Sunburn On Camellias

Many gardeners have had a case of bad sunburn at one time or another in their lives, but the condition can also affect camellias as well. Usually this condition occurs during the most extremely hot days of summer when the sun is high in the sky and the sun’s rays are most intense. Many camellias can be grown in full sun or mostly sun conditions. When these camellias are established in the sunny conditions, their new growth slowly acclimates to the sun’s intensity as the seasons progress. However, if a camellia grown in a shaded environment is suddenly moved to an intense sunny location during the hot summer, this type of sunburn will likely occur quickly. The image right shows a sudden and intense case of sunburn on a plant of Camellia sinensis. This plant was intentionally moved from shade to full sun to create this condition for our illustrative purposes. Had we placed this same camellia in the full sun conditions during the late winter to early spring and let it slowly acclimate to the sun’s changing intensity, we would likely have never seen any sunburn at all.

Many times during the hot summer, we will prune certain varieties severely as we take cuttings for propagation at CamelliaShop. The image above shows a stock plant of Camellia japonica ‘Royal Velvet’ about a week after the sever pruning. The plant is located in the full sun and had acclimated to the sun’s intense conditions. However, when we severely pruned the plant for cuttings, we removed much of the foliage that was shading the lower leaves. The result was a sudden exposure to the sun and a case of sunburn on some of the foliage.

Sometimes periods of rain follower by quick clearing and an immediate return to full intense sun can cause sunburn on camellias. Such was the case of the sunburn illustrated in the image above. This camellia japonica can normally withstand full sun without any problems. However, this camellia suffered sever sunburn on a day when the hot intense sun was briefly interrupted by a quick rain shower followed by a quick return to intense heat and sun. The wet foliage actually intensified the damage of the sunburn.

So what can we learn from all this? Remember to not plant camellias in full sun or mostly sun conditions during the hot days of summer if possible. Sunburn can occur any time of year, but planting them when it is cooler and the sun is less intense will minimize the problem of sunburn.  We have seen camellias that are not acclimated to their environments burn even in the winter months.   Avoid watering the foliage your camellias in full sun or mostly sunny conditions during times when the sun is shining on the foliage. This will minimize sunburn problems. Even if you get severe sunburn on your camellias, do not be too concerned. The plants will likely drop most of the damaged leaves as new growth emerges to replace them. Sunburn happens, but minimizing it keeps your camellias looking good in the garden.


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Knowing When To Plant

Planting time will play a huge part in the overall success of your camellias.   The idea is to plant at just the right time to give your plant time to acclimate to it’s surroundings before climate conditions, such as heat and cold, create stress on the plant.    A well established plant will be able to handle these stresses better than new plantings.

To understand what your climate stresses are, you first have to know what your climate is.  You should know, but in case you don’t, we’ve got a mini-explanation.

The USA is divided into climate zones.  Each of these zones have different requirements for growing plants outdoors mainly based on minimum temperatures.  There are many factors that can affect your ability to grow Camellias outdoors, but cold temperatures, are usually the deciding factor and is why we recommend this guide.


Climate Zones 8 and 9

You can plant outdoors most of the year, but unlike zone 7 and lower, cold is not as big as a concern as the heat.  For this reason, we recommend planting in the Fall.  This will give your plant an excellent chance to get acclimated before the heat of the summer.  In the event you get a sudden cold freeze (below 30F) you may have to protect your plant.  If you do plant in Spring, and you can, just make sure your plant gets adequate moisture and is planted correctly to handle the summer heat stress.

Climate Zone 7

You can plant outdoors, but you are subject to get some pretty cool temperatures.  So your main concern should be to plant far enough in advance of cold weather to give your Camellia time to acclimate.  You will also want to plan to protect your camellias during the first one or two winters.   Spring planting is recommended but make sure you pay attention to summer heat and provide shade if possible or adequate moisture.

Climate Zone 6

Not all camellias can tolerate cold winters of zone 6, but there are some.  Planting in this zone is recommended after the last frost.  You will need to make sure it is protected from summer heat and for the first two or three winters, while it is getting established.

Planting outdoors in zones colder than 6 is not recommended.  Zone 10 is possible to plant but will do best in cool shady environments.


