different varieties in the landscape can help ensure color succession from September to May. Allow a good amount of space as they have shallow roots and slow growth. Mulch well and provide plenty of water. A fractional application of fertilizer containing 10-16% nitrogen is recommended in the spring.

Fungal diseases of camellias include dieback, flower blight, root rot and leaf gall. Try to use resistant cultivars. Good drainage and the removal of infected twigs, flowers, and debris will help minimize spread. If the use of a fungicide is necessary, check with your local extension office. Camellias possess several types of pests on a scale. Tea scale, camellia scale, and peony scale are the most common. Look for the yellow spots on the upper surface of the leaves when the weather warms up. Control with insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils can be effective, but timing is essential as these little buggers are only vulnerable at certain stages of their development. For more information, visit hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/camellia/.

Camellias have been around for hundreds of years. They can live for a long time and add beauty to the landscape with their attractive foliage and colorful flowers. Give them the proper care and growing conditions and you will be richly rewarded, even on the darkest days.

Gail Griffin is a volunteer master gardener with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.

Gail Griffin is a volunteer master gardener with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.