Camellias--Prune after spring bloom

Last Updated: 
April 1, 2008

CORVALLIS--Is your camellia looking a little bedraggled? Is it in need of a trim?

Some older plants are so full of leaves and thin branches that they bear poor quality flowers. Others carry leaves burned by sun and past frosts, making the shrubs look sickly.

The best time to prune camellias is after they flower each year, because new growth begins soon after the blossoms fade, said Jan McNeilan, consumer horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service.

Camellias can benefit from pruning every few years to stimulate new growth and eliminate old ratty growth. Or an overgrown shrub can be renovated into a tree or smaller shrub.

To make a camellia bushier, prune some branches back to the base of the most recent growth scar. Buds below the cut tip will grow into several new stems. Do not cut the stem in the middle of a year's growth, or only one stem will grow, making the camellia as spindly as ever. Remove any scraggly, unattractive drooping or crossing branches. Feed camellias with fertilizer especially formulated for acid-loving shrubs and trees.

Huge old camellias can be renovated into an attractive tree in one year. Cut off all branches from the lower reach of the trunk. Cut out any rubbing or crossing limbs from the remaining upper foliage, and remove any weak or twiggy wood. Fertilize monthly during the growing season with a fertilizer suitable for acid loving shrubs. The remaining plant should send out vigorous growth.

In three years, you can also convert your huge overgrown camellia into a small shrub. During the first spring, after blooming, cut off lower limbs and leave the top one-third of the bush intact. New growth will sprout from the trunk. The following spring, cut off the bushy crown to the height you prefer and fertilize as described above.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Jan McNeilan