Prized by gardeners for their beauty in the landscape and by flower collectors who proudly display their colorful blooms in elaborate crystal bowls, Camellia japonicas are enjoying renewed popularity across the world. Their classic-shaped flowers herald the spring, and each year new hybrid varieties are introduced to delight collectors everywhere.
Until now though, gardeners in colder climates could not enjoy these classic beauties because they couldn’t survive the cold of winter. But all that has changed with the introduction of two new cold-hardy camellia series called Ice Angels and Ice Follies. All the varieties in these series can tolerate temperatures down to -10 degrees.
Camellias were first introduced from Asia to the West in the early 18th Century by a Jesuit priest named George Karl Kamel, from whose name camellia is derived. Since then, plant hunters have been searching for camellia species growing wild in countries like China, Japan and throughout the Pacific Rim. Growers then take these new plants and use them to create new hybrids for the home landscape, and one of the by-products of this breeding process are these new cold-hardy hybrids.
Because camellias are evergreen, they not only make for great focal points in the garden but also can also decorate a deck or patio in containers. They are so versatile they can even be trained on a trellis as an alternative to a shade tolerant vine. The classic flowers range in shape from loosely-petaled semi-double blooms to anemone shaped and more layered formal blooms. The 3-4 inch blooms range in colors including white, shades of coral, pink and red along with many variegated colors.
These new japonica hybrid camellias prefer filtered shade and bloom from March until June depending on their local climate. Most grow 6-8 ft. high and wide, and can get even taller with age if not pruned. They also prefer well-amended, fast-draining soil so water doesn’t accumulate in their root zones. They prefer to be kept moist–but become drought tolerant once established.
Camellias require little fertilizer. We recommend waiting until the plants are finished blooming before giving them their first feeding of the year. After flowering, wait for new growth to appear at the ends of branches and then feed every two months through the end of September with cottonseed meal or an organic acid food.
It’s the perfect time to see our camellias in all of their blooming glory. We promise you will enjoy their spectacular flowers. But be warned, growing camellias and enjoying their flowers can be addictive!