Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
October, 2012
Regional Report

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The lovely sasanqua 'Pink Snow' begins to bloom with the arrival of cold weather in October.

Get to Know Versatile Sasanqua

The first day of autumn had barely passed when the earliest Camellia sasanquas began to bloom in my neighborhood. Like late-blooming asters and mums, these shrubs come to life with the arrival of cool weather.

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

I became a convert a several years ago when I designed a new shrub border for my previous garden, adding both 'Pink Snow' and 'Yuletide' for their fall and winter blooms. Both cultivars proved to be outstanding, with 'Pink Snow' covered in pale semi-double flowers from October through December, and 'Yuletide' sporting single red blooms during the holiday season and into January.

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

Flower colors range from snow white to vivid red. Some of the most beautiful are marked, flushed, or tipped with a second color. With so much variety, there is a sasanqua to compliment every style of garden and color scheme, from formal to casual and bold to subtle.

Sansaquas also vary from japonicas in size and form. Typically, 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, while mounding selections mature at 6 to 8-feet. Smaller cultivars, such as 'Bonanza', were developed to perform as tall groundcovers and can be kept to just 2-feet tall.

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

Large-growing sasanquas can be limbed up as small trees and under planted with other shade-loving ornamentals. Many types can be used to make an informal hedge, or to add late-season interest in a mixed border. Low-growing varieties make a particularly attractive groundcover on a slope when planted in mass.

The shrub is an excellent candidate for espalier, as its supple branches are relatively easy to train. It also makes a great specimen plant for large container gardens.

Best of all, sasanquas tend to be more forgiving than japonicas, tolerating more sun and greater extremes in moisture. They are virtually pest free, and where conditions are adequate, can survive long periods of neglect.

Whatever type of sasanqua you choose for your garden, plant the shrub in moist, slightly acid soil that is well-drained and rich in organic matter. Broken shade is preferred but they will tolerate full sun in the Middle South if water is sufficient. If shaping is required, prune lightly as flowers fade.

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