Camellias Beginning to Bloom
Camellia sasanquas begin blooming this month. Their three-inch diameter blossoms of pink, white, rose or red displayed over glossy, dark green foliage will come into their full glory in November. This robust and stylish aristocrat of the garden is often passed by in favor of its familiar cousin, Camellia japonica. While it’s true that the “japonicas” have larger flowers, Camellia sasanqua has just as many endearing attributes. Like the japonicas, sasanquas have been selected and hybridized into dozens of forms that vary immensely in flower color, size and shape. With a variety of growth habits from dwarf and spreading to narrow and upright, their ability to thrive in part sun or shade, sasanquas are one of the most versatile landscape plants.
Sasanquas bear profusions of flowers in fall and early winter depending on cultivar and location. In general they blossom before Camellia japonica. Sasanquas have mature heights that range from 4-15 ft. The taller cultivars are typically trimmed up as small trees. Other cultivars remain shrubby and limited in height. Their small foliage makes them suitable subjects for formal pruning, although they are quite attractive when allowed to grow naturally. Several sasanqua varieties are ideal for creating dramatic espaliers when trained on fences and walls. Like other cool weather bloomers, sasanquas bloom over a much longer period than most spring and summer plants with buds opening over a three-month period. The blossoms shatter easily and create colorful carpets of petals on the ground, adding to their garden impact. Even when not in bloom the sasanquas make a statement with their beautifully glossy, rich green leaves that excel at providing backdrops for garden neighbors.
Sasanqua camellias are native to China and Japan. They prefer rich organic acid soils (the same as azaleas and gardenias). Provide plants with organic mulch such as leaf litter or shredded bark. Broken shade is preferred but sasanquas will tolerate more sun if watered well. Consistent watering is important to continuous blooming. If the experience drought conditions the buds will dry and fall without opening.
Select sasanqua varieties based on what you want them to do in your garden. ‘Shishi-Gashira’ is a dwarf, low spreading plant that is suited well for foundation plants and container specimens. Other compact varieties include the more upright ‘Yuletide’ whose fiery red blossoms are accented with bright yellow stamens and the double rose ‘Bonanza’ which begins flowering in September with flowers that rival the japonica varieties in size and form. If you need larger and faster growing plants for hedges, screens or small specimen tree, consider the white ‘Snow on the Mountain’, double pink ‘Pink Snow’ or pale, shell pink ‘Jean May’. ‘Kanjiro’ and ‘Daydream’ are vigorous upright pink varieties whose single flowers are fragrant.