Pruning overgrown camellias
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.