Six Ways to Design with Camellias in Your Garden

Six Ways to Design with Camellias in Your Garden

Low-maintenance and shade-loving, Camellias throw themselves into spellbinding bloom from late fall into early spring.

Available as trees or shrubs, Camellia flowers can be as simple as a wild rose while others are as full blown as a peony. While you’ll grow them for the flowers, the evergreen dark glossy leaves look great year round. Here are six ways we love to use them.

ABOVE Grow Pearl Maxwell Camellia for knockout blooms in beautiful, double, shell pink. Mid-late season. Filtered sun. Zone 8 - 10.

PHOTOS Top Doreen Wynja; Camellia headshots Richard Schiell

Romantic Hedges and Screens

Few Camellias are “fast" growers: they typically reach 6'– 12' in 10 – 15 years. But, if you plan to stay on a property or leave breathtaking beauty behind, plant a Camellia hedgerow. Sasanqua varieties and some hybrids grow more quickly than japonicas. But, the flowers of japonicas last longer, so it's a bit of a tradeoff. To help you decide which Camellia to plant as a hedge, consider your conditions in summer as sasanqua varieties can tolerate some sun.

Camellia hedges for beauty and privacy; (image source: unknown)

Carter’s Sunburst Camellia
Zone 8 – 10

Spectacular, double, medium-pink blooms streaked with ribbons of deeper pink. Filtered sun. Mid-season. Learn more

Nuccio’s Gem Camellia
Zone 8 – 10

Sparkling white, formal, double blooms shine against glossy, dark green foliage. Filtered sun. Mid-season. Learn more

Kramer’s Supreme Camellia
Zone 8 – 10

Deep red buds open to fragrant, peony-like, rosy-red blooms. Full shade to filtered sun. Mid-season.Learn more

Elegant Espalier

Where space is limited (or you just want a showstopping effect) Camellias can be trained to grow against a wall. Sasanqua varieties, with their open, arching growth are a good choice. Yuletide, Coral Delight, and Apple Blossom (below) are excellent options. Espaliers need work, especially over the growing season, but if you like to prune and shape plants, they’re right up your alley.

Camellia trained for Espalier; (image source: unknown)

Yuletide Camellia
Zone 7 – 10

Single, brilliant red blooms centered with bright yellow stamens make an elegant statement. Filtered sun. Mid-season. Learn more

Coral Delight Camellia
Zone 8 – 10

Coral pink, semi-double blooms are Hibiscus-esque with yellow stamens backed by lustrous foliage. Filtered sun. Mid-season. Learn more

Apple Blossom Camellia
Zone 7 – 10

Profuse, pink-edged white blooms with golden-yellow stamens. Filtered sun. Early to mid-season. Learn more

Statement Tree for Winter Interest

Camellias naturally grow as a small to medium shrub, but may be trained as a small tree. Choose a Camellia that’s naturally tall and wide, like the three below. Then, just after it’s finished blooming, prune away lower branches until you get the look you want. To train with multiple trunks, leave upright stems in place, or keep just three to five of the strongest. Remove the rest and any branches from the lower third of your keepers.

Multibranch Camellia tree, pruned to perfection; (image source: unknown)

Jean May Camellia
Zone 7 – 10

Shell pink double blooms. Deeper shades of pink blush towards the center like a first kiss. Filtered sun. Mid-season. Learn more

Nuccio’s Bella Rossa Camellia
Zone 8 – 10

Abundant, 4" wide crimson blooms open over a long bloom season. Full shade to partial sun. Late winter to mid-spring. Learn more

Debutante Camellia
Zone 8 – 10

Masses of early-blooming, large, light pink, peony style blooms. Full shade to filtered sun. Winter to early-spring. Learn more

Shady Understory Solution

While most of the more famous Camellias tend to be taller, there are plenty that stay small and compact. These varieties are ideal for planting under tall, open trees where water and soil conditions are compatible. Tall, deep-rooted pine trees are ideal. Avoid planting them under shallow-rooted shade trees such as birch and maple.  These are also a good solution to what to plant along a foundation on the shady side of the house.