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Camellia Climate Zone Map

The Camellia Belt is Zone 8 and 9.  Camellias tend to do well in these areas outdoors.  Some camellias can tolerate zone 7, and even a slight few can grow outdoors in zone 6, but not all of them.  So understand your Camellia needs before planting Camellias in Climate zone 6 and 7.  Zone 10 is usually to warm for most camellias, but there again, there are some than can tolerate the warmer conditions.



Camellias In Colder Climates

Note: Dr. William Ackerman was without question considered one of the leading authorities on breeding and growing cold hardy camellias. Here is an article that he shared with us several years ago. We have added many images of some of his cold hardy hybrids that we took from plants that Dr. Ackerman also shared with us. Dr. Ackerman passed away in July of 2013, but his legacy lives on with the many cold hardy camellias that he developed over the years.

Few woody ornamentals provide as much year-round pleasure as Camellias. During the bleak days of winter, when many plants are dormant, camellias dress up the landscape with their elegant flowers; dark, lustrous, evergreen foliage, and various leaf shapes and textures. A variety of habits abound: from prostrate to columnar, and open to dense.

Cold-hardy camellias have long been a dream of Northern gardeners. Unfortunately, until recently, camellias have not been widely grown beyond the ‘Camellia Belt’ (from South-east to the West Coast; USDA Zones 7 to 9), because of a well-established myth that camellias are not cold-hardy. Yet, many new cold-hardy varieties are just waiting to be used in Northern climates. In the Northeast, judicial selection of fall- and spring-blooming cultivars can result in extended flowering periods, from early October to late April with a break in January and February.

For decades, horticulturists in the North have tried growing Southern camellias – often unsuccessfully. While some camellia cultivars seem to tolerate harsh winters, reliable hardiness was unattainable. These frequent failures further supported the camellia’s reputation for tenderness until recently.

Fortunately, the discovery of an obscure U.S. Department of Agriculture introduction of C. oleifera from northern China with a proven hardiness, has revolutionized the camellia world. C. oleifera grown in the Orient for almost 5,000 years as a source of cooking oil pressed from its seeds, this species has many strains and forms. A survey made in China in 1999, reported that C. oleifera was being grown over an area of 9.7 million acres in that country. This is roughly equivalent to the land area of the Maryland and Connecticut combined. It is not surprising that a select few developed extreme cold hardiness in the northern locations.

An extensive breeding program established at the U.S. National Arboretum in the late 1970’s, incorporated the cold hardiness of C. oleifera with the elegant flowers of the most widely grown standard varieties. As a result, we have a range of both spring and fall-flowering varieties being grown widely through areas of coastal New England, parts of the Mid-West Great Lakes area, and the Lake areas of Canada.


As stated earlier, if northern gardeners are to grow their camellias successfully, they need to follow certain basic principles specific for their climate.

  • SPRING PLANTING rather than fall planting, as usually recommended in the South. This gives the plants a full growing season before the onset of winter.
  • Avoid full sun, especially early morning sun. An over-story of evergreen shade trees providing winter protection from sun and wind, is ideal.
  • DO NOT PLANT TOO DEEP, the top of the media in the container should be level, or slightly above the surrounding ground.
  • Mulch ith pine needles, pine bark, or no –packing leaves, to a depth of 3-4 inches. Camellias prefer
  • Slightly Acid, well, drained soils similar to azaleas and rhododendrons.
  • Newly planted camellias may need some cold weather protection during the first several winters. A wind and sun screen may be made with a circle of stakes around the plant, and then wrapped with burlap (or Microfoam) with several inches of dry leaves are examples. If a source of Microfoam can be found, it is not necessary to use leaves.
  • DEER love the tender camellia leaves! Fence small plants, or cover with black netting.

Numerous books and articles on the best camellia varieties and their culture have been written by, and directed towards, growers and landscapers in the South (’Camellia Belt’). While these publications are valuable for growers in that area, their recommendations can be misleading and sometimes, disastrous, in northern climates.

A recent book ‘Beyond the Camellia Belt’ by Dr. William Ackerman, gives comprehensive advice on succeeding with camellias in colder climates. A few examples of which are included above. The book also includes descriptions and photos of the 65 cold hardy varieties recently introduced by the U.S. National Arboretum, Washington, D.C.

