Name: camellia, sasanqua, Camellia japonica, Camellia sasanqua cvs.
Plant type: evergreen flowering shrub.
Height: variable, from 50cm to 5m+.
Foliage: mostly oval shaped, slightly serrated edges, glossy deep green, around 5cm long by 3cm wide.
Climate: tropical and sub-tropical, warm temperate and protected areas in cold temperate.
Soil: best in quality, well-drained soil, but adaptable to most types.
Position: full-sun to part shade.
Flowering: late summer through to early winter. Whites, pinks and some rosy-reds.
Feeding: annual application of controlled-release fertiliser balanced for acid-loving plants.
Watering: reliable moisture, especially in warmer months, is essential.
A camellia offers masses of blooms into the cooler months, a naturally neat growth habit, and is a strikingly handsome plant even when not in flower, with glossy deep-green foliage.
Part of the beauty of the sasanqua camellia is its diversity. Despite technically being the same species, there can be vast variations in size and form. They’ll all have similar flower and foliage forms, but sizes range from a petite 50cm all the way through to some species that, with age, can reach over 5m.
The camellia’s growth habits also vary, from a neat upright bun, to spreading forms, to almost columnar shapes. This means you can find a sasanqua in a size and form to suit almost any need.
The camellia’s flowering display is nothing short of spectacular. It’s not unusual to see plants so covered in blooms that they all but conceal the foliage. The flowers are generally quite simple—a flattened layer of petals with a distinctive central boss of stamens. In some varieties the petals may be more ruffled, or double layer.
The camellia used to be commonly planted as an individual feature plant, often in the centre of the lawn in its own bed. Today it is used in all manner of situations, including:
The amount of sunlight required may vary with different varieties, so always check the label. The rough rule of thumb is full sun through to part shade. Camellia plants in heavier shade will generally need more pruning to keep them bushy. Some growers recommend avoiding a position of early morning sun, as any dew or frost on the flowers can cause browning of petals when the sunlight hits the water droplets.
The sasanqua camellia prefers soil that is neutral to slightly acid—a pH of 5.0 to 6.5 will suit them well. The soil should be 30+cm deep, free-draining and reasonably fertile. In short, most varieties of camellia will perform well in normal, well cared for garden soil or quality potting mix.
Reliable moisture is essential, especially across peak flowering and leaf growth periods. The best way to optimise water use and keep moisture levels stable is to ensure your camellia is kept well mulched.
For the best results, improve the soil at planting time by following these steps:
Feed the camellia annually with a quality controlled-release fertiliser that’s balanced for acid-loving plants. Mulch well to help keep moisture levels stable and to add nutrition to the soil. Before mulching, side-dress with well-composted cow manure. Ensure watering is adequate and appropriate during peak flowering and leaf growth periods and during hot or dry times.
Younger plants should be regularly tip pruned to encourage bushiness. The longer-term habit of density is created by this pruning while young. After flowering, lightly trim the plant to bring on a new growth flush and to further develop density.
Hedges can be pruned as required, but remember that pruning any later than spring or early summer may mean you are removing next season’s flower buds. Sasanquas can tolerate extremely heavy renovation pruning if required, so if you have an older plant that is looking lacklustre, don’t be afraid to prune it back hard.
The camellia plant experiences very few problems with diseases and pests. Aphids may infest new flower or leaf shoots, but these are easily dealt with using a pyrethrum-based spray. Camellia tea mite can be a problem – the best prevention is to keep plants healthy.
The sasanqua will often readily produce seed if given the opportunity, but this is not generally seen, as pruning post-flowering removes the spent flowers that would develop into seed capsules.
If you do locate some seed, it can be sown into a quality propagating mix and kept moist in a warm location. You’ll find they germinate quite readily. The resulting plants will likely have very different flower colours and forms to the parent plant.
The easiest and most reliable cuttings for the home gardener are semi-hardwood, taken in early to mid summer. Take new growth as the colour of the bark starts to change from green to brown. Dip the end into a cutting gel and then pop into a pot of propagating mix. Keep warm and moist as the shoots develop.
Rose: loves similar conditions, and the sasanquas will form a brilliant backdrop for your rose bushes.
Rhododendron: these acid-soil lovers make great companions for camellias, as they’ll thrive in shady spots.
Liriope: tolerating sun and shade, liriope is an excellent lower-tier planting to add beneath sasanquas.
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