Poor-doer in a container

bunnywaferMay 29, 2012

Hi all,

I did search for an answer first, and while I found some helpful posts, I didn't understand everything in them. I am quite the newb when it comes to gardening so for example, when I read another thread that suggested MG 30-10-10, I have no idea what that means. So please dumb it down for me.

My situation is a Camellia (I don't remember exactly which species) that is in a container. I've had it for about 2 years now, and it's never done as well as I would hope. It's never bloomed very well (maybe 7 blooms first year, 3-4 this year). Now, the foilage is even beginning to not look overly healthy. It doesn't look diseased, it just doesn't look healthy in parts (some leaves are more pale than others.) I wonder if I gave it sun scorch because I do think I've been guilty of watering the leaves in full sun (who knew this was a bad thing? Well, now I do, but again, I'm still learning....) I'm not home right now but I can try to give a better description of the foilage later if necessary once I look at it again. Could even post a picture if I figure out how to....

To my eyeball, the container size appears perfect, but what do I know? I can measure the plant and container tomorrow if that would be helpful information. I don't know how to tell when it outgrows the pot, but I can say I don't think it's really grown much at all since I bought it. It is on a fan trellis (came that way from the garden center) if that matters.

This plant is facing the south but it does get a fair amount of shade owing to a monstrous tree in my neighbor's yard. Last I checked I think it's in the shade from about 3 PM on.

So, I now realize I probably made many mistakes when first selecting and planting this Camellia. First, I didn't even pay attention to how much sun exposure it would get. Second, I have no clue what kind of potting mix I used, basically just generic potting mix. Third, I think I used some sort of fertilizer since I first planted it, but none since. Plus I probably haven't watered it as much as I should.

So, I now realize the errors of my ways. I plan to re-pot soon to make sure it's not root bound and to correct my mistakes in originally potting it. My questions are as follows:

1.) Is it OK to re-pot now or would it be better to do it at a different time of year? We're running typically in the high-80s weather wise, though I could do it early AM or late PM if it would be best to do it in cooler weather or something.

2.) How many drainage holes should be in the pot? I drilled my own when I bought the pot... I think I drilled 5 holes. I suppose this will depend on the size of the pot...?

3.) Should I bother with putting down gravel or pine bark or something at the bottom of the pot?

4.) From what I've read it would be best to look for a camilla/azalea potting mix; hopefully I can find this at my local nursery. If I find this mix, do I need to amend it at all?

5.) OK this seems really stupid, but what is the best way to apply the fertilizer? Do I need to somehow work it down deep as I pack the potting mix in around the root ball? Or do I just put it on top? Or will this be explained on the fertilizer instructions? When (Time of year) and how often should I fertilize?

6.) What is a good fertilizer? Remember I don't understand the shorthand y'all use so please explain... I'm not sure if my local nursery will have organic stuff, but I can check....

7.) How do I know if the pot is too small? I read I should leave 2-3 inches on the top for mulch, so do I just get a bigger pot if I don't have room to add that much mulch? Anything else I should look for?

8.) Any other tips or tricks to get this poor-doer shining?

Thank you so much! I really like this plant alot and feel bad I've been so ignorant about its care but I hope I can make it happy with a few pointers from you kind folks!

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luis_pr(7b/8a Hurst, TX)

Quite a few questions. I will take a stab at some.

Camellias like soil that drains so as to prevent their roots from rotting due to water that drains poorly. It is usually best to plant camellias in pots using potting mix for Azaleas/Camellias/Gardenias/Hydrangeas. The potting mix label may highlight any one of those or several but as long as it names one, it does not matter which potting mix to use. You can also create your own potting mix just for camellias but I would not bother with that at this stage. It is probably cheaper to just buy one for acid-loving plants like Azaleas, Camellias, Gardenias and-or Hydrangeas. Every two or so years (or when you notice that roots are circling (growing in a circle), you should replace the potting mix with new potting mix; you can also determine if the plant needs a bigger pot. Circling roots should be pruned and they definitely indicate that one needs a bigger pot.