Dr. William Ackerman

There are many outstanding camellias that have proven to be more cold tolerant. The following images are of some of these cold tolerant varieties.

Camellia hybrid ‘Snow Flurry’

Camellia hybrid ‘Winter’s Interlude’

Camellia hybrid ‘Winter’s Snowman’

Camellia hybrid ‘Winter’s Joy’

Camellia hybrid ‘Autumn Spirit’

Growing Camellias In Containers

Most Camellias can be successfully grown in containers as long as you remember some guidelines!

Spring Festival in Container
Spring Festival in Container

The most important thing to remember about a Camellia  is that it will absolutely not tolerate wet soils or soils that do not drain properly.  Make sure you pay close attention to the recommendations we have for potting soils.

Growing in Containers—tips

  • Choose a container that is about twice as large as the root mass of your plant.
  • AVOID containers that are too large or you could have uneven water and nutrient distribution which could lead to trouble with your plant. Keep plant roots near the top of the pot.
  • Make sure your container has plenty of drain holes.
  • Fill the bottom with larger pebbles or stones so that water can drain well to the bottom of the pot and out. Avoid clogging holes.
  • Clay will pull more water out of the soil—so if you must use clay, pay close attention to your plants water needs.
  • Don’t let your container sit in a saucer of water. Drain water off so that water will not be wicked back up into the pot.

Choose the correct potting soil for Camellias

The natural habitat for camellias are  soils that are organic in nature and well drained.  The biggest mistake people make with camellias is buying the bagged potting mixes that contain a lot of peat.  A little peat is ok, but using soils that are comprised mostly of peat moss will cause excessive moisture in the soil and will lead to poor drainage which will suffocate the roots of your camellias.   We do not recommend that you use the commercial bagged mixes unless you have used them with camellias before.

We use a soil mix that contains 80% finely ground aged pine bark, 10% builders sand and 10% peat moss.   If ground pinebark is not available in your area, you can substitute something similar. For example, you may not have access to pine bark, perhaps some other type of aged bark could be substituted such as Fir bark.  As long as it is ground into pieces 3/4” to 1/2” or less.

Garden centers may have bagged ground aged bark and may call it soil conditioner – check the ingredients to be sure.  Nurseries in your area may have the bark, sand and peat soil  – check with a local nursery in your area.

Fertilizing Camellia in Containers 

Your camellias in containers will benefit from regular fertilizing.  We suggest using a liquid fertilizer for containers like Miracle Grow Miracid™ or a natural  fertilizer like HollyTone™ .   Both of these are formulated for acid loving plants like Camellias.   Liquid feeding will need to be done on a 7-10 day basis to be effective.  HollyTone™ can be used about every 6 weeks during the growing season.  Avoid granular and timed release on plants in containers.

 Repotting Containerized Camellia  

Camellias grown in containers will do very well for many years.  You may at some point have the need to repot your plant.  Choose a container a little larger than the one you’re growing in.  It’s usually best to gradually step up plants on a regular basis instead of putting them in a container that is too large.

If you wish to repot the plant back into the same container, you can trim the roots back somewhat and then repot again.  The roots will generate and your plant will be healthier for it.

Use Miracle Grow Quick Start™ on all of your repotted camellias! It’s a great product.


BEST Camellia Soil Recipe 

80% Finely Ground Aged bark  (pine, fir, cedar)  (1/4 inch pieces) Sometimes sold as Soil Conditioner.

10% Builders sand (a little more coarse than play sand)

10% Peat moss

Top dress with Milorganite and Hollytone


Alternative Potting Soil Recipe

5 Parts Miracle Grow Garden Soil For Shrubs & Trees (not Bedding or Vegetables)

2-3 Part Perlite

No need for peat moss as the soil is already high in organic matter

(This may contain fertilizer so be careful of what you add)


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Planting Outdoors

Camellias in The Garden

Camellias can be planted outdoors in milder climates.  A part-sun part-shade environment works best and camellias should be protected from afternoon sun.  Best climate is zone 8 and 9.  7 with caution and 6 with certain protection from severe winters.

The main thing to keep in mind with Camellia plants is that they absolutely will not tolerate wet feet or planting too deeply.

