On Gardening: Early Autumn Camellia japonica a show-stopper

November 3, 2014

Early Autumn Camellia japonica, is simply amazing and should be shouted from the mountain top. Unfortunately it has to be the best kept secret in the world of gardening. Each year, just like clockwork this incredibly beautiful camellia starts loading up with its prized blossoms the first week of October.

Unless you grow camellias in the landscape you probably are already missing the point. Early Autumn produces large lavender-rose formal-double blossoms. It starts the first week of October when we are having temperatures in the mid to high 80ís and wondering if fall will ever come. It starts blooming way before most Camellia sasanquas (traditional fall bloomers) are thinking of showing any color.

Most Camellia japonicas which we treasure, bloom after Christmas and are susceptible to freezes. Last year when the temperature reached 16 degrees every blossom in the camellia garden that was opened, quickly turned brown and we had to wait for those subsequent tight buds to bloom. In the case of Early Autumn it was already through and much enjoyed. It was asleep for the winter.

Early Autumn gives gardeners in zones 7-10 those magical Kodak moments in a rare season, the fall. It, of course, partners wonderfully well in a garden that is also full of Camellia sasanquas, and fall blooming Encore azaleas. Plan your landscape right and it will be like having spring followed by spring.

Early Autumn was discovered as a chance seedling that sprouted in 1986 in Ocala, Fla.. It first flowered in 1995. Technically speaking it is considered an early-to-midseason japonica that has long-lasting formal-double blossoms. The plantís growth is upright and vigorous.

Like other camellia japonicas, Early Autumn prefers partial shade or protection from hot direct sun. Prepare the bed by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and till deeply. Notice that I said bed. It is so important to put Early Autumn and every other kind of shrub in a bed rather than simply digging holes in turf. Dig the planting hole three to five times as wide as the root ball but no deeper. Place the camellia in the hole and backfill with soil, tamp and water to settle, and then apply mulch.

Moisture will most likely be critical the first summer, and that is one of the best reasons for fall planting of trees and shrubs. Research indicates that planting trees and shrubs in the fall will give plants almost a full growing seasonís advantage over those planted in the spring.

The roots of the plants will get established and continue to grow all fall even when top growth has ceased. Next spring when new growth resumes, the root system will be able to supply all of the plantís needs. Feed a month after transplanting with a light application of a slow-released, balanced fertilizer. Feed established plantings with a slow-released azalea-camellia fertilizer after the flowers have fallen, applying per label recommendations.

In Savannah we are in zone 8b so on our Judge Arthur Solomon Camellia Garden trail we have more than 1,000 varieties including Camellia japonicas, Camellia sansanquas, Camellia reticulatas and hybrids. Therefore, we have the best of all worlds, fall and winter bloom, winter and spring bloom and great summertime foliage as pretty as a ligustrum. Even with all of that, Early Autumns stuns every single visitor and it will do the same in your garden too.