Queens of the winter flowers, Camellias are attractive evergreen shrubs that are highly prized for the beauty of their exquisite blooms, their splendid foliage and their shapely habit. Blooming prodigiously for weeks from fall to spring (depending on climate and variety), when the rest of the garden offers little, Camellias are ranked as one of the very best flowering shrubs. With just a couple of well-chosen shrubs, it is possible to have blooms in your landscape from October through May.
While extraordinarily good-looking on their own, Camellias however, look more charming when planted with companion plants. Well-behaved, they make perfect partners with other plants and help create strikingly beautiful combinations in the garden. Their glossy foliage creates a welcomed backdrop during the non-blooming months for other shrubs and flowers.
Pretty Trees for your Camellias
Introducing form and texture, some trees beautifully compliment Camellias.
Among the most popular are Acer or Japanese Maples with their canopy of lush green leaves in spring and summer and exquisite fall foliage. Some Maple varieties also offer a particularly attractive growth habit and interesting coral bark, which make them standouts in the winter landscape.
Prized worldwide for their showy, fragrant flowers and attractive forms, Magnolias can be deciduous or evergreen trees or shrubs, all adding breathtaking beauty in the spring or summer garden when in full bloom. Some are extremely cold-hardy (Star Magnolia) while others prefer more temperate climates (Southern Magnolia). Some Magnolia cultivars are perfect for small gardens, while others can form tall trees growing as high as 100 ft. (30 m).
Colorful Shrubs for your Camellias
Highly ornamental, camellias look fabulous in mixed shrub borders where they display their dramatic winter blooms. They still add beauty to the landscape, even when they are not in bloom. Their handsome evergreen foliage always creates a lovely backdrop for other shrubs and flowers.
Popular companion plants for Camellias, Rhododendrons and Azaleas are shrubs for all seasons. In spring, their spectacular and showy flowers produce such an incredible display that they are among the most popular garden shrubs. Throughout summer and fall, their handsome foliage adds a pleasing, deep green color to the garden. Some deciduous Azaleas add bright fall color before their leaves drop. All evergreen Rhododendrons and Azaleas stand out in winter with their large leathery leaves.
Hydrangeas are also irresistible shrubs with showy billowy blooms in clear blues, vibrant pinks, frosty whites or lavender throughout summer and into fall. Easy to grow and vigorous, Hydrangeas are long-lived shrubs which come in various shapes (lacecap, oakleaf or mophead), enjoy almost any soil and tolerate wind and salt (perfect choice for coastal gardens).
Fragrant Shrubs for your Camellias
Hardy, maintenance-free, and ignored by most pests, Hamamelis or Witch Hazel are deciduous shrubs with handsome oval leaves, turning various colors in the fall, and fragrant, winter blooms with long, crinkly petals, clustered up and down the length of the branches. Ranging from at 10 to 20 feet, Hazels offer a wide array of forms: upright, vase-shaped, rounded bush, spreading, weeping. While Witch Hazels can be showy in three seasons, their spectacular winter show, when they burst into bloom, are of primary interest.
Beloved for its extraordinarily fragrant winter blooms, Lonicera fragrantissima or Sweetest Honeysuckle is a bushy deciduous shrub with a profusion of highly fragrant, short-tubed, creamy-white flowers, lined up along each stem in late winter to early spring. The flowers give way to small, red berries which mature in late spring to early summer. This multi-stemmed flowering shrub enjoys a spreading habit and sports smooth, oval, dark green leaves which generally remain most of the winter unless the weather gets unusually cold. The rough-textured, pale tan or gray bark on old stems becomes prominent in winter for additional appeal.
Perennial Plants for your Camellias
Hellebores (Helleborus) are great Camellia partners since they share the same flowering time. The most popular Hellebore varieties are the Lenten Roses (Helleborus x hybridus or Helleborus orientalis) which are available in a rich array of colors including pink, purple, red, white, green, apricot and yellow. Flowering a month or so earlier are the Christmas Roses (Helleborus niger) with their pristine white to pink-tinged white blossoms.
Immensely popular, Astilbes are fabulous plants for shady, moist conditions. Admired for their graceful, colorful flower plumes rising elegantly above mounds of fern-like foliage which remains attractive all season long, they light up your shade garden for weeks and add a dazzling splash of color in the landscape.
Ornamental Grasses and Foliage Plants for your Camellias
Attractive, easy to grow and low maintenance, ornamental grasses are invaluable additions to the garden. Waving gracefully in the slightest breeze, they add movement to the garden, but also texture and color since most warm up to shades of bronze, tan or russet in the cooler months to create an impressive display. They offer a rich and interesting contrast with emerald evergreen Camellias.
Ferns are a group with a great variety of height, texture, and color whose arching, graceful fronds create pretty combinations with Camellias.
Foliage plants such as Heuchera (Coral Bells), Hostas with their smooth leaves, Carex (Sedges), ornamental grasses with bright golden foliage such as Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' (Hakone Grass), are also terrific and will carry the display over the year.
Cheerful Flower bulbs for your Camellias
Low-growing spring bulbs such as Crocus, Cyclamen, Galanthus (Snowdrop), Convallaria majalis (Lily of the Valley) will create a flowering carpet and provide eye-catching color to your garden at a time when it is still dormant.
Some of these flowering bulbs are early season bloomers (e.g: Single and Double Early Tulips), others are mid-season bloomers (e.g:Triumph and Darwin Hybrid tulips) or late season bloomers (Single and double Late Tulips, Fringed Tulips, Parrot Tulips, Viridiflora Tulips). If you love Tulips or Daffodils and want to have a great spring garden that blooms from early season through late, select bulbs that bloom across all three spring seasons.
These companion plants, whether trees, shrubs, bulbs or perennials, must however be able to thrive under the same growing conditions as your Camellias.
A common myth about Camellias is that they are very fussy and difficult to grow. This is not true. Camellias are exceptionally care-free plants if they are given a well-chosen site.
- Part shade lovers, camellias are best grown in consistently moist, acidic, organically rich, well-drained soils, similarly to azaleas and rhododendrons. Apply a root mulch (leaves or shredded bark) and provide a site sheltered from cold, dry winds as buds and flowers may be damaged by cold winds. Protect from early morning sun and from direct hot summer afternoon sun. Older camellia plants can thrive in full sun when they are mature enough to have their roots shaded by a dense canopy of leaves.
- Pruning is rarely needed as most plants develop an attractive shape without pruning. If deemed necessary, pruning should be done just after blooming to avoid removing next year’s flower buds.
- Pick up blooms that drop to the ground to minimize petal blight (rust spots on the flowers)
- Spring planting, rather than fall, is recommended for northern areas because it gives the plant more time to get established before hard freezes. Watering regularly and deeply is vital in the first summer after planting.
- Fertilizing is not necessary, but a light application in springtime will increase growth. Excessive or late feeding can lead to bud drop. Some flower bud dropping may be a natural phenomenon as many camellias set more buds than they can open.
- Camellias are susceptible to some viruses and fungal diseases including leaf spots, anthracnose, black mold, petal blight, canker and root rot. Watch also for aphids, planthoppers and spider mites.