Ask a Question forum: Ailing / neglected Camelia, possibly dehydrated, any interventions suggested?

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Portland, OR (Zone 8b)
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eddiearni
Jun 5, 2017 8:40 AM CST
Hi all-

The pictured camelia is an heirloom plant my friend received from his late grandfather. It is obviously in poor health, possibly from being under watered. It does look dehydrated, but about half its leaves still have chlorophyll, none have dropped, the stalk and sprigs are far from being brittle.

It has been neglected for a very long time but since (I) discovered, watered for the last couple of weeks.

I'm wondering what kind of advice anyone has for this plant. I'm thinking of making compost tea, mixing in some kelp meal and root feeding it to the plant just to give it a boost. . . this is Portland, OR, where we have temperatures ranging from 50F and lightly rainy to 80+F and sunny - to keep the plant from being damaged we're keeping it on the north side of the house, pretty much in the shade all day every day.

Also I'm looking around for a decent soil ph testing kit and checking the acidity of the soil. What's ideal for this kind of plant in this kind of condition?

From the photo, does this look familiar to anyone? Got any better ideas for feeding it? Should I move it into the sun, or a greenhouse - would it like warmer temperatures and more sunlight? I think it's being kept in the shade to keep it from getting shocked by the occasionally hot weather.

Any advice appreciated, thanks!

eddie
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[Last edited by eddiearni - Jun 5, 2017 9:01 AM (+)]
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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Jun 5, 2017 10:35 AM CST
Welcome!

Fertilizer is for healthy plants and your plant is definitely not healthy. The north side of the house is good for now. How long since it has been repotted? If you have been watering for a couple weeks and you aren't seeing new growth, I think your next step is to repot with some fresh, loamy potting soil with some milled peat and perlite mixed in.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

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Portland, OR (Zone 8b)
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eddiearni
Jun 5, 2017 10:55 AM CST
My idea with the compost tea is more to provide it with beneficial micro organisms to encourage uptake of nutrients in general than a load of nitrogen - especially with the kelp. You think compost tea might be too much nitrogen? How about if I just top dressed with kelp?

I'm thinking it has been in that same pot for months if not years. It's been really neglected. I like the peat moss / perlite / new soil suggestion, thinking I'll repot it as you suggest then move it to the E side of the house, where it'll be mostly in the shade but in a somewhat lighter, airier environment.

As things are it's probably in the coldest micro climate the property has to offer, and it's mostly there as a convenience because it's easier for people to remember to water it on their way to work. But unfortunately I think this has had the unintended consequence of people over watering it, which my research tells me is not good for camelias.

Additionally I'm looking around for a decent soil testing kit so I can check the ph, N, P and K and figure out ways to optimize the soil chemistry. I'm bound and determined to save this plant, it will mean a lot to my friend...

Thanks so much!!!
Name: Elaine
Sarasota, Fl
The one constant in life is change
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dyzzypyxxy
Jun 5, 2017 11:54 AM CST
Hi and welcome! I agree with Daisy that you shouldn't try to feed it until it perks up and at least the green leaves aren't hanging down. Any amount of nutrients can just burn roots if the plant's not taking up enough water. Also keep it in the full shade spot until you see new growth, then gradually move it around to the east exposure. *Gradually*

Have you pulled the plant out of the pot and had a look at the roots since you got it? It's possible the old potting soil is compacted and dessicated enough that the water you're giving it is just racing right through and not being absorbed by the soil at all. A quick test is to simply heft the plant. Does the pot/soil feel heavy or light? Often when a plant completely dries out, it's hard to get the soil to re-hydrate again. If you pull it out and find a solid brick of dry potting soil, (stick your fingers in from the sides, is it dry in there?) first thing is to simply slip the plant back in the pot and set it in a large bucket of water for a couple of hours until it's really well hydrated again. (the root ball will no longer want to float)

THEN go ahead with re-potting with new potting soil and a bigger pot if necessary. (if roots are going round and round at the bottom of the old pot)
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Portland, OR (Zone 8b)
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eddiearni
Jun 5, 2017 12:35 PM CST
Great advice and I appreciate it... it's hard not to want to feed it, as if it's a sick child, you know? But as per advice I'll keep it in the shade and not feed it anything til it perks up a bit. It is without a doubt over watered right now, the soil is completely saturated, and I wouldn't be surprised if I were to see that it's root bound. I'm thinking, as per advice, bigger pot with fresh soil, peatmoss and perlite. And try to get people to stop watering it so much --

thanks again!
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
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DaisyI
Jun 5, 2017 3:20 PM CST
A word of caution: The peat moss/soil/perlite mix must be must be completely moist with no dry spots or the roots will be toasted. Peat moss is a natural way to add a little acid to the soil (Camellias require an acidic soil).
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

Webmaster: osnnv.org
Portland, OR (Zone 8b)
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eddiearni
Jun 5, 2017 3:47 PM CST
Ooh great tip. Thanks. I'm going to get a soil testing kit today and see how things stand, going to work on the plant on Friday. People are talking about taking clippings now and attempting to clone it, Isn't this something you want to do when it is metabolizing nutrients and solar energy? Or can one clone a camelia in the condition I've shown and described? Also, I'm curious, does this look like just dehydration, or could there be a fungal infection / nutrient deficiency? Or do we need to get it perking up and producing vegetative growth before moving on to other diagnosis?
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
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DaisyI
Jun 5, 2017 4:04 PM CST
All you need to do right now is repot it and remember to water.

