How to Grow and Care for 'Yuletide' Camellias

Liven up your garden with colorful Christmastime camellias.

Yuletide Camellia
Photo: TokioMarineLife/Getty Images

Move over, poinsettias. 'Yuletide' camellias might be on their way to becoming the South's next favorite holiday bloom. These beautiful evergreen shrubs—also known as Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'—bring shiny green foliage and eye-catching red flowers to the garden. Sometimes they bloom a little earlier, meaning the holiday season can get started even sooner in your garden. (And who doesn't love that?)

The Southern Living Plant Collection describes the 'Yuletide' camellia as a "compactly growing shrub [with] glossy, dark green leaves which remain throughout the year. Bright red single blooms with contrasting yellow stamens are formed during the winter." It's that color pairing that's the real draw for these camellia blossoms, as the vibrantly pinkish-red petals contrast with the bright golden stamens and deep green leaves.

They also make gorgeous cut flowers for your festive holiday vases. (Nestle them alongside evergreen clippings from your Christmas tree for a pretty DIY arrangement.) In the garden, the shrubs are extremely versatile and can even work as hedge plantings thanks to the attractive evergreen foliage that's borne thickly on the branches.

Plant Attributes

  • Common Name: Yuletide camellia
  • Botanical Name: Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'
  • Family: Theaceae
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Mature Size: 8 to 10 ft. tall, 6 to 8 ft. wide
  • Sun Exposure: Part sun
  • Soil Type: Loamy, sandy, clay, well-drained
  • Soil pH: Neutral to acidic
  • Bloom Time: Late fall, winter
  • Flower Color: Pinkish-red
  • Hardiness Zones: 7-10 (USDA)
  • Native Area: Asia

'Yuletide' Camellia Care

'Yuletide' camellias will thrive in partial sun with moderate watering and annual fertilizing. But camellias are fairly durable evergreen shrubs that don't require a lot of fuss, which makes them a popular choice for most any Southern garden.

Light

This plant does best in part sun, which means four to six hours of sun a day, including a few afternoon rays. However, camellias can also handle areas in part shade or in a bit more sun, provided there is enough moisture and some protection from the sun during the hottest part of the day.

Soil

Camellias prefer well-drained and moderately moist soil, though they can tolerate some sand or clay. They do not grow well in alkaline soil.

Water

'Yuletide' does best with regular watering when the top three inches of soil are dry. Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the shrub to help preserve moisture. Camellias become more drought-tolerant once established.

Temperature and Humidity

'Yuletide' can be grown in USDA zones 7a-10b and is hardy to the single digits, which means it can withstand some of the South's more punishing cold snaps. They are not winter hardy where temperatures dip below 0 degrees. Camellias can develop fungal problems during a cool, wet spring, but they have little issue with the hot and humid days of summer.

Fertilizer

Fertilize with azalea and camellia food once a year in spring at the beginning of the growing season. In general, apply 1/4 cup of fertilizer per 25 square feet, though it's always best to check the instructions on the package.

Pruning

In optimal conditions, 'Yuletide' can grow moderately fast to 8 to 10 ft. tall and 6 to 8 ft. wide. The plant can be pruned to remove dead or dying twigs or when it becomes overgrown. Reshape or shear your shrub just after flowering to avoid removing next year's flowers. A more severe pruning of 1/3 to 1/2 of the shrub is possible, though flowers may not return for a couple of years. It's generally better to manage the shrub's size and health with light pruning each year.

Potting and Repotting Camellias

Camellias can be successfully grown in a pot with proper care. Plant in a pot with drainage holes in a potting mix made for camellias and azaleas. Repot in a larger size once the plant's roots outgrow the container. Once the plant has reached the size you prefer, you can repot in the same size pot every three years. Simply remove the plant, trim off an inch or two of the root ball, and repot in fresh soil. Use a fertilizer for acid-loving plants, cutting the strength in half for your potted camellia.

Overwintering

If you live in USDA zone 6 or colder, it's best to grow 'Yuletide' in a pot so that you can move it indoors in winter. Move the plant into a greenhouse or sunroom before the first cold snap, especially if temperatures will drop below 0 degrees.

Common Pests & Diseases

Camellias are susceptible to fungal diseases that can cause leaf spots and galls, petal blight, cankers, and root rot, among other things. In most cases, the best course of action is to remove badly infected leaves, flowers, or twigs; rake up fallen leaves and flowers; avoid getting the leaves wet when watering; and improve drainage if needed.

Camellias can also be infected by scale insects, which pierce leaves and suck the sap. A bad infestation can cause leaves to turn yellow or to be covered with sticky sap and black mold. The insects gather underneath the leaves and often look cottony. They can be scraped off or sprayed with horticultural oil.

How to Get 'Yuletide' to Bloom

The single blooms of 'Yuletide' camellias appear in the winter months from late November (at the earliest) through January and make a lovely garden accent. Individual flowers last just a few days before they drop, but camellia buds may open successively, putting on a show for several weeks.

Flower buds first develop in the summer, so avoid pruning in the latter half of the year to preserve your blooms. Freezing temperatures can sometimes cause buds and flowers to drop prematurely; covering the plant with a sheet before a hard freeze may help.

Common Problems with Camellias

In addition to the common problems of fungal infections and scale, camellias can be susceptible to yellowing and browning leaves. Yellow leaves with green veins indicate that your shrub has chlorosis, which means the leaves are not producing enough chlorophyll.

Leaves Turning Yellow

Yellowing leaves, or chlorosis, can be caused by a lack of iron (some yellowing and leaf drop of older leaves is normal). If your shrub was planted in an alkaline soil with too much lime, it will have difficulty taking up the iron it needs from the soil. You can have your soil tested by the local extension office to determine if it is alkaline, then follow your extension office's recommendations for adding sulfates to acidify your soil. You can also spray the leaves with an iron compound to green them up, but the results are temporary.

Leaves Turning Brown

If you find scorched or bronzed areas on leaves, your camellia could be suffering from sunscald. Consider this a possibility if the scorching occurs on a side of the plant that is exposed to full sun. Move the shrub to a shadier location or provide more shade where the camellia is located.

You can find more information about these camellias from The Southern Living Plant Collection at southernlivingplants.com.

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