Camellias' blooms warm the winter

With a little care, these Southern favorites can take Maryland's weather

In The Garden

March 07, 2004|By Jennifer Lehman | Jennifer Lehman,Sun Staff

Blooming in vibrant shades of pink and red, camellias are one of the most popular flowers in the South.

In Maryland, camellias are able to survive the often rapidly changing temperatures with only a moderate amount of care, says longtime grower Zenobia Kendig.

Kendig, treasurer of the Pioneer Camellia Society of Maryland, says fertilizers should be organic and used on camellias during the spring.

"You don't want to stimulate a lot of new growth in the late summer," Kendig said. "They might be very tender and freeze [during the winter]. ... You want to have established growth. The thing to do is put fertilizer in the spring."

Kendig has been growing camellias at her home in Lutherville for more than 25 years. A former president of the camellia society, Kendig has four greenhouses, three of which are filled with camellias.

Camellias' blooms may be shaped like roses, peonies or anemones. Two of the most popular species are Camellia sasanqua and Camellia japonica.

According to John Thornton Hilleary, president of the Pioneer Camellia Society, japonica is the best species to plant in Maryland.

"They are a little more hardy and solid," he said. "The farther north you get, the less chance you have of [camellias] growing."

The main difference between the two species is the time in which the flowers bloom. Sasanquas usually flower earlier, in October or November, while most japonicas flower in January, February or March. Sasanquas grow quicker, are more upright and have more flowers than the japonicas. However, the japonica's blooms are more showy than the sasanqua's.

Due to Maryland's frigid winters and hot summers, camellias need to be protected from drastic temperatures. Wind is one of the greatest dangers that camellias face, Kendig said, suggesting that they be planted on a side of the house away from the wind.

"Outdoors I try to cover them ... the deer like to eat them. If you can cover the lower parts of the plant, well, then you have helped a lot," she said.

Kendig keeps the temperature of her greenhouses at 50 degrees because extreme temperatures might turn the buds brown.

"Inside temperatures are too warm. They would dry them out. They wouldn't do well," she said.

Hilleary suggests planting camellias in a wooded area as a way of protection from the weather.

The American Camellia Society recommends a well-drained, slightly acid soil. Kendig agreed that drainage is a very important aspect to keeping camellias healthy and blooming. They should be planted high in the soil and watered regularly. However, camellias should not be given too much water at one time.

"Because of their root system, you can't have the roots submerged," Kendig said. "Too much water will kill anything, and that will be the end of it."

Defending plants against insects, diseases

* Insects: A common insect pest of camellias is tea scale, which attaches to the underside of leaves. A typical symptom of infestation is yellow splotches on the upper surface of leaves. With a large infestation, the undersides of the leaves are covered by a cottony mass. If the infestation is light, scales can be scraped off the plant and discarded. Spraying with dormant oil in spring before new growth begins will kill some adults and eggs by smothering them. If necessary, several insecticides are available.

* Diseases: One of the most serious and difficult to control is camellia flower blight. Brown spots appear on the petals and quickly enlarge to cover most of the flower. The entire flower turns brown and usually drops within 24 to 48 hours. The best way to avoid blight is through good sanitation practices.

Pull off and destroy all infected flowers. Rake up and remove all leaves, flowers and plant debris that have fallen to the ground. Replace the mulch under the plant. Since spores of the fungus can be windborne for up to a mile, keep an eye on all of the camellias in your neighborhood. Contact the Extension Service if you see signs of blight.

-- Knight Ridder / Tribune

Resources

The Pioneer Camellia Society of Maryland meets at 2 p.m. on the first Sunday of the month, usually at the Cockeysville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library, 9833 Greenside Drive.

American Camellia Society, 100 Massee Lane, Fort Valley, GA 31030, www.camellias-acs.com or 478-967-2358

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