Spruce up older camellias with a late spring trim

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Is your camellia bush looking a little bedraggled? Some older plants are so full of leaves and thin branches that they bear poor quality flowers. Others carry leaves burned by winter wind and low temperatures, making the shrubs look sickly.

Spring is the best time for a camellia makeover, said Amy Jo Detweiler, Oregon State University Extension Service horticulturist.

The best time to prune camellias is after they flower each year. Enjoy the blooms, then prune. The new growth begins soon after the blossoms fade.

Camellias can benefit from pruning every few years, to stimulate new growth, thin out some of the twiggy growth. A late spring pruning will also allow sunlight to penetrate the interior of the shrub, Detweiler said. Also, by pruning, you can transform an overgrown shrub into a tree or a smaller shrub.

To make a camellia fuller, gardeners need to prune some branches back to the area between this year’s growth and last year’s growth, making a cut above the bud. Buds below the cut will grow into several new stems. Remove any scraggly, unattractive drooping or crossing branches.

Giving an old camellia a makeover

Huge old camellias can be renovated into an attractive tree in one year, Detweiler said. Cut off all branches from the lower reach of the trunk. Cut out any rubbing or crossing limbs from the remaining upper foliage. Remove any weak or twiggy branches.

Feed camellias with fertilizer specifically labeled for acid-loving shrubs after bloom time and again in the early summer.

If you want to safely convert your huge overgrown camellia into a small shrub, do it slowly, over three years' time, Detweiler said. During the first spring, after blooming, cut it back to the desired height. New growth will sprout from the trunk and from the upper limbs. After the second year's spring bloom, cut the resulting shoots back to the height you want. The third spring, cut off the bushy crown to the height you prefer. Fertilize as described above.

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