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HARDY CAMELLIAS FOR LOCAL GARDENS?

written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

When experiencing hard times or adversity, it’s hard to believe that gray clouds often come with a silver lining. For example, in 1977 and 1979 the U. S. National Arboretum experienced two very cold winters. The severe cold killed more than 950 camellias growing in their Asian garden. However, one particular member of the collection survived. It was identified as PI 162475. It had been brought to the arboretum as seed that had been collected in China.

The resulting plant from PI 162475 was not astounding. It was a small tree with white flowers that didn’t come close to rivaling the beauty of the typical garden camellias. Lacking remarkable features, it had been relegated to an out-of-the-way location. After the two harsh winters, the favored showy camellias were “goners,” but one of the arboretum’s plant breeders, William Ackerman, noted that PI 162475 was still alive. Ackerman proceeded to breed PI 162475, renamed ‘Lu Shan Snow’ and another hardy camellia with lines of less hardy camellias with showier flowers.

The results of Ackerman’s breeding work was sent to cooperators in five colder eastern states to test their hardiness and six selections were made for introduction to home gardeners. In addition to being cold hardy to USDA Zone 6b, they also had attributes that would make them desirable to home gardeners, such as plant habit, flower quality, and evergreen leaves. They were released to the gardening public in 1991.

They are all fall bloomers and have showy flowers that drop their petals individually, avoiding the need for gardeners to tidy up and “dead-head” or remove the spent blooms.

They are

Polar Ice

, ‘Snow Flurry

,

Winter

s Hope’,

Winter

s Rose’, ‘

Winter

s Star

, and

Winter

s Charm.

‘Winter’s Rose’ is a delicate creamy pink and looks much like a waxy delicate rose.

‘Winter’s Charm’ and ‘Winter’s Star’ are both pink, and the other three are white. Other breeders have also introduced hardy camellias, including some spring flowering cultivars.

They may be hardy, but will they thrive in our region? Camellias are well adapted to the mild humid regions of the southeast US, such as the Carolinas, but not to the Inland Northwest. Camellias don’t like hot, sunny, dry conditions or alkaline soils. However, gardeners of our region seem to like a challenge. For local gardeners to have a chance at growing hardy camellias successfully, they must meet the needs of this delicate shrub.

Camellias want a well-drained acidic soil that’s high in organic matter. The soil should be kept evenly and moderately moist. The roots should be mulched with an organic mulching material. They don’t like hot sun or high temperatures. (See what I mean that it will be a challenge?)

Translating that into our local climatic conditions, this most likely means amending the soil with organic matter, such as well-rotted compost. If the soil is highly alkaline, sulfur should also be added to the soil prior to planting. Even where well adapted, camellias grow best in partial shade. Plants should be situated where they are protected from wind and full sun, such as the north side of a structure. Being a broadleaf evergreen, they also need protection from wind and full sun in the winter.

It’s pointed out by the experts that gardeners often over-fertilize their camellias leading to leggy growth. They recommend using a fertilizer with slow-release nitrogen and only applying it if needed for good growth.

About ten years ago when I was in Vancouver, Washington I noticed a beautiful tall shrub with flowers that looked like delicate roses, but had wide evergreen leaves. I was enthralled by the plant and later learned that it was a camellia. I was so disappointed when I found out that camellias were not considered winter hardy for our region. I’m excited that there are hardy camellias available for home gardeners in colder climates. Now, we’ll have to see how they do with our hot, dry, sunny summer weather!

Published: 11/18/2006 10:56 AM

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