Camellias Big and Small
Ornamental thrives in cool temperatures
It is time to brighten the home landscape during the winter with colorful blooms. Camellias will add natural color that will return each year for decades when the days are short and the weather cools.
January and February are an ideal time to install new camellias in the landscape. This allows ample time to get this flowering ornamental established before the rigors of hot weather arrive.
Japonicas are a larger variety of camellias, which can grow and be shaped into a small flowering tree. Sasanqua varieties are smaller and often used as foundation plants and blooming hedges in the home landscape.
Both take readily to proper pruning and shaping soon after their flowering is finished in the spring.
Camellias grow well in moderately acidic soils with a pH between 5.0 and 6.5. This may require soil amendments when planting as sand or alkaline readings will greatly limit the potential for success.
Peat moss is ideal for mixing with substandard soil, usually on a 50/50 basis. The peat moss adds organic matter and helps to acidify the soil.
Leave the root ball 1–2 inches above the soil’s surface when installing. Never plant below the soil line as there is always some settling over time.
To help maintain the soil’s acidity, mulch with oak leaves and/or pine straw. Oak leaves also add some nutrients and organic matter to the camellia’s root zone.
This ornamental is not salt tolerant. Its growing zone must also be well drained and not retain excess water.
Winter is a good time to transplant shrubs and small trees in the home landscape. With a little planning and a deft touch, the plant will successfully initiate growth in its new location as spring returns.
There are three important factors to consider when moving a plant or tree to a new site. The success of the relocation depends on these variables.
First, there must be enough space for the plant to reach its full growth potential. Any adjacent structures, trees and other objects must be considered.
Second, the light needs of the plant must be recognized and met. Whether full sun, filtered light or heavy shade, the plant will not flourish if too much or too little light occurs in the new location.
The soil type and condition must be correct. Plants that grow in well-drained soils rarely perform well in typically saturated environments. The pH or acidity/alkalinity needs of the plant must be addressed.
Raking leaves and pine straw is an inevitable part of winter in North Florida. In most cases, homeowners use the debris as mulch for flower beds and around trees. This is a great use of organic material that would otherwise go into the county’s waste stream. In cooler months, it acts as insulation against frigid events. Mulching also adds nutrients to the soil, improves water-holding capacity and improves the plants’ performance, if done correctly. A big mistake when mulching is known as volcano mulching. This is when leaf litter is piled up around the trunk of the tree or woody ornamental in a cone or volcano shape. The dead leaf material will hold moisture against the plant’s bark. It becomes an ideal environment for disease and/or insect damage, which occurs when the dampness remains in long-term contact. Leave about 6 inches of space between the mulch and the plant’s trunk.
Les Harrison is a retired University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Wakulla County extension director.