A couple of years ago, grandma asked me for some help with her camellias as they had been producing poor blooms – despite the plant itself being fairly healthy. Like with most things in the garden, it often comes down to knowing your plants. Whilst there are some general seasonal rules for pruning and maintenance, it does help to understand individual needs too. The RHS have produced a fantastic resource (click here) that categorises many common garden shrubs into pruning groups. Camellias fall into pruning group 8 – early flowering evergreens. The advice is:
Some winter, spring and early summer-flowering evergreens are best left unpruned except for removal of unsightly shoots and deadheading, unless some shaping is required. Examples include Rhododendron, Camellia, box, laurels and Viburnum tinus. Some deciduous shrubs also fall into this group.RHS Website
Whilst formative pruning is required in order to keep your plant in the desired shape, ensure this is kept to a minimum and follows best horticultural practice by taking shoots back to an appropriate node.
On top of this, I would say that it is very important to establish a routine with your plant. I came to discover that the problem with my grandmas camellia was simply that she was (lightly) pruning it like a rose – i.e. at the wrong time of year. I have found the best time to prune camellias is in the summer, straight after they have finished blooming. On top of this, give them a generous feed in the spring & a lighter feed mid summer. This enables the new growth to harden up a bit before the winter cold rolls in. I would say that unless your shrub is suffering from a specific pest or disease, the majority of ‘unhealthy looking shrubs’ can be put down to incorrect maintenance or incorrect positioning.
- Camellias are fine to be grown in containers.
- New ones are best planted in the autumn.
- Keep well watered through summer (even though it may no longer be blooming).
- Plant in partial shade if possible.
- The soil type and feed needs to be ericaceous to keep the plant happy.
- Make sure secateurs are sharp and clean before pruning to prevent spreading and causing the dreaded three D’s.