I doubt that cuttings from this plant would survive. Cuttings use energy stored in the stem until roots and more leaves can grow. Until there are roots and leaves, the plant can't make more food. I doubt this plant has any reserves or it wouldn't look the way it does.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

Webmaster: osnnv.org
Portland, OR (Zone 8b)
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eddiearni
Jun 5, 2017 4:19 PM CST
Will do and will report back! Thanks!
Portland, OR (Zone 8b)
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eddiearni
Jun 6, 2017 8:28 AM CST
Out of curiosity, what exact function would the peat moss serve? Favorable acidity? And also, is there an ideal NPK of the soil used for repotting? An idea I have is to get a large (25+g) fabric "smart pot", line the bottom with perlite, then a layer of potting soil, then put the camelia in the smart pot with a layer of coconut coir around it, maybe two inches thick. Then around the coconut coir to the edges of the smart pot fresh potting soil, perhaps with peat moss and perlite mixed into it. While I'm at it I'll take a picture of the root ball and post it on this thread. . .

Reason for the smart pot, I've found it's the absolute best pot for root growth, drainage, soil oxygenation, etc. The coconut coir is intended to be a bit of a buffer for the potting soil, also it's nice and fluffy and the roots will have an easy time growing into it.

I know I'm going a little overboard here, but I love tinkering - and I *really want to save this plant...

any advice appreciated as always, thanks!
Name: Elaine
Sarasota, Fl
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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dyzzypyxxy
Jun 6, 2017 9:52 AM CST
The smart pot should work great, but the "layering" idea with soil and perlite etc. not so much. It's better to just mix all your ingredients you mention (all good stuff!) together evenly and fill the pot, then re-pot your camellia into there.

The reason is, with layers you get what's known as a "perched" water table. The water can't distribute properly between two distinct types of medium. So you get a very soggy layer above the layer of perlite, for instance. I know it sounds illogical, but it truly does happen, I've seen it myself.

Yes, the peat is very acidic so helps keep the soil pH from rising.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Portland, OR (Zone 8b)
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eddiearni
Jun 8, 2017 1:20 PM CST
You don't think it will help with drainage to put a layer of perlite on the bottom of the smart pot? I guess the idea with the smart pot (a 15gal "go" pot in my case) is it encourages drainage all over the place and you don't need "rocks" to prevent clogging holes, as in plastic containers.

More info, the plant was repotted in the fall but then left outside (!!!!) all winter, and this was the coldest winter on record in Portland in a while, unprecedented snow and ice, and temperatures which got as low as the teens. So the roots are not bound, but the plant was left out in the snow all winter, then when the weather got warm again it was dehydrated between periods of rain. So the plant has been super stressed through cold and dehydration , and the roots are in wet, dense soil.

Good news is, I'll mix up some soil perlite and peat moss tomorrow & repot in a fabric pot, check the pH and NPK levels, keep it in the shade and hope for the best --- we'll see!
Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
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tarev
Jun 8, 2017 1:27 PM CST
I don't grow Camellias, but I have used similar fabric pots. I like them, I just mix in the soil, I typically add in pumice or perlite, no layering of soil. Plant roots love them and easy to move them as needed as seasons change, since I got the ones with handles.
[Last edited by tarev - Jun 8, 2017 1:28 PM (+)]
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Name: Karen
NM (Zone 7b)
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plantmanager
Jun 8, 2017 1:38 PM CST
I also love the fabric pots and mix all of the potting ingredients together. Layering things isn't good for the plants. I use a coffee filter in the bottom of my pots to cover the drain holes.
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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
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DaisyI
Jun 8, 2017 3:05 PM CST
The peat is to raise the acidity of the soil. Camellias can't utilize the nutrients in the soil unless the soil is acidic. You can use any potting soil, as long as its fast draining. Its the peat that is important to the project.

And yes, mix everything well - make sure the soil is completely mixed and thoroughly moist before using it.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

Webmaster: osnnv.org
Portland, OR (Zone 8b)
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eddiearni
Jun 11, 2017 8:52 AM CST
I checked the pH and saw that it's neutral- and not draining, it's like the plant is growing in a swamp. Confirmed that it was both dehydrated and frozen. The plan owner seems to think it has some new growth but it looks so ill I bet it's just clinging to life. I can finally intervene today though and hope for the best. I figure, it's not entirely a lost cause because it's still got some green in the leaves and the limbs are still supple. There are what appear to be new buds forming on close examination, from what i can tell - I don't know much about camelias so I can't tell if it is new growth or old growth held in stasis.

To clarify, I'm not trying to layer throughout the soil like a cake but to put a layer of perlite across the bottom of the pot and there only. that's all. Just some perlite across the bottom so water doesn't collect. Another idea is, mix up some soil with perlite and peat moss, transplant then put the pot on a steel grill so it further drains.

Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Jun 11, 2017 10:06 AM CST
As Elaine mentioned, putting perlite or other coarse material at the bottom of a pot impedes drainage causing the potting mix above it to stay wetter than it would if all materials were mixed together. This is because water doesn't move over the interface between fine and coarse material until the overlaying finer material has become so saturated it cannot hold any more water so it starts to move into the lower coarse layer.
Portland, OR (Zone 8b)
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eddiearni
Jun 11, 2017 3:02 PM CST
ah now i see. thanks!

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