Why is it that camellias are overlooked by so many gardeners? Could it be because their dramatic and exotic blooms give the impression that they are difficult to look after? This couldn’t be further from the truth as these gorgeous plants are simple to grow and only need the minimum amount of care once they are established.
To do well camellias need a shady and sheltered situation. One thing they can’t tolerate is early morning winter sun when the buds are frosted as this can cause them to thaw too quickly and drop off, so for preference choose a west facing aspect.
Before planting prepare the soil carefully. Camellias are lime haters and grow best in well-drained acid or neutral soil that has been enriched with lots of garden compost, well rotted manure or leaf mould. If your soil isn’t suitable this doesn’t mean that you have to miss out as camellias can be grown very successfully in containers filled with ericaceous compost. I have two potted camellias and after nearly twenty years they are still thriving. One is a deep-pink semi-double named ‘Debbie’ and for beginners I would really recommend this variety. After a few blooms that appeared much too early the plant is covered in buds just waiting to flower. My other plant is an unnamed deep pink water lily variety bought at a plant fair. Choose a large, deep pot, preferably not less than 45cm across and 30cm deep, and make sure it has adequate drainage.
Wherever you are growing your plant it will need careful watering in the summer. Not enough water during a spell of dry weather is the most common reason for buds dropping in the winter but being waterlogged because of poor drainage can have the same result. If some of the leaves begin to turn yellow the most probable cause will be lack of nutrients. To stop this happening feed with a balanced liquid fertiliser in spring and autumn and mulch every year with garden compost or manure – never use mushroom compost as this contains lime. I always use a feed formulated especially for camellias, it takes some of the guess work out!