Plant Some Fall Camellias
Sasanqua camellias are blooming profusely right now.
I don’t know whether it was the abundant rainfall we received in north-central Alabama this summer or the abnormally mild autumn we’ve enjoyed thus far. But my sasanqua camellias have never looked prettier, sporting clouds of blooms. If you’ve never grown these graceful cousins to the winter- and spring-blooming common camellia (Camellia japonica), now is a good time to plant.
As the name implies, sasanqua camellias are hybrids developed from the species Camellia sasanqua. They’re smaller in every respect than common camellias – smaller flowers, leaves, and plant size. But their looser form looks less stiff in the landscape, so you can use them in more ways. They come as either compact, mounding plants or open, upright shrubs or small trees. They take pruning and shearing well (do this in spring), so you can use them for foundation plants, screens, hedges, and even trained flat against a wall (called “espalier’).
Flowering begins as early as October and can last into January, depending on the selection and your location. Single, semi-double, or double blossoms in varying shades of red, pink, and white appear atop glossy, deep green leaves. Among Grumpy’s favorites: ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ (shown up top), an early bloomer and upright grower to 10 feet tall. A plethora of deep pink flowers open quite early in fall.
‘Mine-No-Yuki’ (‘White Doves’) is another top pick. Large, pristine white blossoms look like peonies. Slender, arching branches reach five feet tall and are excellent for espalier.
The best sasanqua for making hedges and screens, in my never-humble opinion, is ‘Yuletide,’ above. It gets its name from its late, single blooms, which sometimes don’t appear until Christmas, and their bright red color with vivid yellow stamens. It’s an upright grower to 10 feet tall. I love it.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t the mention the October Magic Series of sasanquas developed in Fairhope, Alabama for our Southern Living Plant Collection. These tidy, compact, carefree growers offer a wide range of flower colors and shapes.
How to Grow
Adapted to USDA Zones 7 to 10, sasanquas like acid, fertile, well-drained soil that contains plenty of organic matter. Once established, they’re quite drought tolerant. They prefer light shade, but will accept full sun if grown in good soil. Feed with an acid-forming azalea/camellia fertilizer in spring. As mentioned before, prune in spring too.
WATCH: Grumpy's Guide to Camellias
Tea scale is the most common insect pest. It appears as white and brown specks on the undersides of the leaves. Infested leaves turn yellow and drop. Control them by spraying the leaf undersides with horticultural oil in fall and again in May according to label directions. The most common disease is leaf gall, a fungus that causes distorted, thick, whitish leaves that eventually turn brown and drop. The best control is simply to pick off the infected leaves and throw them out with the trash.