Karma camellia? Mulch is the key

Look after them now and camellias will reward you next spring.
Look after them now and camellias will reward you next spring.
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Camellias have been wonderful this year. They’ve been in flower since January which makes them the most beautiful of our winter-flowering plants. This is the time to give them a treat.

They have a very hard system of roots called a root ball and once that dries out it is difficult to get it wet again.

So, at this time of year you should give the ground a good soaking of rainwater.

Now apply a mulch on top of the soil, but not just around the stem.

Put down a four-inch layer of acid compost, such as John Innes Ericaceous mix, all over the soil. Make sure it goes right out to the edge of the canopy of leaves and now give that mulch a good soak with rainwater. This will encourage the camellia to produce fibrous roots which will grow into the mulch.

It is a good idea to add some Vitax Q4 pelleted fertiliser into the mulch using half an ounce to a two-gallon bucket of compost and mixing it well before applying.

The same treatment can be given to azaleas and rhododendrons, but here it is even more important to remove the dead flowers and seeds.

Do this immediately after the flowers fade and new shoots will grow quickly and next year’s flowers will come on those new shoots.

If any pruning is needed do it as soon as the flowers have fallen.

In the case of camellias, they often become too wide or too tall.

An entire branch may be overhanging a path and need removing. Now is the time to prune.

If done now, the camellias will have lots of flowers again next year. If they are pruned any later, especially in the autumn, you will remove next year’s buds.

Heathers of all kinds can be rejuvenated by clipping off all the dead flowers with shears. If the plants are bare in the centre, buy some thick wreath wire from a florist, bend them over to form a hairpin shape so the outside tips of the stems can be bent round towards the centre of the plants and kept in place with the wire.

The bed is then mulched with the same acid compost used for the camellias so all the bare stems are hidden by the mulch. The stems usually root into the mulch and the heather area will look far better next winter.

If you have summer-flowering heathers, these too need to be pruned this week. I have just reminded myself: I must do this and will use sheep-shearing shears. Pam has just bought a pair at Keydell Nurseries for £8.99. I was really surprised to see them and they are wonderful to use on box hedges especially if you want to clip them to a special shape.

Have a happy week and thank you for all your letters.


Plant runner bean seeds indoors now. You don’t need a greenhouse, sow them in insert cells in a window. They will be ready to plant out the day after Wickham fair (May 20) – the traditional day after which there should be no frosts, we hope.

Keep some seeds back to plant during the third week in June. The later sowing will ensure you have tender beans into the autumn.