Camellia Pruning

Camellia Pruning

My love for horticulture began when I was four or five years old, and my mother took me with her to pick peas and corn from our Florence, SC garden. When I was eight, I joined our local 4-H Club. There a book about bugs caught my attention, and fostered an interest in entomology above plants for a little while, that further encouraged my overall affinity with nature! Throughout my high school years, I continued gardening and doing landscaping work just for fun. After graduation, I attended the Technical College of the Low Country in Beaufort, SC where I earned an associate degree in horticulture and computer-aided design. Originally a Savannah native, I live in Richmond Hill along with most of my extended family. 

After becoming a professional horticulturist, I started Landscape Art in 2005—and I’ve enjoyed providing our clients with the opportunity to perfect their dream property ever since! We specialize in turf, shrub care and landscape design, and strive to put our customers at ease, while deciding the best landscape services for their properties. Throughout this new blog series, I hope to continue cultivating that ease by sharing some tips on keeping an established landscape looking its best. Spring has arrived, and many plants are already blooming—so let’s talk about pruning! 

As a general rule of thumb, most plants can be pruned right after they finish blooming. However, there are a few plants, such as the Camellia, that may not be as straightforward. Camellias are some of the most prized Southern plants, loved for their evergreen foliage and variety of bloom color, size and timing, and I adore them! They have become a staple of southern gardens for providing year-round interest, especially fall through spring, and for the bloom color they add to the landscape when many other plants are not flowering. Because some camellias bloom during the fall, some during the winter, and others during the spring, if pruning is needed, it’s best to prune the fall and winter bloomers in early March, and the spring bloomers just after they bloom.

Camellia japonica varieties require little pruning, if any at all. When a plant is misshapen, or too large, you can remove undesirable limbs by cutting them back to a lateral branch, or lateral bud, inside the canopy, to hide pruning cuts and encourage more beneficial growth.

Be sure to prune away any suckers that rise from the base of the shrub, as these will waste plant energy. You can also remove small interior foliage that can harbor difficult to control scale insects. Many of these camellias are spring bloomers, so it’s best to prune just after blooms finish.

Camellia sasanqua varieties may require considerable pruning. For a more natural appearance, thin branches instead of shearing the plant. Many bloom from late October through January, so early March is a great time to prune these beauties.

Most varieties of camellias attract deer, and are a great source of food for them. It can be especially frustrating to have these lovely plants in your landscape being “pruned” (or, more accurately, eaten) by deer instead of you—and can create a pruning conundrum for the gardener, as the deer will eat much of the foliage below a 3-4 ft height.

My advice is to fence these plants when possible, and allow them to grow tall enough so that the deer cannot reach the foliage and bloom buds. After they reach 5-6 ft in height, you can take away the fencing and allow the deer to munch away on the lower leaves and buds. If you decide to leave the fencing in place permanently, deer will browse the parts that grow through the fence—making it a win-win for both gardener and deer!

Whatever variety you choose for your landscape, please remember that they vary in size, growth rate, bloom color and timing. It’s well worth your effort to spend some time becoming familiar with the varieties that interest you, so you can plant these lovely specimen plants in the correct place in your garden. When properly placed, they will provide a great amount of gardening joy—with very little pruning effort required and loads of blooms—for many years to come! 

I hope these pruning tips help you to enjoy a more beautiful and blossom-filled landscape. I look forward to sharing more gardening tips with you later in the month—and welcome your suggestions for future posts. Happy Spring!