Before planting outdoors, make sure you find the perfect location.  Part sun/shade or filtered sun is the best light for camellias of all types.  Evergreen or decidious trees with a high canopy provide excellent shade from intense summer sun and are an excellent choice.  Also trees that drop leaves such as Elms, or Pines  provide a much needed organic mulch that over time will provide your plants with nutrients as well as protection from drought and cold.

If you are going to be watering with an irrigation system, make the proper adjustments or add additional nozzles or heads to provide water to your new planting.  This is a seen a lot easier before you plant, so turn on your system, and see what you will need for the spot.

Camellias like a very well draining soil that will hold some moisture, but not wet or mucky that contains organic matter.  (decomposed leaves etc.) much like you would find in a forest setting where leaves and debris compost down for a very rich, but moist soil.

For  very sandy soil, you can add peat or compost to to add  more organic matter.  For clay soils, adding a soil conditioner (usually a finely ground aged bark matter) will break up the clay and provide better oxygen and moisture to the roots.

Your garden soil also needs to be acid.  Usually you will find acid soils in areas where organic matter such as composted leaves have fallen.  But to be sure, have your soil tested.  It’s much easier to correct an issue at the beginning instead of having plants that perform poorly from the start.  The ideal  pH range for camellias is 5.5 to 6.5.  Improper pH ranges can cause nutrient deficiencies resulting in poor or no new growth, spindly plants, leaf loss, yellowing leaves,  poor bud development , disease, insect infections and if left untreated, death of the plant.


Planting of Camellias outdoors

Things you may need:


Hand Trowel

Axe or loppers for cutting roots in soil

Soil amendments (peat, sand, or compost)



  • Begin by preparing the site for your camellia.
  • Rake back any existing mulch
  • Dig a hole about twice as wide and deep as your container removing the soil  that will be used as back fill when you plant.  If you are planting on a slope, make a well around the lowest part of the slope to keep water from running off as fast.
  • Amend the soil with whatever matter you may need (Peat, soil or compost or material for pH correction) depending on your soil condition. This will be used as Backfill.
  • Remove most of the larger roots from trees or other shrubs that have grown into the area.
  • Measure the hole with the plant still in it’s container. You want to make sure the surface of the root ball of the plant is at or above the ground level.  Either add soil back or take more soil out  of the hole until the proper level is achieved.
  • Take your plant out of it’s container. This usually can be done by putting one hand on the root surface near the stem and the other hand on the bottom of the pot.  Gently remove the pot from the plant.
  • If the roots of the plant are tight and wound around the root mass, you can either take your fingers or a hand trowel and loosen up the roots that are tight. You can even take a knife and make vertical cuts in the roots, this will not hurt the plant, but will make them start to grow outward.
  • Put your plant in the hole, once again checking levels of the hole making sure it is at or slightly above ground level. You want to avoid the plant sinking down or over time settling down where the roots fall well below ground level. See diagram below
  • Pack your back fill soil around the sides of the plants making sure you’re tightly packing it. Continue until you reach the top of the plant.
  • Don’t put any dirt or soil on the top of the root ball. This is to make sure that when you water or fertilize, that nutrients and moisture are getting to the roots and not running off.  Putting soil on the top of the root mass could cause suffocation and the plant could die if not done properly.  Mulch on top is great, but not soil.
  • Mulch the plants well with 2-3 layers of either bark mulch, straw, leaves, or compost. Mulch serves several purposes.  It keeps your plant roots moist and protected from heat and cold.  But more importantly, mulch should break down to help provide nutrients to the soil.  Stray, leaves  and bark make excellent mulch choices.  Rocks and Rubber Mulch do not.
  • Water your plant and the area well, and let it drain.
  • Fertilize during the active growing season (usually March-September depending on where you live. Replenish mulch when it begins to deplete and if you have added soil pH corrective matter, check your pH once per year.



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Watering Camellias

Camellias are no different from most ornamental shrubs.  They have to have water to survive.  Not enough and they can perform poorly or die, and too much they can perform poorly and die.  Balancing their water requirement is not difficult to do.

Camellias like to be moist, not wet.  They like to be well drained.  They do not do well with excessively wet or dry roots.  We use overhead irrigation at our nursery for our camellias and on some things we use drip irrigation.  The best looking ones where we have used overhead irrigation and not only irrigates the roots but keeps the foliage looking nice as well.  Just dont’ water late in the day if you can help it in climates that are moderate and warm or you could have funal issues.