Camellias also like soil that is acidic. The opposite is called alkaline. Normal potting mix is neutral. Camellias will tolerate this but it would be best if you make it acidic. One way to do this is by purchasing potting mix for one of those four plants as it will be acidic, meaning it will contain garden Sulphur. You can also purchase amendments like: green sand, iron-chelated liquid compounds, garden Sulphur, etc. Most nurseries will carry one of these amendments to acidify the soil. The liquid amendments give quicker results but they need to be applied more often. If the soil in the potting mix becomes alkaline (your own water may cause this if your water is alkaline), the camellia�s leaves may start turning yellowish but the leaf�s veins will remain dark green (giving the look of a skeletonized leaf). If this occurs, apply some of the above mentioned amendments according to the label directions.

Camellias also like to receive protection from the harsh summer sun. The further south that you are located, the more intense the sun is and the quicker camellias will react if they get too much sun. Here in Texas, I give them shade starting at 12pm. Dappled sun �sun that squeaks thru a tree�s branches and leaves- is fine even if it is all day long. I am not sure where you are located but having Zone 7 suggests your plant may be getting slightly too much sun. If the leaves look bronzed for a long period of time, they may be getting too much sun. Moving the shrub to a shadier location will help. Purchasing a shade cloth can also help; nurseries sell them. You can tell if the leaves are getting too much sun if the leaves in direct contact with the sun are the only ones being affected.

Potted plants require more frequent waterings and more frequent feeding of fertilizers. The water tends to evaporate faster than it would so mulch to retain water and place it where it is not windy (wind helps the water evaporate too). These more frequent waterings will cause the fertilizer to leech out through the pot�s drain holes (your pot should have holes at the bottom by the way). Examples of organic mulches: hardwood mulch, pine bark, pine needles, etc (use about 3-4" of mulch up top the drip line... drip line is an imaginary line around the plant where the leaves extend to...

MG 30-10-10 refers to a fertilizer called Miracle Grow. The numbers refer to the amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potash (also known as Potassium) in the fertilizer. Nitrogen helps plant foliage to grow strong. Phosphorous helps roots and flowers grow and develop. Potassium is important for overall plant health. The are minor (but important) minor minerals to also keep track of, such as magnesium but a good fertilizer and most organic fertilizers will have enough of these minerals. Examples of fertilizers: you can use compost, composted manure, cottonseed meal or a general purpose slow-release chemical fertilizer like Osmocote. To fertilize, it is best to: (1) move the mulch aside, water, apply the fertilizer to the soil, water, put the mulch back.

The link below provides additional information regarding container grown camellias:



1. Best time is when the shrub is very dormant, ie, during the winter. You can do this in late winter or early Spring. I would do it early in the morning or at night. The plant will like you for doing it then but I prefer to do it for myself and avoid the hottest or windiest part of the day.
2. There are probably millions of different answers. Try five 1/2" holes per square foot.
3. At the bottom of the pot, you can use newspaper to prevent losing potting soil thru the holes. Some people use gravel or rocks in case water stops up. Some people add wire meshes if they have pests that could crawl into the pot thru the holes. But put the pine bark as mulch at the top. On a shrub planted in the ground, you need 3-4".
4. It is not necessary to amend camellia potting mix when you buy it. Later on, you need to amend it to replenish minerals lost thru the pot's holes.
5. See paragraph five above. To keep things simple, put it on top of the potting mix. If the potting mix says it is good for "x" months, amend it after those "x" months. Ditto for the amendments; read their labels to see about how long they last. You probably will need to fertilize monthly.
6. See paragraph five above.
7. When to transfer to a bigger pot: after 2-3 years, if you notice roots circling, if you notice potting soil levels sinking a lot (use a pot 2-3" wider). If you do not have enough space to add 3-4" of mulch, just put whatever you can. If the area is sunny and the sun will be hitting the pot constantly, consider putting the pot inside another pot or some other structure.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 1:32AM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

There is a product called "Cloud Cover," that you spray on and it protects the leaves from the sun. I got it at a big box store years ago. Google it. It is organic and safe. I use it to protect many seedlings and it works great!

The response above seems like Camellia growing 101, and I am paying close attention to it since I have my very first seedling, and I want it to live.

We will be moving soon to a milder climate and I'm sure my little seedling will be happy in the ground there. Until then, potted it will stay!

Also, to prevent circling and make healthy roots, put your plant in a root pruning pot. These are pots that have holes on the sides and when the roots encounter a hole letting in light, they stop and prune themselves, and branch out filling the soil with many roots instead of a few that aimlessly circle. I just buy a regular pot and drill holes in the sides. Works like a charm!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 10:02AM
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