Q: Do camellia blooms have fragrance?

A: Quite often I've watched people bend over to smell a big C. japonica bloom at a flower show only to look up with a puzzled look. They can't believe such a beautiful bloom has no fragrance. This is true for most japonicas and reticulatas but most sasanquas do have fragrance as do many of the C. species. In fact, hybridizers are working to incorporate fragrance into their blooms. Several C. hybrids have been bred specifically for fragrance such as 'High Fragrance', 'Cinnamon Cindy', 'Fragrant Joy' etc. And there are a few japonicas that have lightly detectable fragrance. Why no fragrance in japonicas? The best answer I know came from Tom Johnson, former horticulturist at Massee Lane Gardens, now horticulturist at Magnolia Gardens in Charleston. Tom speculated that all plants must set seed or by some means reproduce themselves if they are to survive in nature. . Camellia set seeds. Pollination is by insects. Sasanquas bloom in the fall and have fragrance. There is competition from other fall blooming plants to attract bees, so the sasanqua with its smaller bloom must emit a fragrance to attract pollinating insects. Japonicas are winter bloomers and in the winter there is little competition from other blooming plants to draw away pollinators. Also the blooms are very large so they can easily be seen on the shrubs by foraging bees. Yes, bees are active in winter in the South especially when temperatures rise in mid day.

Q: How can I add fragrance to my winter camellia garden?

A: .OK, this was a made up question so I can plug the use of daphne, edgeworthia, and tea olive intermixed among camellias. Try it and it will add a wonderful element to your garden. Walk through Massee Lane gardens in February and you will see and smell the magic of this combination.

Q: I saw huge camellia blooms in a show; they were grouped together under C. reticulata. How can I grow them?

A: Camellia reticulata is a class of camellia that originated in Yunnan, China. Most varieties you see in shows are hybrids, some pure reticulata, others combined with japonica or other species. The most noticeable distinguishing feature of retics is the rapid open growth and the very large blooms. They are generally less cold hardy than japonica, probably best grown in lower zone 8 although some varieties will do well as far north as the Atlanta area. Blooms in shows typically are greenhouse grown in areas other than Florida or coastal  Ga or SC. In middle Ga, most retics will do well outside. There is some indication that retics may tolerate more sun than that normally used for japonica.

Q: What type fertilizer should I use on camellias and when should it be applied?

A: In the nursery we use a timed release such as Osmocote. However, any well balanced fertilizer will work. There are some fertilizers specifically made for camellias/azaleas available in retail outlets. It's always a good idea to get your soil checked to see if there is any specific deficiency that needs to be addressed. If you are using a standard grade fertilizer (not timed release) my suggestion is to use a balanced (8-8-8) fertilizer 3 times a year. March/April-after bloom, June/July, and Sept/Oct. Use about 1 tablespoon full per foot of plant height spread around the outside of the tree canopy. Do not apply against the trunk.

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Q: What is this white cottony stuff on the bottom of my camellia leaves?

A: One of the most common problems encountered on camellias is scale insects. Scale attacks the underside of the leaves, appearing as tiny, hard, grey to white masses. Severe infestations will look like cotton fibers and the top side of the leaf will be mottled yellow. Sometimes it can also be found on the stems. Scale can be controlled by pruning limbs 12-14 inches from the ground, thinning out the branches and finally by spraying with an ultra-fine horticultural oil (volck or dormant oil). Often a spring and fall application will be required for a couple of years in order to get a severe outbreak under control. Also insecticidal soap can be used. High pressure spray should be directed to the underside of the leaves.

Q: Will camellias grow in full sun?

A: Camellia sasanqua will grow fine in full sun; however camellia japonica will do best in filtered shade. Morning sun on japonicas is usually OK but afternoon sun would not be advisable. Reticulatas may be able to take a little more sun than japonicas. Having said that, most of us have probably seen large japonicas growing at old homes in full sun. Chances are when the plant was first established there were trees providing shade. Usually sun will cause the plants leaves to be yellow or "off color" but some varieties seem to do quite well in sun. It is a trial & error situation. If you only have sunny growing areas and want to try japonicas, I suggest planting those with smaller leaves. Many of the hybrids such as 'Taylor's Perfection' may also do well in sun.

Q: What is the best time to plant camellias? Daphnes?

A: Generally fall is an excellent time to plant. The temperature is moderating from the summer heat and the roots will become stable and grow some over the winter. However, if you are transplanting from a container, then anytime is OK as long as you are willing to water the plant during periods of low rainfall.

Q: How do you plant camellias? Daphnes?

A: Dig your hole about twice as big as the root ball, mix in some organic matter with the soil and plant the root ball about 1" above gound level. Then pull the soil up over the root ball so it slopes away from the trunk. Do not cover too deeply, the roots need to be near the soil surface. After planting water thoroughly & apply a layer of mulch or pine straw to conserve moisture. Do not overwater or plant in a wet area as camellias & daphnes cannot tolerate wet feet.