Garden or no garden, you can still grow camellias – here’s Brian Kidd’s easy guide

Camellias are easy to grow, says Brian Kidd.
Camellias are easy to grow, says Brian Kidd.

This week’s feature will be focusing on camellias because I had two letters last week asking me to write about them.

Camellias are one of the most popular plants to grow.

However, it's important to bear in mind they hate chalk and they can die in under a year if they are planted in chalk.

In the garden, it’s a good idea to grow acid lovers such as rhododendrons, heathers and camellias in an area on their own. 

Do this by raising the area where they will be grown and fill it with acid soil or with John Innes Ericaceous compost – not ordinary John Innes compost.

For those who don't have a garden, here is the good news.

Camellias are wonderful in pots and tubs but keep them away from early morning sun because when the weather is frosty, the unfolding flower buds and open flowers can be damaged – especially when the sun shines on the plants in the very early morning.

Therefore avoid this by keeping the pot in a north-facing area or remember to cover the whole plant overnight with horticultural fleece or large item of clothing. Cover the plant at night and use two pincher pegs to keep the neck closed.

Make sure to leave it on until the middle of the following day and then take it off the plant and put it back on the camellia the following evening.

So which variety is the right one?

A visit to the garden centre will no doubt  leave you in a tizzy because there are so many lovely plants in pots.

My advice is to find one with lots of fat flower buds ready to come into bloom and that has just a couple of open flowers.

Buy that one, take it home and enjoy seeing the romantic flowers emerge. Yes, they are romantic with no perfume but are still gorgeous – all of them.

If you would like to keep it in a pot, it can stay in the one you bought until next November.

In November plant it into a container four inches wider than the pot it was originally in.

After watering, pot it into the larger container using John Innes Ericaceous mixture – not ordinary John Innes compost – and feed it once a month using Maxicrop Complete plant food from April until September, but none during the winter.

Put the container on four little feet – these are quite cheap and available at your garden centre. The feet will ensure the compost is never over watered and most importantly, it will stop earthworms from entering the compost through the holes in the base of the pot.

As soon as the flowers fade, nip out the tip of every branch. This will keep the shrub bushy and the side shoots will then grow and flower buds will start to form on the tips of most of the new shoots in late August.

Camellias are an absolute joy and flower for more than 12 weeks.

Mine came into bloom in mid-January and they will still be in bloom in late April - and that is the time to prune them.

This week’s top tip: 

Prune the wood off your forsythia shrub by pulling the shoots towards you. Shoots should be pruned to near the base. Pull back another shoot and repeat this all around the shrub. You’ll have new shoots in 11 months time.