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You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Camellia

Camellia X williamsii 'Donation'

Ask the gardener: Camellia

Find out how to care for your Camellias...

Warton's Bill Blackledge is one of the county's most popular and sought after gardeners.   If it's green and needs watering, Bill can tell you about it.  He has been answering BBC Radio Lancashire listeners' queries for over thirty years, which means he's been there nearly as long as the transmitter!

His knowledge is encyclopedic. After training at the under the then Ministry of Agriculture, Bill spent over twenty years at the Department of Biological and Environmental Services at Lancaster University.  Now, he's a regular course tutor at Alston Hall, Longridge and Lancaster Adult College.

For three decades, Bill has travelled the county with fellow judges as a regional judge for North West in Bloom.

So, whatever the problem, we like to think Bill can sort it out... at least that's the theory!

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Margaret asks...

I have a camellia bush 3 years old it has always had lovely glossy leaves and flower wonderfully every year. This year it is again full of buds and flowering BUT all the leaves are dropping off it has now very few leaves most of the leaves are patchy brown I have it in a pot approx 12 wide-18ins high I have it in the correct compost it does not appear to be pot bound. What can I do? I don't want to lose it as it has sentimental ties. Hope you can help. Thank you

Bill replies...

It is worth checking the soil of your Camellia plant Margaret to see if there are any soil borne pests - such as Vine Weevil Grubs - which do attack Camellias and can quite easily cause the leaves to drop.  If there are any grubs in the soil they will be pinkish white in colour and they will need to be destroyed.  It does seem quite drastic that suddenly all the leaves are dropping off but if your Camellia does produce new leaves it will be worthwhile to give your plant a feed with a general acid fertiliser.

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Sally asks...

My red camellia of 6 years approx flowered well this year but now appears to be dying. Leaves are turning brown, buds drying and going brown on the plant, I have a pink and white one also, is there anything I can do to save the plant.  I'd appreciate your help.

Bill replies...

The browning of the buds is usually caused by frost or wind scorch damage Sally but, it can also be caused by the early morning sun burning the damp buds if your Camellias have been planted against an east facing wall.  I also feel that all your Camellia's will benefit from the application of an acid fertiliser and I would also keep an eye on the watering - it has been quite dry this Spring.  Again if your Camellias are growing in containers you will need to feed regularly and keep an eye on the watering.

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Simone Bonner asks...

We moved a pink camellia from a pot (kept in the back garden) to the ground in the front garden about 2 years ago.  At first it was ok but gradually over time the leaves have faded to almost yellow and this year has produced only two blooms - the first since moving it.  What can be done to return it to its former glory?

Bill replies...

The yellowing of your camellia leaves Simone is a classic symptom of Lime Chlorosis. Too much lime in your soil is blocking the uptake of iron to your Camellia plant which in turn is causing the leaves to yellow.  Short term you will need to feed your plant with an ericacious/acid fertiliser and you will also need to apply a dressing of ferrous sulphate fertiliser to the soil to replenish the iron.

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Angela Sedgley asks...

I have a large camellia in a pot which is over wintering in my greenhouse.  It is flowering well (pink flowers), but the leaves are a very light green.  Does it need feeding and if so what with?

Bill replies...

Any camellia that are grown in containers Angela need feeding and you will need to use an ericacous/acid fertiliser which are readily available in Garden Centres and DIY Stores. With the leaves on your Camellia being very pale green  I personally would use a liquid acid fertiliser which is easily absorbed by the roots.

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Shamim asks...

I've got a small garden surrounded by a flower bed of perennials and roses. I want to introduce some flowering bushes camellia hydrangea...) at the back but don't want them overshadowing the plants in front. Can I tie these plants to the fence like my roses and fruit trees?

Bill replies...

I find the Williamsi strain of Camellias are far better Shamim for training and planting at the side of a fence and there are a wide range of varieties to choose from.  You mention Hydrangeas and the variety which is used for trailing up fences is Hydrangea Petiolaris although one of the problems with this variety is that it is a very vigorous grower and it may smother your roses and fruit trees. I would also consider growing up your fence the Clematis - varieties Ville de Lyon - The President and the small flowered Clematis Alpine

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Andy Hayward asks...

What size pot will I need to plant a camellia which is around 3ft 6ins tall?

Bill replies...

You are going to need a large container Andy and it will need to be at least 18 inches to two feet in diameter and there are excellent ornamental wooden planters now available in Garden Centres which I find are ideal for Camellias.  When planting you will need to use an ericaceous compost and it is important to keep your plant well watered during the summer months and feed with an acid/ericaceous fertiliser.

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Tommy asks...

I've just started to do my garden now that the kids no longer play football in it! I have planted a Camellia, two Rhododendrons and an Azalea with a few heathers dotted in between. They've been planted approx 2 feet apart and we have very dry soil. My mum told us not to use tap water on them but I've read that they need plenty of water to establish. What's the best way to water them?

