Keep your camellias camellias looking looking cool cool
TO see beautiful fat and healthy camellia fl ower buds dropping off without even opening can be heartbreaking, but it happens at this time every year.
“Balling” is a common problem with certain varieties of Japanese camellias. These are the ones that produce such an abundance of fl ower buds they have to dump some, so shedding the excess is perfectly natural.
They can also drop off if morning frosts settle on fl ower buds and then the fi rst rays of sunlight quickly warm them. Luckily there are always plenty of buds left behind to produce excellent displays.
The most common camellia disorder at this time of the year is “petal staining”.
As buds open, the margins of the fl owers appear scorched and most of those which are fully exposed to the elements turn brown, completely ruining the display.
With certain white, pale pink or even deepred camellia fl owers with extra- thin, tightly packed petals, it happens every year.
This disorder is always much worse after periods of drenching, late- winter rains.
This unsightly petal staining is not a disease. It is caused by rain seeping into fl ower buds and settling between petals, just as they are about to open.
It is this soaking that causes exposed petals to star to rot and go brown. Examine other blooms closely and you’ll notice that those that are free of any staining are usually deep within the foliage and well sheltered from rain splash.
A simple way to stop camellia staining is to fi x a sheet of clear plastic loosely over the top of vulnerable plants, supported by a few long stakes.
Erect the shelter before the buds start to swell before opening. It may not look pretty, but it stops buds from becoming saturated.
An alternative is to grow susceptible camellia varieties in tubs so they can be dragged under cover when threatened by periods of heavy rainfall.
Another frustrating problem happens after some varieties of camellia fi nally come into full bloom. As the fl owers fully open, many fall to the ground after a few days while still intact. This is a common characteristic of many Japanese camellias.
Many experts believe Japanese breeders have, over many years, deliberately bred this premature blossom fall into many camellias because they enjoyed seeing the ground littered with colourful petals. I rather like this too, but there’s nothing wrong with carefully picking up intact fl ower heads and pinning them back on the branches.
A familiar camellia disorder in Tasmania is leaf- bleaching, as many exposed leaves turn an unhealthy green- yellow. It is a common mistake to assume this is just iron defi ciency caused by alkaline soil conditions.
Yet in many cases this disorder is nothing more than excessive exposure to strong, extra- bright sunlight. Those leaves deep within the shelter of the canopy and out of the sun usually remain a healthy green.
Camellias that become badly bleached are almost always planted out in full sun in the middle of an exposed lawn.
This is an easy one to solve because these poor, miserable camellias – even large specimens – are easily transplanted to a more sheltered spot at any time of the year.
This bleaching problem disappears once plants are moved into a shadier place where they remain well protected from destructive afternoon sunlight.
There is another type of leaf blemish that is more common with reticulata camellias.
Some leaves including those in shade develop bright yellow, irregular- shaped blotches. They look a bit unsightly, but are nothing more than evidence of an infection from relatively harmless leaf viruses, probably the same types that cause variegation.
In most cases the disease does not appear to weaken the growth of the plants or reduce the beauty of the blooms.
Camellias are not heavy feeders. Most need only a single application of fertiliser every year.
The best time is right now and a simple combination of blood and bone mixed into sheep manure makes a perfect mulch, spread in a thick circle around each plant.