People aren’t the only ones going nuts in this pandemic.
Steve Bender's Yuletide Camellia
Credit: Steve Bender

These are crazy times. Waves of COVID wash across the land. A tropical storm strikes every five minutes. Neighbors brawl over which mayonnaise is better, Duke's or Hellman's. Paul McCartney will not be singing at the upcoming Super Bowl. Weird.

Lunacy extends even to my garden. In one corner grows a favorite winter-blooming camellia, called 'Yuletide' (Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'). It's named that because it's supposed to bloom at Christmas. This year, it started flowering in October and it's still going. If I renamed it 'Halloween,' you'd understand why.

Several traits make this plant a winner besides its bloom time. Cherry-red blossoms with bright yellow stamens appear atop glossy, deep-green foliage. Reaching 8 to 10 feet tall and about 6 feet wide, it's a dense and upright grower, making it a good choice for both informal screens and sheared hedges. You can also train it to grow flat against a wall, a practice known as "espalier."

WATCH: Grumpy Gardener's Guide to Camellias

'Yuletide' isn't fussy. Once established, it's very heat- and drought-tolerant. Plant it in full sun or light shade in acid, well-drained soil. Spring is the time to prune. After you do, give it some azalea-camellia fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants. The only problem mine has had (though not serious) is a fungus called leaf gall that causes new leaves in spring to grow thick and fleshy and slowly change color from green-apple to white. Picking off the infected leaves and throwing them out with the trash is the best control.

Look for 'Yuletide' at garden centers now that haven't yet replaced all of their plants with cut Christmas trees. It's a member of the Southern Living Plant Collection and thrives in USDA Zones 7 to 10. Who knows, maybe next year it'll bloom at the proper time.