The camellia shown in this stamp design is not a specific species. It was taken from a painting by Lowell Nesbitt.
Camellias bloom when few other plants do -- in late fall, winter, or early spring. Two species of camellias are grown in North Carolina. Camellia japonica has glossy leaves, dense foliage, and large blooms from late winter through early spring. Sasanqua camellias tend to be more open, have small leaves, and usually small, single blooms in the fall.
There are hundreds of camellia cultivars. Bloom color ranges from white to pale pink to dark red. There are single and double blooms -- some flowers are up to five inches in diameter. Camellias are hardy in USDA Zones 7 and 8, some cultivars can be grown in Zone 6. Camellia japonica is normally hard to 10°F, but sudden changes in temperature can damage the foliage or kill open flower buds. Sasanqua camellias are more cold hardy -- tolerating temperature as low as 5°F. Many new cultivars have exceptional winter hardiness.
Camellias grow best in partial shade -- they do not like early morning or late afternoon sun. Red blooming cultivars are more sun tolerant then white or pink flowering cultivars. In the winter camellias need protection from direct sun and drying winds. A planting site under tall pine trees or on the north or west side of a building is ideal. Plants grown in full sun may develop leaf scorch.
Inspect plants closely before buying. Look for wounds or scars at the base of the plant that can become cankerous and cause the plant to die. Check the root system as well. Look for white roots. If the roots are brown, the plant have been poorly cared for or may have a soil borne disease. Examine sasanqua foliage for small dead branches -- it could be camellia die back disease.
Camellias grow best in a loose, well-drained soil that is slightly acid. A pH between 5.5 and 6.5 is recommended. Take a soil test before planting. Late fall to early spring is the best time to plant camellias. Space plants according to their mature size. Most cultivars will spread 6 to 8 feet in diameter. Some cultivars are more upright. Space plants about 6 feet apart when planting a hedge.
Camellias are shallow rooted: they do not like "wet feet." Select a site that is well drained or plant in raised beds or mounds. Camellias must have good soil aeration or they will die from drowning or root rot. Incorporate a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic matter such as pine bark mulch before planting. Do not use peat moss! With the possible exception of superphosphate (0-46-0), no fertilizer should be used at planing.
Its best to prepare an entire bed instead of planting in individual holes. Individual holes should be two to three times as wide as the root ball. The depth of the hole should be the same as the root ball. Avoid planting too deep. It is a frequent reason young plant die. After planting, apply a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch. Pine straw or pine bark nuggets is recommended.
Many homeowners over-fertilize their camellias. Its best to not fertilize the first growing season or to apply a light application of cotton seed meal or a slow release fertilizer. Over fertilization in future years will result in a loose open growth habit that spoils the natural compact appearance of camellias. Apply 8 to 16 ounces of cotton seed meal per plant.