Camellia dying, help please!

nicole93089(No. Va.)February 20, 2011

I have a beautiful fall blooming Camellia that I planted 1 1/2 years ago. Bloomed prolifically the first fall and was stunning. Seemed fine last winter, spring, and summer. As this past blooming season approached, it was full of big buds. About 2/3 bloomed, which I thought was strange and the others looked like they had been eaten by something (deer?) Then I noticed many buds never opened, weren't eaten, and turned brown. So now I notice instead of the green leaves, they are all turning tan to brown and are dry and dead. The whole bush is turning brown! Any ideas? Help! I'm heartbroken, my friends bought me the bush because I love Camellias and have always wanted one. They planted it and we all were amazed by it's beauty. Now it looks like it won't be around next fall. Any help would be appreciated! Thanks!

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I had a similar problem several years ago when I turned off the sprinkler system due to freezing weather and then forgot to turn it back on. As the weather was dry that winter, the plant started drying out. Watering corrected the problem although the partly dried leaves stayed attached until the shrub normally began to replace the leaves around May-June. I left the leaves on the shrub although it did not "look" nice but it was fine in about a year. I pruned any areas that completely dried out. Make sure that the soil is evenly moist and use mulch to help you keep it so. If the soil has not frozen, you can water either manually or with a sprinkler provided the temperatures are above freezing.

To determine if the shrub needs water, insert a finger into the soil to a depth of 4" and water if it feels dry or almost dry. Do not water too much as that could cause root rot. The symptoms of root rot are similar to those of lack of moisture because the roots are unable to send enough moisture to the part of the plant above the ground.

Buds can react to temperature ups and downs by doing as you describe. But if the leaves are turning brown too, then I would concentrate on moisture issues as opposed to weather issues. I have had times when some shrubs have lost buds but that does not affect the leaves.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2011 at 12:00PM
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nicole93089(No. Va.)

Thanks so much for the info. I guess it could be a moisture issue. I watered regularly spring and summer, but didn't keep it up in the fall/winter. But I did the same thing last year and it thrived. And this winter (like most here) has not been particularly dry, so I don't know. It's really wet at the moment, with melting snow. And sadly, almost the entire bush is brown now. Should I try to cut back to the little that remains green? I'm so sad! Thanks again for tips, I appreciate all the help I can get!

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 11:22AM
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Maintain 3-4 of mulch to help conserve moisture and wait until May-June when some shrubs drop leaves.

The rootball sometimes dries out and refuses to absorb water. If the soil under the main trunk feels dry, consider extracting the shrub from its hole and dumping it in a container full of water for 30-45 minutes. This technique is recommended in those cases. Another technique is to use drip irrigation-like watering with a hose. Something slow like one drip every 5-10 seconds maybe? Another thing to check for, at this time, is if the roots are rootbound and growing in circles.

Scan the maintrunk for damage/cankers while you are it. My pooches jumped on one camellia once and killed it when they broke the main trunk in two. Cankers can indicate a disease called camellia dieback.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 1:09AM
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nicole93089(No. Va.)

I just checked the soil. Very moist from rain today and snow melt. The trunk looks perfectly normal. But almost every branch is dying. The outer most leaves are dark brown, and the rest are light brown turning to the dark brown. The brown leaves are completely dead and dry. We did have an ice storm a few weeks ago where everything was covered with ice, including trees and bushes. Could that have done this kind of damage? There are one or two branches at the bottom that look normal for now. Should I cut it back? It's a small bush, maybe 2 1/2 feet tall and if I cut all the dead, it will literally leave like 6 inches. Thanks!

    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 2:33PM
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Hard to tell. If this variety is hardy to your zone, it "should" have been able to handle the ice storm. We too had icy weather for a week at the start of February and cold temperatures in the teens and 20s but these did not harm the sasanquas and japonicas. Do you know the name of this variety and your USDA Zone? Most camellias are hardy to Zones 7-8 and a few early/late bloomers can grow in Zone 6.

If you want to prune, prune the damaged parts in 1" or 2" increments starting at the end and moving towards the center of the plant. Stop when you see green. Use a digital camera to determine if the plant damage is unchanged or if it keeps increasing (compare photos taken of the same area on different days).

    Bookmark   February 26, 2011 at 7:39AM
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I have the same problem with my camellia,it is on the balcony in the big pot all the leaves are dead, flowers buds look dead too... but I noticed that next to the each dead leaf is a new leaf bud, I won't do anything to my camellia, just wait another month, I think it will be ok.
PS I live in NYC , we had pretty harsh winter too....

    Bookmark   March 1, 2011 at 8:07PM
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This may be too late as you sounded pretty anxious to cut your camellia back. This pretty much applies to any plant that suffers some winter dieback for any reason: NEVER remove any dead-looking stuff on your plant until it starts growing again in the spring. Pretty simple. The reason is because it may look dead but it may still be alive inside and start growing again when the weather starts to warm up. In the meantime, all that dead-looking stuff provides some protection for what's left and can prevent further dieback. Removing all that dead stuff in the middle of winter just exposes the rest to the same conditions that killed the first bit. Once growth starts again in spring, whatever is really dead becomes pretty obvious.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 2:42AM
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nicole93089(No. Va.)

I haven't cut back yet so I think I'll wait. I have been watching and watering and keeping my fingers crossed. There are a few green leaves left on a bottom branch, but no new growth that I can see. Maybe there is still hope but I'm so mad at myself because it does seem that it was a lack of moisture and I can't blame anyone but myself! At what point is the camellia "established" and I can leave the watering to nature? (except of course really dry periods). I babied it for a year but thought once this second summer was over, I was off the hook for watering. Could kick myself.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2011 at 8:57AM
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I' m having the same problem except ours is completely brown now which is in April. I was completely fine about two months ago and through out the winter. it turned brown so fast. I checked the soil from all of the great information and it's moist. I have a feeling that we are having the opposite problem of Root rot,, too much moisture. What can we do about that? Our tree is about 2 to3 years old.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 12:20PM
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