“My grandmother always used to say that if you dose your camellias regularly with what’s left in the teapot you’ll never have any health problems with them. It worked for her and it works for me! Tea, after all, is just dried camellia leaf”.
Where I live, the first sasanqua camellias are beginning to bloom – the faithful old ‘Hiryus’ that have made a brave barrier between our house and the road for many a long year now, and the cup-shaped white` Narumigatas’, are always the first to appear. They are our harbingers of autumn and bring colour to gardens at the end of the wet season when other flowers are too exhausted to lift their sodden heads.
`Jennifer Susan’ and ‘Setsugeka’ are other early-bloomers here and years ago I planted a hedge alternating the two, so that in full bloom it is a long swathe of pink and white down one side of the garden.
New sasanquas are coming on to the market every year and it’s hard work keeping up with all the names. Many of these have more spectacular flowers than the camellias of yesteryear but I’ve found not all are as vigorous when it comes to tolerating a range of garden conditions. It’s impossible to know just how well these pretty newcomers will perform in YOUR particular garden until they’ve been in the ground for a few years so my tip is to be wary. If you are not a very good gardener, don’t have a lot of time to fuss over your plants, and the conditions in your garden are less than ideal for camellias (soil too heavy or too sandy, exposure to harsh hot or cold winds, rainfall too frequent or too light) then seek out those that you know do well in your neighbourhood.
Having said that, camellias are tough plants. Just about the toughest of all when it comes to high quality, long-lived plants with good year-round foliage and beautiful flowers. Give them reasonable conditions in climates from warm temperate to sub-tropics and they need very little care.
Here are a few things you can do to make sure that your sasanquas do well this autumn:
. Lightly – very lightly – hoe or rake the ground around your camellias to open it up a little and let in sunlight. Camellias don’t like having their shallow surface roots interfered with so PLEASE do this with great care. Prolonged heavy rain will compact the soil in garden beds and around individual plants, preventing it from drying out and starving plant roots of vital oxygen. Cold, hard, wet soil is just about the worst thing for any plant.
. Mulch with something soft and organic such as stray, hay or leafmould. This will help protect the soil around the plant from compaction by heavy rain while at the same time the fairly open structure of the mulch will allow just enough water to percolate through. And of course the mulch will break down in time and improve the condition and structure of the soil.
. If you live where there hasn’t been much rainfall, or where the summer rain has diminished, make sure your camellias get adequate water throughout the flowering season. Don’t over-water them but give them a good soaking at least twice a week.
. Fertilising for growth should have been done swell before this, back in late winter, with a top-up in in early summer to promote good flowering. However, heavy rainfall may well have leached nutrients from the soil. If this is likely to have been the case, scatter a little blood and bone around the base of your plant and lightly hoe it into the soil. Do this before mulching. A light feed at this time will replace lost nutrients in the soil and help prolong blooming as well as maintain plant growth – but don’t overdo it!
. I always save my used tea leaves/left over tea and coffee grounds to put around my camellias. These break down and condition the soil and also help to maintain the right slightly acid pH level. My grandmother always used to say that if you dose your camellias regularly with what’s left in the teapot you’ll never have any health problems with them. It worked for her and it works for me! Tea, after all, is just dried camellia leaf.
You won’t need to fertilize or prune your sasanqua camellias until flowering time is over – but it’s as well to put those activities in your gardening diary now. In the meantime, when the sasanquas start blooming the japonicas and reticulates aren’t far behind. So at this time I always give mine a light dressing of blood and bone to promote longer and better flowering – this is necessary in the subtropics though not usually recommended in cooler climates where soil nutrients are not so easily gobbled up. You can, if you prefer, use a balanced chemical fertilizer with a high phosphorus content (read the bag label to see the NPK level).