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.
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, explained Jan McNeilan, consumer horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service.
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. Also, by pruning, you can transform an overgrown shrub into a tree or a smaller shrub.
To make a camellia bushier, home gardeners need to prune some branches back to the base of the most recent growth. Buds below the cut will grow into several new stems. Remove any scraggly, unattractive drooping or crossing branches.
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. Remove any weak or twiggy wood.
Feed camellias with fertilizer especially formulated 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. 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.