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  • Writer's pictureDigger and Gina McLean

It's Been a Hard Winter, My Camellias Didn't Bloom...

January is a time when nothing much is happening in the garden. Nothing is blooming, and most plants don't even have leaves. Yet there is a Southern gem that brightens the normally gray days of winter, the beautiful Camellia.

While Camellias do very well in the Southern climate, they didn't originate here and are originally from Asia. They prefer a shady spot, a little protection from the wind, and an acid soil, but are relatively easy to grow. The best time to plant them is in the spring so they have time to establish before winter. Be sure to keep them watered the first year and in times of drought. With just a little care, they will give years of enjoyment.

Camellias come in over 3000 different varieties and colors. It's good to buy them when they are blooming so you can pick one you love. Picking one you love usually results in wanting to pick more than one, so embrace this feeling! When planting, choose a spot that will get a lot of shade, and will have some shelter from the wind. Dig a hole twice as wide and deep as the size of the pot your Camellia came in. Amend the soil with a blend of 1/2 pine bark soil conditioner and peat moss and 1/2 of your regular soil. Pine bark and peat moss both have a low Ph, which is what Camellias need to thrive. Also, include some slow release fertilizer for acid lovers in your planting blend. After your plant is well established, maybe the second year, you can prune after blooming has finished. I like to prune out some of the inner branches to provide good air circulation, which can minimize some diseases caused by moisture staying on the leaves. If leaves are yellow, you can use some chelated iron to green them up.

All that being said, this is shaping up to be a sad Camellia year in the Deep South, as we've have had an exceptionally cold winter. Temperatures have dipped into the single digits and we have had several days in a row that didn't get above freezing. For Camellias, freezing temperatures can cause the buds to drop resulting in....(sigh) blooms. Covering the shrub might have helped to preserve the blooms, but alas, I didn't. Shame on me.

Looking on the bright side, this seeming tragedy is part of the enjoyment of gardening. We fail to do something, we make a mistake, and we miss out on a little gardening joy. We remember the blooms of past years and look forward to a better year next year. We try again. In gardening as in life, sometimes things happen. Cold temperatures creep in, and we don't make the proper preparations. We might experience some life consequences. We learn, we grow and we try not to make the same mistakes again. Gardening takes optimism, persistence and growth. Just like life. Here's to next year, Camellia lovers!

Dig It? It's Grow Time!

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