Monday, June 24, 2013

Keep Camellias Blooming - A Guide To Preventing Bud Drop

words and images by Lynsey Hughes

MY last house came flanked with a divinely tall, mature Camellia japonica specimen which thrived in the shade of a two-storey neighbour and produced a stunning carpet of candy- pink blooms each winter. All this buddy love without a single scrap of attention from moi!

Opening Bud Stage 1
Bud Opening Stage 2
Bud Opening Stage 3

Fast-forward to my current abode and you’ll see me hovering, gloved-fingers crossed, over a stubby, shrubby as-yet-unidentified Camellia, waiting for the first tight bud to reveal her winter petals.

Last year I was bitterly disappointed in this little woody shrub, which survives on the edge of a bed filled with tree stumps; the remnants of shade long gone, and no doubt a contributing factor in the pathological rate of bud-drop we experienced last winter.

Bud failing to open
It started out with such promise, too. Branches from top to bottom, were laden with scores of tiny green orbs which developed long enough for a small burst of pink hue to peep through only to drop to the ground or stagnate on a branch until brown and crisp. Aghast, I consulted gardening friends, the internet and pored over countless reference books to find a clear answer to the rather common problem of Camellia bud-drop, also called bud-balling.

It seems the causes are largely unknown, but a few common themes appear: lack of water, too much water, too much sun, too many buds, incorrect soil pH levels and the plain ol’ fact that some types, like formal doubles, are just more susceptible. Among the practical tips gathered (see below), all except number three were carried out last Spring. It’s been a slow drum roll so far, but it’s almost showtime. My bud clusters are looking plump, green and encouragingly healthy. A couple have burst their barriers, but only time will tell if we’ll be rewarded with a much-wished for explosion of blooms.

Six Tips To Combat Camellia Bud-drop

1. Pinch out buds by one-third in Spring. Over-production of buds can dilute plant resources, resulting in no beautiful singles, doubles or anemones unfurling. Best to reduce the number of buds at the early stage to ensure the lucky survivors receive adequate nutrients.

2. Ensure soil never dries out. Buds need coaxing with an adequate supply of water to see them flower. Maintain constant moisture during Summer while buds are developing. During the flowering season, heavily budded plants should be soaked well and often - once a week, especially if rainfall is low.

3. Provide enough shade. Avoid direct early morning sun in Winter to prevent dewy buds from burning and perishing. Remember, most Camellias hail from a woodland environment. 

4. Prune dead wood and any crossing branches that restrict internal air flow. It’s basic shrub management to stop pests and disease taking hold. Remove spent flower heads at the end of each season.

5. Ensure soil pH is slightly acidic, between 5.5 and 6.5, by using a soil testing kit. Lower pH with applications of ammonium sulphate, commonly found in specialty Camellia fertilisers. Throughout the year, sprinkle used tea leaves (Camellia sinensis) at the base to provide a boost of tannic acid. Or better yet feed with a Camellia and Azalea fertiliser for the best results. We have a range available at Four Seasons Nursery

6. Mulch with old compost in Spring to keep roots cool and well fed. 

Tea leaves are harvested from the Camellia sinensis, 
 and can be fed to your growing camellia.

Fast Facts
NAMED after amateur botanist and Moravian Jesuit Priest, George Kamel, who surprisingly never laid eyes on the species, Camellias grow wild in Japan, parts of China, the Himalayas and Indo-China.

Commonly cultivated in the West as ornamental shrubs and trees, it was the tea variety, Camellia sinensis that was first taken from China by the British to colonial India over 200 years ago.

They love cool, moist roots and slightly acid soil. The darker the flower, the more sun it can handle, especially the `ideal for hedging’ sasanqua varieties. 

Happy Planting


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