Pruning overgrown camellias

Maureen JandaJuly 9, 2007

My niece moved into her first house last week with a neglected old garden containing several camellias that need help. They're 5 to 6 feet tall, and most of the branches are long and bare except for a cluster of leaves on the very tip, surrounding an unopen bud that has dried to a crisp. (The remaining leaves look good, if I remember correctly.)I think the homeowner hadn't watered much for a while, but tried to pretty things up to sell. I'm going up to help with the garden in a couple of days as she has never gardened before and is panicked.

How severely should they be pruned to force some branching and fill them out? I'm inclined to cut each branch back within a few leaf nodes of the trunk, about a foot, and maybe to reduce the height by a foot or so. Is this so drastic that it'll shock the plant? This is in zone 10, Los Angeles, so we have a long growing season ahead, but she's in a moderate (I think) zone near LAX, not the searing valley.

I've been gardening in Southern California for a long time, but my soil is too alkaline for camellias and azaleas, so I have no experience with them.

I asked this question on the Camellia Forum, but there's not much activity there, and I'd like the SoCal gardeners' opinion. Thanks for your help.

Maureen

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napapen(ca 15)

I'm still pruning my camellias as I am behind again this year.

I cut them back to 1-2 sets of leaves and also take out some of the crossing branches. Even tho it is late and flowers have set I always have some blooms even after a severe cut.

Azaleas I wack back with a hedge trimmer for the mounted look otherwise you can cut back quite a bit and new sprouts will come on the branches.

Penny

    Bookmark   July 9, 2007 at 12:40PM
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wanda(Z9 CA)

It's getting late in the season to prune back camellias and azaleas as they are starting to produce buds for spring bloom. If they are japonicas, you might be okay as they bloom later in the season, but sasanquas bloom in fall and if you prune now, you will be cutting off buds that may have formed. It's best to wait until afer bloom and before July/August.
You could still prune them now, but you might sacrifice bloom by cutting off buds that have already formed or are forming.

wanda

    Bookmark   July 10, 2007 at 1:17AM
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calistoga_al

We inherited Camellias that were 40 years old and above the roof gutters. We needed to replace the roof and the gutters. I cut the Camellias down to 4 feet in the summer when the roofing was to be done. The trunks were over 4 inches diameter. They all recovered beautifully and are now 5 years later back up to the roof overhang. Next year after the bloom I will again shorten them up, though not as drastically. Al

    Bookmark   July 10, 2007 at 10:23AM
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buddyben(z9 CA/Sunset 20)

Ha ha, AL, that sounds like my camellias! Been here in my house 27 years and never watered them once. THey are also up past the roof overhang. They could be 30 or 40 years old or more, I guess!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2007 at 4:49PM
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Maureen Janda

I have no idea what kind these are. They have fat buds on them that are brown and crisp all through, which I was guessing were from an attempt at a spring bloom that never happened. I'll be going up to the niece's next week to work on them. Perhaps I'll try to leave some branches unpruned so that they'll get a few flowers and prune the rest. If it were mine, I'd prune hard to develop the shape and sacrifice the flowers this year, if necessary.
These are young urban first-home buyers who have never paid attention to gardens until now. I'm sure they won't prune anything, so if I don't, it won't get done.
Thanks for your help.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2007 at 5:46PM
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