Growing Camellias in South Central Texas
Folks always want to grow what they shouldn't.
Being from Tennessee, I have to have an azalea. Trying to grow
azaleas is bad enough, trying to grow gardenias is bordering on
insanity and trying to grow an eastern-type pine tree is reason
enough for institutional commitment. So who cares if we eastern-born
types are weird -- we get homesick and want some of "the
homeland" in our backyards.
Several years ago I decided I wanted to plant a
camellia. Sounds simple enough—so I waltzed into Fanick
Garden Center and told John Fanick what I needed. Six hours later
he was still describing my options. I thought it was going to
be easy—like buying a car! Anyway, he finally decided what
I needed and gave me the advice of the century about planting
what you know you shouldn't plant, but that you're going to try
anyway. These plants include azalea, gardenia and my beloved camellia.
The Fanicks say to excavate the planting area,
dispose of the native soil and refill the hole with a mix of 1/3
washed sand and 2/3 peat. This mix will provide an acid medium
for years, enabling plant survival. Planting in our native South
Texas soil is a losing cause that creates an everlasting problem
of iron chlorosis (plants yellow due to a lack of iron). To grow
acid-loving plants such as azaleas or gardenias, use the artificial
growing media described above. Standard potting soil is not acid
enough, and will not maintain an acid condition over a long period
of time because of the alkalinity bombardment of water and soil
The camellia is considered by some to be the queen
of evergreen shrubs in the South and Southwest. If only for its
beauty of leaf and bloom, the camellia deserves a more prominent
place in our landscape but it must be handled carefully.
The camellia is a member of the tea family and
is native to semitropical forest areas. The soil conditions are
highly organic, light and well drained. The relative humidity
is high and rainfall is plentiful.
In our area, camellias prefer light shade and can
withstand winter temperatures as low as 10 degrees F. They grow
best in loose, fertile soil that is lightly acid and well drained.
They cannot tolerate "wet feet".
Camellia japonica, the common camellia, is the
most popular species. They bloom when few other plants do--in
late fall, winter and early spring. The blooms are among the most
perfectly formed of any in the world. They provide the best blooms
for cut-flower use since they are known for their formality, diversity
and lasting qualities. The colors vary from purest white, all
shades of pink and rose, to the deepest reds. The size of the
bloom varies from boutonniere to six or seven inches across. The
evergreen leaves are wax glossy and range from long and narrow
to almost round.
The belief that the camellia is a plant requiring
continual and specific maintenance and care is erroneous. They
are no more difficult to grow than any other woody landscape plant.
While the cost of camellias is somewhat higher than other species,
this is largely due to the slower growth rate and shipping costs
from growing centers in the Gulf Coast and California.
The selection of healthy container-grown plants
is best. The most important point is to purchase your Camellia
from a reputable nurseryman who can be relied upon to supply only
high quality plants. For most Texas locations, the mid-season
blooming varieties that bloom from November through February are
Several dependable varieties for San Antonio are
listed as follows:
Glen 40 - a beautiful deep red double boom; blooms
January - February. Japonica
Debutante - Produces lots of large peony-like double
blooms that are light pink in color (an early bloomer which blooms
in December). Japonica
Nuccio's Pearl - a fully double bloom that is white
with an orchid pink blush edge; blooms January - February. Japonica
Mathotiana Supreme – extra-large crimson
double bloom with loose and irregular petals; blooms January -
Kramer’s Supreme - deep red double bloom
with a peony form and a delightful fragrance; blooms January -
Pearl Maxwell - soft shell pink in a double form; blooms January
- February. Japonica
Nuccio's Gem - a formal to double sparkling white blooms; blooms
January - February. Japonica
If camellias are to produce maximum growth and flowers, they must
be planted in a growing medium that is rich in organic matter,
porous, moist and well drained. In areas where sub-surface drainage
remains a problem, camellias should be planted in raised beds
and mulched with organic material. Enough water should be applied
to moisten the soil to a depth of 15 to 18 inches. When watered
in this manner, they usually will require watering only every
10 days to two weeks during dry weather. Cultivation around camellias
should be avoided. A good mulch will discourage weeds. Camellias
don't like pampering. Plant healthy plants properly and they will
respond with a minimum amount of care.