How to Care for a Camellia Bush

A winter- and spring-flowering evergreen bush, camellia (Camellia spp.) belongs to a wide-ranging plant family. Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica), which is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 9, grows 7 to 12 feet tall and 5 to 10 feet wide, and sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua), which is hardy in USDA zones 7 through 9, grows 4 to 15 feet tall, depending on the cultivar. Camellia thrives in well-drained soil rich in organic matter with a pH between 5 and 6.5 and in a partial shade site sheltered from strong winds.

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Apply 1 inch of water to camellia every 10 days to two weeks during dry weather and 1 inch of water every week while the bush is flowering. Avoid saturating the soil because this can cause root rot.

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Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of leaf mold, compost, well-rotted manure or other organic matter around camellia and top up the mulch when it thins out.

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Fertilize a camellia bush with a 12-4-12 or 15-5-15 fertilizer applied at a rate of 1/2 pound per 100 square feet in spring or early summer.

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Prune camellia in late winter or early spring with pruning shears sterilized by wiping the blades with rubbing alcohol. Prune dead or diseased growth and remove stems that spoil the overall shape of the bush, cutting where the stems join the rest of the bush. Sterilize the pruning shears again when finished.

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Examine camellia for signs of tea scale, which are 1.5-mm yellow, white or brown, shell-like insects that cluster on the undersides of leaves, sometimes giving a fuzzy appearance. Other common pests on a camellia bush are aphids, which cluster on shoot tips and the undersides of leaves, and spider mites, which cause a rusty, speckled effect on leaves. Prune affected leaves and shoots, sterilizing the shears between cuts by dipping them in a solution of 1 part household bleach and 9 parts water, to control moderate infestation. Spray heavy infestations with a ready-to-use insecticidal soap spray on a cloudy day, covering all plant parts, and spray again twice a week or weekly as required.

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Check camellia for signs of disease, such as dead twigs and branches with cankers or gray blotches and brown flowers. Other symptoms include leaf yellowing, poor growth and wilting and abnormally large, thick, light green, white or pink new shoots or leaves. Prune diseased plant parts, cutting at a healthy leaf bud 3 or 4 inches below the affected area and sterilizing pruning shears between cuts to provide control. Remove all plant debris from beneath the bush, replace the mulch and improve the growing conditions. Avoid wetting plant foliage when watering.