Winter beauty


Few landscape plants make more impact in winter than camellias. The sasanqua types bloom in late fall and early winter, while the common or japonica types bloom from mid-winter to early spring. I have several at school that are blooming now and they are gorgeous.

These evergreen shrubs can grow to be rather large specimen plants and reach heights of 15 feet. They tolerate many different soil types but prefer rich, moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soil high in organic matter. Camellias are shallow-rooted, so they should not be planted deeply and the soil should not be packed down on their delicate fibrous roots.

It helps to mulch around the plants with organic mulch. This also moderates ground temperatures. Camellias aren’t heavy fertilizer users but sometimes benefit from preparations similar to those used on hollies or azaleas. They tolerate full sun but thrive in a partially shaded environment. Yellowish leaf color is more likely caused by too much sun than lack of fertilizer or disease. Too much fertilizer causes weak growth. It can also make them more susceptible to disease.

Plants normally require little pruning. The best time to cut them back is right after they bloom. Trimming them in fall is not a good idea, since it will eliminate much of their flowering.

Common camellia in February

Common camellia in February

Deer damage to camellias is variable. They are ravaged less than azaleas but are not immune to occasional browsing. Unfortunately, flower buds are the most likely parts deer eat and these develop at a time when other food is scarce.

Like many common landscape plants camellias have uses beyond mere beauty. Common and sasanqua camellias are close relatives of commercial tea plants (Camellia sinensis). These ubiquitous landscape ornamentals can be used to make tea as well. It can be fun to experiment.

Trim young shoot tips from new growth in spring. You should be able to accomplish this with your thumb and finger, so only pinch back what will easily snap off. No pruning shears are necessary.

Crush these leaves in your hands and put them in a cardboard box, basket or similar container. Separate and remove the stems and let crushed leaves ferment in a cool dark place for a few days. Make sure humidity is not too high or they will mold.

Now comes the roasting, which will cure the leaves and bring out the flavor. Place your leaves on a flat tray in a cool oven (no more than 220 degrees) for up to three hours depending on dryness. Don’t let it get too hot or your tea will have a burnt flavor.

Camellia flowers also make great tea. Its flavor is similar to green tea. Flowers are also cooked with gelatinous rice to make a Japanese food called mochi.

My greatest love for camellias is that they provide much needed beauty and life during a time when most plants are dormant. As far as I am concerned they are indispensable in the landscape. They may not have the aroma of cape jasmine, lilac or magnolia, but showy blooms from November to April (depending upon the type) are tough to beat.

 

Common camellia in full bloom - February 2013

Common camellia in full bloom – February 2013

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture in northeastern North Carolina.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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16 Responses to Winter beauty

  1. shyrewelch says:

    Really beautiful flower!

  2. these flowers look really neat ,especially winter flowers

  3. It’s cool that these flowers bloom in the fall and early winter. The flower looks beautiful. And the evergreen shrubs get mighty tall.

  4. its really neat how the flowers look while their blooming

  5. These evergreen shrubs grow up to heights of about 41/2 meters tall. It helps the plant more if you plant them around organic mulch. Too much fertilizer will cause them weak growth and make them more open to diseases.

  6. These evergreen shrubs can grow to be rather large specimen plants and reach heights of 15 feet.Camellias are shallow-rooted, so they should not be planted deeply and the soil should not be packed down on their delicate fibrous roots.Plants normally require little pruning. The best time to cut them back is right after they bloom. Trimming them in fall is not a good idea, since it will eliminate much of their flowering.

  7. Morgan Murray says:

    I never knew that these evergreen shrubs can grow up to two feet. They are really beautiful flowers. They must be really easy to keep up with since they don’t require much pruning.
    Pruning them in the fall is not a good idea since it will eliminate much of their flowering.

  8. Sam DeLaVergne says:

    I absolutely love the colors of these flowers. It’s interesting how these flowers can keep blooming in the winter even with the cold temperature.

  9. jordan2197 says:

    Really beautiful flower. These evergreen shrubs grow up to heights of about 41/2 meters tall. Too much fertilizer will cause them weak growth and make them more open to diseases. its really neat how the flowers look while their blooming. It’s cool that these flowers bloom in the fall and early winter. The flower looks beautiful. And the evergreen shrubs get mighty tall.

  10. These flowers are so pretty. I love to see these flowers in the fall and winter time. Its pretty neat how you can use these flowers to make tea. I think ill try it some time.

  11. curtis24 says:

    This shrub is really beuatiful.It helps to mulch around the plants with organic mulch.The best time to cut them back is right after they bloom. Trimming them in fall is not a good idea, since it will eliminate much of their flowering.

  12. ashleychory says:

    These evergreen shrubs can grow to be rather large plants and reach heights of 15 feet.Camellias are shallow-rooted, so they should not be planted deeply and the soil should not be packed down on their delicate fibrous roots.Plants require little pruning. The best time to cut them back is right after they bloom. Trimming them in fall is not a good idea, since it will eliminate much of their flowering.

  13. winter has always been my favorite season mainly because of the weather and all of the types of colors and types of plants there are.

  14. It’s cool that these flowers bloom in the fall and early winter also its call the can still bloom in the winter. its a very pretty plant

  15. trevashley96 says:

    These flowers are truly beautiful. I knew a little about them but I never knew you could use them to make tea. I enjoy drinking tea so I’ll have to try it sometime.

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