Charming camellias
Kiran Narain

Camellias (family theaciae) are evergreen flowering shrubs and trees from China, India, Japan and parts of sub-tropical Asia. They belong to the tea family and have adapted to gardens in the temperate zones all over the world. Appreciated for their glossy, dark leaves and single, semi-double or double showy flowers, camellias are available in white and shades of pink. Several hybrids have been developed and some of them are very prolific. They do well in small gardens.

Camellias grow best in humid areas with partial shade and where soil is moist but well drained. Plants like humus-rich soil, which should be enriched with peat or leaf-mould. Even though they like slightly acidic soil, they will also put up with near neutral soil as long as it is lime-free. Doses of sequestered iron and liquid soot added each spring ensure that the leaves do not turn yellow. Camellias can grow well even in large pots or tubs with good drainage. A compost of half peat or leaf-mould and half loam will suit them.

Since camellia buds come up early, they can be easily damaged by frost and may need shelter to protect the fragile flowers. Buds and flowers may be killed if the frozen tissues defrost too rapidly which happens when they are hit by the early morning sun. So avoid keeping them in an East-facing location.

Once established, camellias will do well in woodland conditions and sheltered positions. Assist them to become established by overhead syringing during the first year and later, only during the very dry seasons. A dry atmosphere and dryness at the root level will cause the leaves and buds to drop. Since camellias are slow growing, up to 10-15 feet in that many years, they do not need much pruning. They should be pruned only when necessary, after they have flowered in March-May. Propagation of camellias by amateurs is not very easy. They are propagated best through layering during monsoon and cuttings of firm, young shoots in a mixture of leaf mould and sand. Use hardwood rooting hormones and try to keep the temperature at around 20`BAC. Also, create humidity by misting but do not water the cuttings too much, which may take eight to 10 weeks to root.