When to prune camellias – top tips for a perfect garden

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Camellias come in two groups that flower at different times, so when choosing one, consider when you’d like the flowers to appear. Camellia sasanqua cultivars flower in autumn and winter, while camellia japonica and camellia x williamsii cultivars flower in late winter and early spring. There are also several different flower forms (single, semi-double, anemone, peony, rose and formal double), so choose your favourite kind. All camellias have very flamboyant and boisterous flowers, but they are best planted in the autumn when soil is still warm, as this encourages the roots to establish before winter sets in.

How to prune camellias

Camellias tend to be quite forgiving, and unlike other evergreen shrubs, they can be pruned back very hard if needed to rejuvenate.

An only camellia tree will almost always come back with an abundance of new growth.

Typically, camellias don’t need much pruning and can be left without any problems, although a light prune can help encourage new growth.

Pyracantha writes: “Always prune straight after flowering has finished in spring, as pruning late may remove next year’s flower buds.”

Camellias flower on the previous year’s growth, and the buds (which are formed in late summer and autumn) will produce the amazing flower that appears in a few months’ time.

By pruning them after flowering, you’re ensuring you don’t remove any of the growth that will push out next year’s flowers.

Pruning in camellias is usually done to either retain the shape of the plant and keep it to a certain size, to help reduce disease or to rejuvenate an older plant that needs sprucing up.

Pyracantha recommends gardeners to prune lightly, even if there are no restrictions on the size you can let the plant grow until.

Lightly prune a couple of inches of the ends of the branches as soon as they’re done flowering.

Also, remove any weak, diseased or damaged stems at the same time.

If you want to keep your camellias to a certain size or framework, prune back to around two to three inches shorter of your desired size after flowering.

Removing any useless stems will also help sunlight reach the centre of the plant, enabling air to circulate better which has been proven to help reduce disease such as mildew.

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Hard pruning camellias

Camellias, unlike many other shrubs, will be absolutely fine even when they’re pruned back too hard.

Even large shrubs can be pruned back to a couple of feet (60cm) and new growth will shoot out from the old wood.

If you’re opting for a hard prune, this is best done in spring when the threat of hard frost has passed and they’ll have the whole summer to really thrive.

If needed, however, camellias can be pruned back at any time of the year – but remember you could be giving up next year’s flowers if done at the wrong time.

Camellia’s ideal growing conditions

Camellias are naturally woodland plants, meaning they thrive in light to mid-shade areas in acidic, well-drained soil mixed with plenty of mulch and organic matter.

They will grow in full sunlight, but watering is a must in the summer to help them form their buds for next season’s flowers.

Camellias need to be fed in the spring during the flowering season with an ericaceous feed in liquid form.

Stop feeding around June as over-feeding camellias can encourage plants to put on new soft growth rather than producing the necessary buds.

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