Multibranch Camellia tree, pruned to perfection (source unknown)

Showa-No-Sakae Camellia
Zone 7 – 10

Lovely soft pink, semi-double flowers with ruffled petals and gold stamens. Filtered sun. Early to mid-season. Learn more

Fairy Blush Camellia
Zone 7 – 10

Deep pink buds open to reveal dainty, single, apple-blossom-colored blooms. Filtered sun. Mid-to-late season. Learn more

Buttermint Camellia
Zone 7 – 10

Beautiful, pale, buttery yellow, semi-double, ruffled, slightly fragrant flowers. Filtered sun. Mid-to-late season. Learn more

Gorgeous Groundcover

While there aren’t an endless variety of them, some of the sasanquas have a naturally low-growing, horizontal habit. They make for pretty fabulous groundcover in partial shade. Use them under trees, between taller Camellia shrubs, or on slopes — anywhere they can be left to ramble and branch out. Deer will munch on the pretty flowers (sigh), but they tend to leave the glossy, deep-green foliage alone.

Camellia sasanquas can make for great groundcover; (image source: unknown)

Chansonette Camellia
Zone 7 – 10

Profuse, brilliant pink, double blooms and with a short, pendulous habit. Filtered sun. Mid-season. Learn more

White Doves Camellia
Zone 7 – 10

Sparkling-white, semi-double blooms on a more compact, spreading form. Filtered sun. Mid-season. Learn more

Marge Miller™ Camellia
Zone 7 – 10

Full, soft pink flowers on a cascading shape. Luscious, like the frilliest of peonies. Filtered sun. Early. Learn more

Delightful Disguises

One of the best uses for Camellias is a way to hide not-so-lovely moments like unsightly fences or to add privacy. They're perfect for adding a shade-loving "something" you don’t want to fuss over.  Side of the garage? Somewhat narrow space along the driveway? The lattice or HOA-installed fence that’s not giving you the privacy you want? A wall of Camellia makes all that disappear behind beautiful evergreen foliage. 

Grow Camellias to hide unsightly views; (image source: unknown)

Chandleri Elegans Variegated Camellia
Zone 8 – 10

Spectacular, anemone form, rose pink blooms mottled with white. Filtered sun. Mid-season. Learn more

Setsugekka Camellia
Zone 7 – 10

Large, semi-double, ruffly white flowers with a bright cluster of golden stamens. Filtered sun. Mid-season. Learn more

Pink-A-Boo® Camellia
Zone 7 – 10

Large, fragrant, deep pink blooms are centered with bright yellow stamens. Filtered sun. Mid-season. Learn more

How to Grow Camellias that Thrive

Camellias have an undeserved reputation for being hard to grow.

Plant above the soil line: The most common mistake people make is planting them Camellias too deep. The trunk base should be just above the soil line. Add several inches of mulch to keep the roots cool.
In containers: Camellias are excellent container plants if they’re planted in appropriately sized, well-draining containers, such as wooden tubs or half-barrels.
Soil pH and composition: They’re acid-loving plants that do best when planted in well-drained soil amended with organic materials such as compost.
Fertilizer: Camellia shrubs need fertilizer, but not when they’re in bud or flower. Wait at least a month after they finish blooming, and then apply an acid-based fertilizer every eight weeks until they set their buds.
About bud drop: Some Camellias will drop buds. This can be a natural result of the shrub setting more buds than it can open or, more often, because it has not been planted with good soil drainage.
Light and siting: Camellias can add color to a northern or eastern deck or patio, or can be placed in the garden when there is filtered light from overhanging eaves or trees. The two most commonly grown kinds of Camellia are sasanquas and japonicas. Sasanquas, with their open, airy structure and smaller flowers and leaves, can handle more sun than japonicas. Sasanquas tend to bloom earlier, too. Japonicas are larger in size, with bigger leaves and flowers, and they thrive in shade. Japonicas tend to bloom later in the season.

Understanding Camellias' Bloom Season

Camellias are categorized by bloom times, and blooming periods can vary for warmer or cooler locations. Here are some general rules of thumb about Camellias' bloom season:

Sasanquas (Camellia sasanqua) bloom early to midseason
Japonicas (Camellia japonica) from mid to late season
Hybrids can bloom anytime from early to late season
Early blooms can happen October to December
Late bloomers shine from April to May


Crave inspiration for using Camellias as cut flowers? Read more

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