Reviving camellias

laylaa(7b)March 8, 2008

I need advice on reviving cammelia without moving them. I moved into a house with a set of four Camellia Winter's Star (best I can tell - oleifera?). They are planted in poor soil, solid clay, but certainly specimens worth trying to save. They are to large to move at 10'. The leaves are yellowing and browning, but considering they were just dropped in the straight ground and forgotten, over grown with weeds & vines, they are basically healthy. Is there a way to amend the soil without hurting the plants? I read in Don Hastings book to make small holes & fill with cottonseed meal but these books are a bit dated now.

I'd love to save these plants, any advice is appreciated.

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luis_pr(7b/8a Hurst, TX)

I would start with a soil test to determine in what condition the soil is. If the Ph is too alkaline (above 7.0 or 7.5) then apply soil ammendments that will acidify the soil. There are many liquid soil acidifiers that you could apply once or twice a year, in addition the obvious use of sulphur. Then pay attention to other notes that might indicate that your soil is deficient on other minerals. Your state's Agricultural Extension Service or local Nurseries can help you get started with a soil test.

Try to maintain the soil moist but not wet as much as possible. Check by inserting a finger to a depth of four inches. If it feels almost dry or dry then water. Otherwise do not water. Reduce the amount of water this time of the year but do not stop completely. The plant is only dormant so it still needs some moisture. If your soil does not freeze then water once a week or once every two weeks. Water the soil and not the plant. Pick up plant debris from under the plant too, specially during blooming season.

Add acidic mulch -about 4 inches thick- up to the drip line or slightly further. This will reduce the amount and frequency of waterings as well as aid keeping the soil moist. The mulch will decompose as time passes so check it once or twice in year and then add more where needed. I usually do this in Spring and Fall.

In Spring (after the danger of late frosts has passed), begin fertilizing with cottonseed meal monthly. I usually water before & after applying it. You do not have to remove the mulch to do this. You can also add coffee grounds at any time but stop all fertilizing around July and August so the plant will switch from growth mode to dormant mode.

Pruning may be needed if the plants have been ignored for some time. Stems that cross or those that grow towards the inside should be cut. But most of the time, you do not have to prune camellias any/much. Winter is the best time to prune if you have to prune a lot (1/3 of the plant, for example). If you have to prune less, consider doing it after the plant has bloomed or before Spring starts.

Below is a link to the American Camellia Society's website with lots much more information. For local chapters of the ACS or for a list of camellia clubs, go to

Does this help you, laylaa?

Here is a link that might be useful: Planting and Care of Camellias by the A.C.S.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 5:14AM
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Thank you Luis! Very helpful and gives me a place to begin. These are fall blooming and they put on a lovely show for last year, even neglected. I had just moved into this house. I fell in love with them. They aren't showy as camilias can be, but appealing in their way. I don't care to prune much this season, but am going to try and trade out as much of the soil as I can around them. They'll already be shocked and nothing looks sickly or dead, just malnourished as all.

We are sitting on a bed of limestone so PH is a tough one, but do-able.
Again, thank you for the information and the link. I will read on.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 12:38PM
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