Fall color may be over, but my camellia is still going strong.

By Steve Bender
December 20, 2018
Grumpy Camellia
Credit: Steve Bender

When the last autumn leaf falls, it's hard not to feel a little down. All the fabulous colors that filled the yard for months have departed. Or have they? Not in Grumpy's garden. An old selection of fall-blooming sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua) decided it was having so much fun, it couldn't stop. It's been blooming since October! As I look at it today, it's festooned with buds that haven't yet opened. That's pretty cool.

Originating in Japan in 1954, this sasanqua is named ‘Kanjiro.' I planted it about 15 years ago at the edge of my woodland garden. It now stands nine feet tall. Because of its upright form, I pruned it into a multi-trunked small tree like I would a crepe myrtle, removing all side branches up to a height of four feet. The exposed bark is quite handsome and sets off the small, glossy, deep green leaves.

Three-inch, cherry pink blossoms with bright yellow stamens appear atop the foliage in fall and winter. They're the only flowers in my garden right now, so I love them. Unlike the blooms of most sasanquas that shatter quickly after cutting, those of ‘Kanjiro' make excellent cut flowers.

Why Now?

Full disclosure—my ‘Kanjiro' has never bloomed this heavily or this long. Why this year? I attribute it to three things. First, we had plenty of rain all summer and summer is when the flower buds set. Second, no extraordinary blast of Arctic air froze the plant in mid-bloom. Finally—and most importantly—in spring I cut down a large oak next to it that had died, thus increasing the light reaching the sasanqua by about 50%. Too little light is a prime cause of poor blooming.

The best lighting conditions for both spring- and fall-blooming camellias are either light shade from tall trees with few low branches or alternating patches of sun and shade that move across the plants during the day. They also need acid, well-drained soil. Young plants appreciate moist soil to develop good root systems, but older plants are surprisingly drought tolerant. They're winter hardy in USDA Zone 7-10.

WATCH: Grumpy Gardener's Guide to Camellias

‘Kanjiro' is available at garden centers and online from Wilson Brothers Gardens. But what if you want a different color or a sasanqua that stays low and mounding? Check out the selection of outstanding, new sasanquas in our Southern Living Plant Collection. You'll find them at many home and garden centers right now. Great holiday gifts!