Very strange camellia problem or I have missed the obvious

jessi5377(8a)March 19, 2014

Please forgive me if this has already been presented and answered in the archives but I couldn't find anything that seemed similar and after hours of web searching I figured I should go to the experts worked in the field rather than the greenhouse.
so here is the back story...
Last month I purchased 4 camellia japicona 'winters charm' and one camellia japicona 'spellbound' from the local big box store. I'm his was about a week after an unexpected 8" of snow and before another rollercoaster of 65� days and 29� night averages. So these little babies were on the clearance cart for $5 (3 gallon size). The leaves felt dry and a few were crispy but even 1 lived, I would be looking any money so I took the chance.
As I had suspected from the leaves, they were outbound and dry as a bone. It took me hours of soaking just to unwind what I could. Unfortunately, I lost quite a bit of root in the process. They should have been in 5 gal pots last year! Just be safe I I sprinkled root tone on the roots and planted them in the beds. My beds were mostly clay but I have been amending them with mulch, peat, compost and potting soil scraps for a year. I assume this would suffice. After the first week the leaves looked very light green almost silvery, crispy when dry but soft after a little rain. I started seeing leaf nodes develop. Figured all was going good, must have been dryed out. Now what were silvery leaves are now turning brown and and have little black dots on them and the new growth is also growing brown. Last week I sprayed them with Bayer 3n1 disease and insect control but I'm worried that it may have some other issues that are not covered under the sprays protection. Also the stems branched in this years growth is green when cut or scratched but breaks. And the bark is shredding in fine thin hair like pieces.
Thank you in advance for any info or direction you can provide. I'll post pictures in a few minutes.

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Pic of bark

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 10:44AM
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    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 10:49AM
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    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 10:51AM
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    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 10:52AM
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If you are seeing leaf nodes develop, and the plant passes the scratch test, it sounds like you have a live one. The leaves, however were probably already goners when you bought them, and so are doing what dead camellia leaves do- look fine for a bit then gradually dry out, turn brown (or yellow) and eventually fall off.

Camellias do everything verrry slowly, but if you have leaf nodes, you should soon see leaves- spring is the season for camellias to put out new foliage.

Don't expect your camellia to look great for at least another year or two- it has had a bad shock to the system. Although you sound like you've given it a home that it should do well in, it needs to first get its root system situated in a new location, and then get serious about leafing out and then flowering. First things first, but if you're seeing signs of life, you just need to be patient and let it get on with its recovery from the cold damage.

You might be tempted to fertilize in the spring, but organic matter like compost or cottonseed meal or liquid seaweed might be a better choice. What I would avoid doing is giving the plant anything with much nitrogen- it needs to spend some time getting its roots established in its new home, and nitrogen won't help with that and may undermine the process.

Some mulch can help the plants stay evenly moist and keep the pH on the acidic side- do you have access to pine straw/bark or another good organic mulch?

Going by what you've said, the plants should recover, but a little patience will be needed.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 12:46PM
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Thank you for the reply. I did mix pond fertilizer when I planted them. I use pond fertilizer because its slow release and my weed pre-emerrgent has very high potash where as the pond mix has very little. I know it may not be the best practice but most of my plants have done well, building strong branches and slowly catching up with foliage. When I've used other products I seem to a lot of leaves and twigs and very little structure. Not that I needed to explain but, I hope these aren't going to be offended by my off label use.
As far as the nodes go, they too are brown and the few new leaves I've seen, have grown brown. Could it be those are just still damaged from the cold? Should I cover them with shade cloth? Should I trim them back so they dont have as much repair to do on the top side and can concentrate on the roots? Sorry to reply with more questions. I do thank you for response and encouraging hope.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 1:03PM
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Yes, the cold could have hurt the new leaves so give it sometime to decide to generate new leaves again. It does not happen overnight mind you so give them time. If the plants are already located where they get afternoon shade, you do not need shade cloth. I would however, cover the plants if it gets cold again. You can trim obviously dead tissues and leave any tissue that you are not sure alone and prune it later.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 8:01PM
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If you're like most of us, you've probably been having crazy roller-coaster weather this winter, so the newer growth may have cold damage also. I will also mention that some camellia varieties put out new growth that is bronze then turns green, although it sounds like you're reporting the opposite trend, which implies further cold damage, as Luis said.

In fact, I could just write "ditto what Luis said", since it's all good advice.

I don't know enough about pond fertilizer to have an opinion on its off-label use, but any fertilizer may be responsible for your plant putting out new leaves a little ahead of schedule- in cold weather rather than warmer weather. No matter, though- it should straighten itself out over the next year.

Camellias are generally pretty tough, but since these plants are starting out their stay in your garden with a handicap, some protection from cold, wind and/or full sun would be helpful.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 7:21AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Likely they put them on the clearance cart because they froze or weren't kept watered enough, could see that they were damaged - do not expect too much from this project or put too much into it, they may be dead.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 2:32PM
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