On Gardening: Brilliant camellias add to the fall colors

October 26, 2015

The Camellia azalea from China blooms all summer off and on through early fall.

The fall camellia season at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens is simply incredible in its beauty and variety, and I know the "Judge" would be proud. I never knew the Judge. But I have planted many azaleas bearing his name, and to me he was like a horticultural hero. As a horticulturist I hope he would consider me a kindred spirit. The Judge, for those in other climes, is Arthur W. Solomon, Chatham County, Ga., Commissioner for 46 years.

The Judge, as was his honorary title, was one of the founders of the American Camellia Society in 1945 and served as its second president from 1949-1951. Today the Judge Arthur Solomon Camellia Trail is one of the finest collections in the country, featuring just over 1,000 camellia sasanquas, japonicas, reticulatas, various species and hybrids.

There are so many I would like to promote but one that has kept me mesmerized: Crapnellís Camellia or Cinnamon Bark camellia. It is known botanically as Camellia crapnelliana. This is the first plant I show nurseryman friends who may come to visit, imploring them to put this plant into widespread production. Recently I had a nice group from Auburn, Ga., and I made sure each one saw this wonderful plant.

It is so picturesque with its bright orange bark that rivals the beauty of a crape myrtle. The foliage is deep glossy and evergreen and would be a garden asset even if it never bloomed. Yet today it is covered in 4- to 5-inch white blooms with showy yellow stamens that are-bringing in bees and pollinators of all sorts.

Another must-have plant is Early Autumn, a Camellia japonica. Everyone from nurseryman to gardeners is shocked to see such an early blooming japonica. It has an exquisite formal-double blossom that starts opening the first week in late September. Just think about this when we are still in the mid 80s and sweating. It will have been blooming for five weeks, with its lavender rose blooms commanding attention. I assure you will take the time to get out the camera.

Yet there are so many others that also will take your breath away, like the Camellia azalea. When I tell someone about this plant, their first thought is that I have lost my mind and I canít decide if it is a camellia or azalea. If you have not seen this impressive camellia, you are missing a treat. First, botanically speaking, it is Camellia azalea. Ours bloomed all summer and in fact just finished. Can you possibly believe a camellia blooming during these months? The flowers are boldly red and large, reaching outward 5 to 6 inches.

We are entering our best season for planting shrubs like the camellia. 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.

Camellias have everything you could want in a shrub, glossy evergreen foliage and flowers that will take your breath away. If you live in zones 7-10 and have a canopy of tall trees with fertile organic rich soil and a slightly acidic pH, then you need to consider adding a camellia. I promise you will be glad you did.



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