How to Choose Camellias

Camellias are the perfect shrub for the shady woodland garden. They look great in all seasons, have beautiful spring blossoms, attract hummingbirds and beneficial insects, do not outgrow the small garden if placed correctly, have a wonderful variety of cultivars and colors, mix beautifully with other plants, can be used in flower arrangements, and are low-maintenance. They also make a great hedge or privacy screen. But you may ask, “How do I choose the right camellia for my garden?” In my garden I have planted three Mathotiana Supreme camellias, one Taylor’s Perfection, and one Jury’s Yellow. I also have seen numerous other cultivars in other gardens in my community. From these personal experiences I can offer you a few tips if you are thinking of purchasing a camellia for your yard.

1. Make sure the camellia drops its faded flowers

Choose a cultivar that will drop its faded flower petals before they turn brown. A shrub that is full of dead looking blossoms is not particularly attractive. My Jury’s Yellow camellia has gorgeous, pale yellow blossoms but they brown on the shrub so the bush never looks spectacular.   Below is a shrub I saw in West Vancouver. If the blossoms had not browned then the camellia could have looked magnificent.

Camellia Flowers Browning Before Falling

Camellia Flowers Browning Before Falling

2. Plan where to plant your camellia

Consider carefully where you are going to plant the camellia you purchase. I have seen so many badly positioned camellias; almost all of these have been planted right up against the house foundation. These shrubs need room to spread. Most garden centers will include tags that say your camellia will grow to about 2 to 3 meters. I have seen many camellias that are twice that size. Looking at the camellia above, you can see that the plant will spread to more than its height so this also needs to be considered. Choose shade to part-shade for your camellia and try to ensure acid, moist but well draining soil. In my post about pink plants for spring, you will notice that I mention three different Mathotiana Supreme camellias that I have planted in various locations about my yard. I have one in total sun which, although it grows well, it needs watering in summer and the flowers fade faster than those in shade. The leaves also are a lighter green than they should be. My shrub in humus soil under a cedar that is situated in total shade (but has some light) is the bush that performs and grows the best. Although the flowers are not as prolific, they look darker and last longer. My shrub in moist clay that does not drain particularly well has been growing horizontally but not vertically.

3. Decide on the bloom time you want for your camellia

Decide on when you want your flowers to bloom. I have also had a couple of Camellia Sasanqua bushes, but the blossoms appeared in the middle of winter when I was never out in the backyard. They are better appreciated in spring when you are looking and working outside more. This is why I only choose Camellia Japonica and hybrids. Most camellias show that they are hardy to Zone 8 but I find that they do fine (and actually thrive) in my Zone 7. We often have temperatures that hover for a few weeks at -15 Celsius. At the garden center the flowers may be in bloom earlier or later than they might be in your particular location, depending if you are at a high or low elevation and also where the plants originated from.

4. Decide on the camellia blossom type you desire

Decide if you want double, semi-double, anemone, or single blossoms. If you have a wild garden, the single blossoms will look more natural. The double blossoms will look right at home in a formal garden. Here is a photo of a camellia near my home that has large semi-double blossoms. A single variety like Cornish Snow, Cornish Spring, or Tanya are beautiful in their simplicity.  I found that Loder Plants have a great website that shows images of numerous camellia types.

Camellia - Unknown Variety

Camellia – Unknown Variety

5. Choose the best blossom color

One last consideration is the color of your camellia’s blossoms. You want to ensure the blossoms are highlighted by the plants around them. It is also nice to have something to view in your garden throughout the growing season so try to not have all your spring shrubs blossom at the same time.  Also keep in mind that some colors do not look good together. I think of orange and pink. Others can actually be enhanced by neighbouring shrubs.  I have seen two camellias, one a pure white and the other a dark red, planted together to form a spectacular sight. Much nicer than each on its own. Keep in mind that the plant center calls the Mathotiana Supreme a “red” whereas I would call it a “dark pink” so I urge you to see the blooms before purchasing the plant and just relying on the tag information.


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