All I Want for Christmas Is This Camellia
What do you want most for Christmas this year? Moroccan camel hair broom and dustpan? Himalayan Sea Salt foundation? Tsunami leak-proof underwear? Clove & Cinnamon Holiday Snuff? Topographic map of Keith Richards' s face?
Worthy gifts, all, but if someone in your life loves colorful plants in this festive season, may I suggest you go with your heart? Present them with a 'Yuletide' camellia. (If Alabama wins the college football championship again in January, you have my permission to rename it 'Roll Tide.')
'Yuletide' is a hybrid of sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua), the species that blooms in fall and winter. It gets its name from its propensity to bloom around Christmas, although mine started blooming in November and is still going. Combining brilliant red flowers and golden stamens with handsome, glossy, dark green foliage, it grows distinctly upright to 8 to 10 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide. This makes it ideal for confined spaces where you don't want it to block a window or crowd and entryway. You can also use it to create an informal screen or even shear it into a formal hedge. If you choose the latter, shear it only in spring to mid-summer to give it time to produce flower buds for later.
Having enjoyed this camellia in my yard for 20 years, I can affirm that once established it is tough, tough, tough. It shrugs off summer heat and drought, although watering during dry spells results in heavier flowering. Give it acid, well-drained soil and full to part sun. This compact plant needs little pruning, but when mine does, I do so in spring. Some sasanquas fall victim to a fungus called leaf gall that causes thickened, distorted leaves that turn lime-green and then white. 'Yuletide' seems resistant, however.
I'm sorry to say 'Yuletide' isn't winter hardy north of USDA Zone 7. That's a real bummer for folks in Ohio, Vermont, and Montana. For you folks, I suggest a traditional cut-off Christmas tree top stuck in a snowbank. Too predictable? Well, why do think I mentioned the Keith Richards topographical map?