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Growing Camellias in Colder Areas

Camellias are successfully grown as far north as Toronto, Canada and this is accomplished by reducing the winter stress in different ways. In colder areas, the Camellia must be placed to reduce the effects of winter and not necessarily where you want a winter blooming plant. The IDEAL PLACE TO PLANT a Camellia in a colder area is on the northern side of a building with evergreen trees blocking cold winds from the north. This kind of site provides winter shade, is close to a building, and is not exposed to drying winds. Any site which gives the plant shade at least half the day is beneficial; the shade can be from a building, fence or evergreen trees. Surrounding evergreen trees reduce winds which can dessicate the foliage. A site next to a building that is usually protected, alcoves, or walled areas are all good.

A plant growing under ideal conditions has much better resistance to cold damage, so extra work preparing the side is important. When choosing a site, the soil must be well draining, which means the soil should dry out quickly after heavy rains. I recommend making a bed of improved soil about 4-5 feet across by tilling in a 3-5 inch thick layer of compost. This will make a slightly raised be and the plant can be planted so the top of the root ball is even with the soil surface.

WATERING is necessary the first year until the plant establishes roots into the surrounding soil. I check the soil near the base of the plant and water when this starts to dry out half an inch down. Usually, about 1-2 times/week in the summer. A good deep watering which soaks the entire root ball is necessary; a ridge of soil forming a well around the plant allows the water to soak in slowly. Fertilize lightly in early spring with any garden fertilizer such as 10-10-10. I use the lowest recommended rate since it is easy to burn Camellias. Organic or slow release fertilizers work well since the nutrients are released over a longer period of time.

The BEST TIME TO PLANT in colder areas is after the last frost in Spring but early enough for the plant to go through one growing season in the ground before the cold hits. I suggest planting after the last frost date because plants from North Carolina will have leafed out early and the new growth is damaged by frosts. If a late frost is predicted, cover the plant with a garbage can or a cardboard box and it will usually be fine. The plant needs to be slowly exposed to colder temperatures to harden off and develop the best cold hardiness; this is why Spring or Early Summer planting is best!

The first winter, or any winter in extremely cold areas such as Toronto usually tests the plants, so EXTRA PROTECTION often helps. Dr. Ackerman recommends making a cone around the plant using microfoam, plastic, or bubblewrap. Providing extra leaf mulch is also helpful for adding insulation to the trunks of Camellia. Filling the space with dry leaves (preferably Oak leaves as they do not compact around the plant) during the coldest period of the winter will add some extra protection when temperatures fall below 10F. Other methods include using burlap to make a fence around the plant; this helps reduce wind damage. New materials used to insulate such as Remay or frost blankets may also help protect the plants during especially cold nights.