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Plant type Shrubs
Plant Uses Border

Best uses

Great in woodland gardens and incorporated into shrub plantings.

Physical characteristics

A small-leaved, evergreen camellia with a spreading growth habit.

Flowers and foliage

Produces small single to semi-double pale-pink flowers. These flowers fade to white in the centre, with deep pink on the reverse of the petals.

Preferred site

Most camellias generally need to be grown in partial or dappled shade. However, the variety 'Wirlinga Princess' is more sun-hardy and flourishes best in free-draining, slightly acidic soil (pH 5.5-6). It likes moisture in spring and summer but hates sodden soil, which can rot roots, so they must have good drainage. Plant where the flowers will not get full sun first thing in the morning if the site is prone to frosts, as this will make the buds drop.

In cultivation, camellias usually take two to three years to become established, but will then improve in bloom quality and quantity with each passing year. Plant in positions sheltered from strong winds as these slow growth and bruise flowers. Rain should not damage flowers unless very heavy or accompanied by strong winds.

Preparation for planting

Always choose healthy, well-grown plants and plant after autumn rains. Trees and shrubs may be planted at any time throughout the year, provided they are watered during dry periods. Planting success is often improved on clay soils by adding extra topsoil and forming raised beds. Incorporate coarse sand, bark,compost or other organic material to improve soil structure. Planting after autumn rains when the soil is moist and warm allows trees and shrubs to become established before winter. This enables them to withstand dry periods during the following summer.

Before planting, ensure the root ball is saturated and remove the planter bag or pot with minimal root disturbance. Trim any broken roots and plant at the same level as in the container. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the root ball, press in and water once planted. As soil is placed in the prepared hole, tread firmly to bring soil in close contact with the root-ball. Make sure plants are watered well until established if planting in a drier period. Plant with some general slow release fertiliser and then every spring apply an organic based fertiliser (such as blood and bone) at a handful per square metre. Planting too closely leads to spindly growth and poor flowering, so be sure to leave plenty of room. Plant in positions sheltered from strong winds, as wind slows growth and bruises flowers. Rain should not damage flowers unless very heavy or accompanied by strong winds.

Maintenance tips

Mulch annually to help conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Be careful to keep deep mulch away from plant stems. Young plants require thorough watering during dry periods over the first two to three years. This is particularly important in January and February, when flower buds are developing. The root-ball may dry out despite the surrounding soil being moist. If this occurs, directly water the plant stem to saturate the root-ball.

Camellias growing in acidic soil will benefit from an application (50g/m2) of dolomite lime every three years. In spring, apply an organic mulch to keep surface roots cool and moist through summer. Water in dry periods. Wash lime dust off foliage and thoroughly soak the ground twice a week. Except on very fertile soils, an annual light application (50g/m2) of general purpose fertiliser in spring is beneficial. Sprinkle evenly and work into the top 2 - 3cm of the soil, taking care not to damage surface roots.

Large camellias will re-grow from bare wood after heavy pruning. However, light annual pruning will keep plants compact and free-flowering. Prune immediately after flowering but before new growth begins in spring, as flower buds form on new growth. Remove branches within 30cm of the ground, as well as weak and internal crossing branches. Shorten or remove other branches to shape and to open the plant. In small spaces, upright camellias may be trained to a central leader. Remove or shorten lateral branches to encourage an impressive floral display.

Pests and diseases

In spring, new growth is susceptible to attack by leaf-roller caterpillars. These can be removed by hand. Also, check for aphids and the nymph stage of thrips. Camellia petal blight is becoming a problem in the Auckland region, affecting many late-flowering Camellia hybrids and cultivars. This blight causes the flower to rot from the centre outwards, leading to premature flower drop. Any flowers showing symptoms should be removed immediately.

Location at Auckland Botanic Gardens

Camellia Garden

Interesting facts and tips

Camellia gardening in China goes as far back as the ninth century. These plants first appeared in the western world in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As well as being ornamental, camellias provide cosmetic and culinary oils, high grade charcoal and tea (Camellia sinensis). The flowers of some species and cultivars are also scented.

Camellia vary from low-growing, spreading plants to small trees. They can be used for hedges, as specimen espaliers and as container plants. Many varieties with differing flower form, size and colour are available; this selection extends the flowering season from February to November. Time of flowering varies according to climate and locality.

Camellia are well suited to growing in Auckland conditions.