Bill replies...

It is very important to ensure that your plants are well watered and for plants such as camellias Rhododendrons and Azaleas it is far better to water with rain water if this is possible.  The main reason being is that rain water does not contain any lime which can be detrimental for acid loving plants such as above.  It would be advisable long term to purchase a water butt which can be plumbed into one of the down spouts of your house which will assist with the constant supply of rain water.  However, in the meantime Tommy you will need to keep your plants well watered and you will have to use tap water.  The amount of lime in the tap water does vary from area to area but, your plants do need watering especially during the summer months.

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Chrissie Smith asks...

I have a large camellia with a spread and height of about 4 feet growing in a 14 ins container. Do you think I should transfer it to a larger pot, it seems quite happy at the moment and full of buds. If I do have to transfer it, when would be the best time?

Bill replies...

One of my favourite shrubs is the Camellia and yours Chrissie seems in prime condition.  The time to re-pot your Camellia is after flowering - if you re-pot your Camellia when it is in bud by disturbing the soil some of the buds may drop off.  Camellias require an acid soil and your plant will have to be re-potted in an ericaceous compost, and it is important  to keep your plant well watered during the summer months when the new buds are being formed.  You mention that you are not sure whether your plant needs re-potting.  I personally feel that a plant which is four foot high and has a four foot spread would be better in a larger container.  This would ensure that the plant is more stable and less chance of your Camellia 'drying-out'.

Good luck with your re-potting!

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Davis Childs asks...

We have a camellia which has browning of the leaf edges and flower buds are going brown before they open and dropping off. What is wrong please and what is the remedy?

Bill replies...

It is important that Camellias are not planted in an east facing aspect as the early morning sun on damp flower buds can easily cause the buds to brown and drop off.  With regard to the browning of the leaves this could quite easily have been caused by wind scorch and frost damage.  It would be worthwhile if frost is predicted to protect the flower buds overnight by covering your plant with white horticultural fleece.  You will also find that some varieties are more prone to frost damage than others.

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John Pollock asks...

What is the best time to repot camellias?

Bill replies...

One of my favourite shrubs John is the camellia - they produce lovely glossy leaves and a wonderful displays of flowers in the Spring.  Regarding your question on when to repot your plants the correct time is after flowering and it is important to repot your plants in a lime free/ericaceous compost.  The majority of ericaceous composts are peat based but you can purchase an ericaceous soil based John Innes compost which has been specially formulated for acid loving plants - such as your Camellias - and with this compost being heavier than peat it will make your pots more stable and less prone to being blown over.

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Michael Ellison asks...

My parents gave me a camellia japonica 'adolphe audusson' for Christmas. I've kept it  indoors to protect from shock off cold weather, watered it gave it plenty of light but now the leaves are turning brown and the flower buds have fallen off. When should I plant it outside?

Bill replies...

The browning of the leaves and dropping of flower buds could be due to your plant being kept in too warm a room Michael and also if your plant has been kept too most this will also cause the leaves to brown.  It is going to be too much of a shock to place your plant outside at the present time and I would wait until middle March/early April.  When outside your plant needs to be kept in a sheltered spot and they do require slightly acid soil - too much lime in the soil will cause yellowing of the leaves.

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Eleanor Moon asks...

I have three reasonably sized camellias in largish pots and one of them has what can only be described as "leaf curl".  The other two are perfectly healthy and have a plentiful supply of fresh buds - as does also the affected plant but it does look quite unhealthy.  What is causing the leaves to curl and what can I do to prevent it?  Many thanks. 

Bill replies...

It is difficult Eleanor to pin point exactly what is causing the leaves on your Camellia to curl.  It could be a virus disease or a genetic disorder which is causing the problem to just this one plant but, leaf curl can also be caused by scale insects and aphid damage although I very much doubt that this is the problem.  I would however check the leaves of your plant carefully to see if there are any diseases affecting this particular plant.  If all three of your plants were planted in the same potting medium and have received the same treatments it looks very much like that this one plant is suffering from a genetic disorder and it will be difficult to find a cure for the problem.

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Richard Brown asks...

I have a camellia and I have just noticed that the leaves are turning very black and there are what looks like small brown insects on opposite side of leaf?

Bill replies...

Camellias can suffer from scale insect damage Richard and this could quite easily be the problem with your Camellia plant.  The scale insects can be found on the underside of the leaves and the insects secrete a sugary glucose which attracts ants and also on which a black fungi grows causing the leaves to go very sticky and black in colour - this is commonly known as Sooty Mould.  You can spray the insects with an insecticide spray and the one I would recommend is Provado Ultimate Bug Killer. I would recommend spraying early morning or late evening and avoid spraying in direct sunlight.

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last updated: 01/05/2008 at 08:58
created: 23/10/2006

You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Camellia



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