Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
November, 2009
Regional Report

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Camellia sasanqua 'Setsugekka' is graced with pure white flowers comprised of large, ruffled petals, and bold yellow stamens.

Plant Sasanquas for Snazzy Fall Flowers

Just when the last summer flowers were lost to frost and I began to lament the change of seasons, my Camellia sasanqua 'Pink Snow' burst into bloom. With this exuberant display came the promise of a vibrant autumn, and the energy and enthusiasm to clear away warm-season annuals.

Sasanqua is a beautiful and easy-to-grow shrub. Known in Japan as sazanka, or flower of the autumn sun, many Middle South gardeners are discovering this plant is a more graceful and versatile alternative to its better-known cousin, Camellia japonica.

I became a convert a couple of years ago, when I replaced the foundation plants around my back porch. Inspired by my neighbors, who grow a stunning pair of 'Setsugekka' sasanquas on either side of their front door, I was determined to find a place for this elegant shrub.

So, out came the uninspired evergreen azaleas and in went a mix of new ornamentals, including two sasanquas, 'Pink Snow' and 'Yuletide'. Both cultivars have proved outstanding, with 'Pink Snow' covered in pale pink, semi-double blooms from October through December, and 'Yuletide' sporting single red flowers with bright yellow stamens during the holiday season.

In general, sasanquas bloom before japonicas, bearing a profusion of flowers in fall and early winter. Depending on the cultivar, blooms measure 2 to 4 inches in diameter and can be single, semi-double, or double. Some cultivars exude a pleasant tea scent, as the shrub is closely related to the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. A few of the newest cultivars even boast a faint rose-like fragrance.

Flower colors range from white to fire-engine red. Some of the most lovely are marked, flushed, or tipped with a second color. Whatever your taste or color scheme, it takes little effort to find a sasanqua to compliment your garden.

Camellia japonica and C. sasanqua are also different in size and form. Japonica is the larger plant, growing 15 to 25 feet tall and wide, while a mature sasanqua is significantly smaller. Upright selections usually grow to 12 feet tall and wide, and mounding selections only to 6 to 8 feet.

In form, sasanquas have a natural grace and airiness. While japonicas often look dense and stiff, sasanquas have pliable branches that arch up and away from their trunks. In all, their smaller size and attractive form make sasanquas a more versatile landscape plant.

Most important, sasanquas tend to be hardier, tolerating more sun and greater extremes in moisture. They are virtually pest free and where conditions are adequate, can survive long periods of neglect.

Plant these shrubs in moist, slightly acid soils that are well drained and rich in organic matter. Broken shade is preferred but they will tolerate full sun where water is sufficient. If shaping is required, prune lightly after flowers fade.

For surefire success in the Middle South, consider these outstanding cultivars:

'Egao' grows 6 to 8 feet and has pink, semi-double blooms.
'Hana Jiman' grows 12 to 15 feet and has white blooms tipped with rose and prominent yellow stamens.
'Jean May' grows 12 to 15 feet and has pale pink, semi-double or double blooms.
'Kanjiro' grows 6 to 8 feet and has cerise-pink, semi-double blooms edged in red.
'Pink Snow' grows 12 to 15 feet and has light pink, semi-double blooms.
'Setsugekka' grows 10 to 12 feet and has white, semi-double blooms with large ruffled petals and yellow stamens.
'Yuletide' grows 6 to 8 feet and has bright red, single flowers with bold yellow stamens.

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