The Q&A Archives: Care of camelias and rhododendrons

Question: I would like to know how to care for camelias and rhododendrons.
Thanking you in advance for a timely response.

Answer: Camellias grow and produce the best flowers in filtered sun or partial shade. In too much sun they may suffer scald on the leaves, or the leaves may appear yellow rather than deep green. Camellias make great foundation plants where they can be shaded or protected by large trees. They are beautiful in corners, on patios, as hedges, in atriums and stand-alone. Camellias love pine trees and pine groves.

Slightly acid (pH 6), sandy or loamy is a great soil for camellias. The best camellias are usually grown in beds or in areas where the soil and surroundings offer a friendly home for them. If you choose a raised bed, clear the area and raise a bed with ties, timbers, rocks or bricks to a height of about two feet. Put down a porous ground cloth to prevent weeds. Spread your prepared soil on top of the ground cloth.

Good drainage is the "secret" to good camellias. They must have a loose, well-drained soil. A mix of 15%-25% coarse, sharp sand, mixed with 75%-85% fine pine bark mulch, is an easy, inexpensive and ideal soil mix. Camellias love a few (about 10%) pine bark "nuggets" added to the soil mix. The roots will attach themselves to these pieces of pine bark because of the air the bark holds. Add enough dolomitic limestone, about two tbs. per cubic foot of this mix, to bring it to a pH of approximately 6. (One cubic foot of soil is equivalent to 1-1/2, five-gallon paint buckets full of soil.) This is all that is needed.

Distance between camellia plants really depends on and will vary with growth habit of the species and cultivars you are planting. Generally, when planting camellias in the landscape, allow a minimum of about eight feet between plants, except for planting a hedge when a distance of six feet may be okay.

Rhododendrons and azaleas grow best in a sheltered site that is not windswept, and one that receives dappled sun in the summer with little or no early morning sun in the winter. Early morning winter sun tends to heat the leaves and buds, allowing water to transpire while the roots are in frozen soil and cannot supply water to the leaves. The result is desiccation, leading to browning of the leaves and death of flower buds.

The best sites for these plants are on the north side of a building, the east side, or last, the west side. The south side of a building should be avoided unless it is protected from winter sun. If not planted near a structure, the preferred sites are those protected by windbreaks, fences, or evergreens. Rhododendrons should not be planted under a building's eaves where little or no rainfall wets the soil, unless you plan to water them during the winter months. It is also advisable to plant rhododendrons and azaleas in small groups rather than as individual specimens.

Rhodies have the same acidic soil requirements as camellias so follow the above directions to acidify your soil prior to planting.

Best wishes with your new shrubs!

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