Disease & Disorders

Camellias that are well maintained and nurtured are less susceptible to disease.  The most common camellia diseases are listed below:


Caused by the fungi Ciborinia camelliae, each year in early spring, open blooms are infected with the fungi.  The flower turns brown and falls to the ground where the fungi lay dormant for another season.  When the weather warms these fungi rise in the air, attach to the blooms and the cycle begins again.  Billions of spores can be released if there are a lot of camellias in the garden making control difficult.  In the nursery however, it is much easier to control as blooms are often cleaned up before the next season blooms.  


Caused by the fungus Glomerella cingulata, this can cause significant damage or death to camellias.  It is most common in the deep south where weather is hot and humid.  The disease can affect all camellias, but can be especially damaging on Camellia sasanqua and Camellia reticulata.  The fungal disease enteres the plant through an open wound, which can be as simple as the opening of the bark where a leaf fell off, or a cut, scrape or tear from animals (cats) or lawn equipment.  The disease quickly destroys surrounding tissue, often seen as a browning or drying in the bark.  Destroying this tissue cuts off water and nutrients to the plant above the infected area.  This causes this part of the plant to wither and die.  With Dieback disease, leaves dry up but stay on the plant, they do not fall off.    At the point of damage, the trunk or branch can be swollen or cracked which is the indicator for dieback.  Prevention is usually the best bet – using a fungicide when the plant is damaged can help somewhat.  Removing infected branches keeps the disease from spreading to other open wounds.

FALSE DIEBACK-CANKER DIAGNOSIS:  Many growers quickly blame dieback/canker  for these symptoms without fully examining the plant for other causes. For example,  Twig Borers and other boring insects can cause the same results as dieback/canker where  limbs or twigs are dying, but leaves hanging on.  On close examination you may see small pinholes in the bark below where the damage originates.  Insect damage can be controlled.  You just have to recognize the type of problem so you can know how to fix it.   


Root rot can occur on plants that the soil is too wet or either has poor drainage.  Camellias need good aeration as well as moisture.  They don’t like to be wet, but moist as long as the roots can still breath.  That is why we recommend using a bark mix for your camellias opposed to commercial bagged potting soils with peat moss.

Exobasidium Leafgall of Camellia   fungus Exobasidium


Symptoms of scab are rather varied; however, it usually appears first as a tiny, water-soaked, and often raised area on the underside of the leaf.  These spots enlarge and may become corky, brown in color, and of irregular size and shape.  The condition may also appear on the top of the leaf.

Scab is a physiological condition associated with excess moisture or fluctuations of moisture from too high to too low.  There is no biological agent associated with this condition and chemical sprays are ineffective.  It is believed that improvement of drainage and growing conditions are the best possible control


Sunburn or sunscald appears as yellowish or bronzed areas on the upper side of the leaves with severely affected areas turning brown.  These brown areas nearly always are interveinal and appear in the center of the leaves as opposed to salt injury which appears at the leaf margins.  It is especially seen on plants with virus variegation in the foliage or when plants are moved from shade to sunshine.  Some varieties are more susceptible than others


Salt injury is characterized by browning and death of the leaf tissue beginning at the margins and progressing inward.  Most often the injury will appear first on older leaves
Too high a concentration of salts in the soil or in the irrigation water or the use of heavy doses of fertilizer coupled with inadequate irrigation will cause this condition.  This problem will develop rapidly in container grown plants.

To prevent this condition, camellias should be planted in a medium with good drainage.  An occasional heavy irrigation will help to leach away the excess salt

Sea Foam

  • Species: Japonica
  • Bloom Color: White
  • Bloom Size: Medium 3-4″
  • Bloom Form: Formal Double
  • Bloom Season: Late winter early spring
  • Growth Habit: Upright spreading
  • Growth Rate: Vigorous ( + 8 inches of new growth per season)
  • Maintainable Height: 6-8′
  • Maintainable Width: 5-6′
  • Light Preferences: Filtered shade
  • Plant Uses: Accent Plant, Screen or Hedge, Container Plant
  • Special Characteristics: Exceptional blooming performance
  • Climate Zone Recommendations for Outdoor Planting: Zones 7-8-

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