By JOE LAMP’L
If you have Camellia japonica planted in your landscape, winter can be a frustrating time. Camellias are famous for two things, glossy dark evergreen foliage and the potential for abundant flowering in the dead of winter. Unfortunately, and all too often, camellias are not living up to their full potential.
I’m often asked why Camellias that can be loaded with flower buds actually fail to ever bloom. Most of the time these buds simply end up turning brown and dropping from the plant before they ever flower. If this happed to your plants, you may only be guilty of poor placement or wrong variety. Harsh winter winds and unfiltered sunlight can dry out the plant tissue to harmful levels.
Camellia japonica is notorious for falling victim to inconsistent winter weather. Widely fluctuating temperatures really wreak havoc with this species. Picking a newer variety that has been bred to withstand more extreme temperatures will help greatly. However, for the rest of us, many of our plants are several years old or more. They are not tolerant of temperatures much below freezing when the plant is full of buds. There are some simple steps you can take to help protect the plants and one step which although more involved, could ensure you get flowers out of those buds before winter sets in.
First, the easier steps. Make sure your plants stay consistently watered. A steady supply of water could provide the necessary hydration your plants need to move from flower buds to full flowers. However, camellias can’t stand poor drainage and wet feet. Be sure your plants drain well. Next, a healthy plant is a more vigorous one, and better able to withstand extremes. Camellias aren’t heavy feeders, but occasional supplemental fertilization may make the difference. Covering the plants can provide marginal protection from light frost. But even then, the cover should rest above rather than against the blooms, and for optimal protection, it should go all the way to the ground and secured there. In this way, you will be taking advantage of trapped ground heat. One note of caution, if you cover your plants, make sure to remove it the next morning or you may cause even more damage.
Now for the grand finale. If you really want to give the camellias the best chance of flowering before freezing temperatures do them in, try applying a drop or two of Gibberellic acid to each bud. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Giberellia is a growth hormone found in small amounts in most plants. This compound has been formulated into an application that is now readily available and safe to use. A drop or two at the base of each bud in the fall (referred to as “jibbing”) can produce full blooms in just a matter of weeks, well ahead of threatening weather. You can learn more about this process as well as detailed information by contacting The American Camellia Society.
This year has been one of those years in my garden. I don’t have the time to “jib” my buds, so I appreciate them for the beautiful evergreen foliage provided in the cold stark months of winter, even in the shadiest of spots.