Over recent years the humble camellia has fallen out of favour due to the misconception that it is a water guzzling species. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Camellias, once established, are hardy and will thrive with only a little care. For warmer positions, plant Camellia sasanqua varieties which will flower early and be massed with colour from April to July and will thrive as a hedge. Camellias will add structure to the garden and even when not in flower will form a feature with their dark green glossy foliage.
Camellia japonica produce less flowers than the sasanqua varieties but what they lose in numbers they make up for in size as the flowers are usually spectacular in form. Japonica flowers are regularly used for floral art and they create the most spectacular floral floating bowls.
Camellias require acidic soil and will struggle in the alkaline sands next to the coast. Plant them in pots or large mixed containers in acid potting mix especially for camellias and azaleas. Add a little coarse washed river sand (often sold as children’s play sand) to the potting mix before planting; this is particularly important for plants that will be in pots for a long period of time as it assists in the drainage. The best fertiliser for potted camellias is a controlled release formulation for camellias and azaleas which is applied at the beginning of spring and autumn.
When it comes to pruning camellias, only reach for the secateurs if the bush becomes too large or out of shape. Camellias are incredibly well behaved plants and require minimal pruning.
Written by Sue McDougall, a qualified horticulturalist and experienced garden centre owner who grew up in the WA wheatbelt and has had experience in gardening throughout the entire state. You may know Sue as the garden expert on 6PR radio and by her many TV appearances.