Monday, November 23, 2015

Fall-blooming Camellias

My most recent plant passion is fall-blooming camellias.  Jack and I acquired our first camellias several years ago. The first one we bought was a spring-bloomer, Camellia japonica 'Pearl Maxwell'. The larger foliage and tighter growth habit of the Japonica makes it a generally better-looking shrub but late freezes sometimes interfere with its bloom. Such has been the case with ours. It puts on a lot of buds, but our warm days in early March encourages the blooms to open. Then a freeze comes along and turns the blossoms to mush. So most years we don't get a lot of enjoyment from the blooms. If you look closely, you can see the buds it has set for next spring.

Camellia japonica 'Pearl Maxwell'

I later heard that we often have better luck in our growing zone with Camellia sasanqua, the fall-blooming variety of Camellia. I bought the fall-bloomer shown below, 'Winter's Joy', several years ago, and it has grown well and is rewarding me with a heavy bloom this fall. Winter's Joy will be a large camellia; it is already over 8 feet fall. Notice that in comparison with the japonica variety above, the growth habit of this sasanqua looks pretty scraggly. Part of this is due to the fact that I haven't yet pruned this young plant, but in general, sasanquas, compared with japonicas, seem to have a more open growth habit, as well as smaller leaves. 

Camellia sasanqua 'Winter's Joy'

Here's a closer look at the blossom on 'Winter's Joy'. It has been blooming for about six weeks now and still has buds yet to open.

Camellia sasanqua 'Winter's Joy'

Last fall we planted this one, 'Autumn Sentinel'. 'Autumn Sentinel' is a columnar camellia maturing at around 10 feet. It is called a "peony camellia" because its delicate blossoms resemble a peony, looking like this when it first opens: 
Camellia sasanqua 'Autumn Sentinel'

and maturing to this:
Camellia sasanqua 'Autumn Sentinel'

By selecting species and cultivars with various bloom times, you can have a camellia blooming  in your garden almost continuously from October through May. This is an excellent time of year to select a sasanqua camellia, since many are in bloom now. In particular, I think the "October Magic" series of cultivars are lovely. See 'October Magic Inspiration' here

Most of our local nurseries carry camellias. The Dabney Nursery has an entire greenhouse devoted to them (including many of the October series). For cold hardiness, Dabney Turley suggests looking for a plant with a cold word like "winter" or "snow" in its cultivar name. Here's a link to a selection of  winter camellias hybridized for cold hardiness by the National Arboretum.

Lest I lead you to believe that pink is the only color of camellias, let me mention that there are many red, white, pinks, and mixtures of these colors. I guess my favorite color is obvious  . . . .

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