Ask a Question forum: VERY old camellia in trouble

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Oct 21, 2017 2:53 PM CST
Hello, I have an at least 20 years old camellia who was holding on fairly reasonably for her age . it's been pretty much green all years round. White flowers in the summer. I noticed those small dead branches, so I pruned, than I have been getting more and more dead twigs, so I pruned more and more, now it shrank so much from my pruning that she's almost reduced to the leader trunk. On the other end, she's definetely alive, because buds are showing up right now at some of what is left in the remaining branches' tips. Now I read that pruning should be in the spring, should I leave her alone? other places say she can be pruned all year round. The only things I can think of doing, is: moving her to where she can get rain, - yes, she's outside but covered, pot sufficiently large for her size - 4 foot tall -and repotting, soil hasn't been changed since birth, but for that I have to wait for spring, right? Recently I fed her with special Hydrangea compost.
I live in a mild zone, and cold has never been a problem for her. Thanks.
[Last edited by journalistmena - Oct 22, 2017 4:23 AM (+)]
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Hurst, TX (Zone 8a)
Dog Lover Region: Texas
Oct 22, 2017 11:43 AM CST
Well, camellias develop flower buds and bloom anywhere from early Fall to late Spring so, just in order not to prune flower buds or blooms, you would be better pruning live branches around Spring as well as transplanting or repotting. Could you prune from Fall to Spring? Yes too. Some people do this when they plan to cut a looot of live branches as the plant may be semi-dormant. But dead branches can be cut at any time.

However, camellias typically do not bloom in the summer. However, I could see a late flowering camellia japonica blooming "close" to the summer months if the weather in Spring turned cold and that made it delay blooming. The only exception to summer blooming that I can think of is called C. azalea but it does not currently bloom white.

It is common to see many develop a look resembling Crape Myrtles, with a leader trunk or a few trunks. If you and your descendants treat it well and plant it in the ground, it should live 500+ years.
[Last edited by luis_pr - Oct 23, 2017 8:48 AM (+)]
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Oct 23, 2017 1:24 PM CST
thanks, so it's not necessarily an age related problem! makes me want to look into it!
Hurst, TX (Zone 8a)
Dog Lover Region: Texas
Oct 24, 2017 10:03 AM CST
Not necessarily. Check soil nutrients, watering and, by the way, be aware that this winter, a La Nina Event is expected to develop and it will trigger unusual weather patterns. In Texas where I am, this means that winter may be warmer and dried than a normal winter would have been. Research what this means for you in Italy and be prepared to take care of the shrub as needed.

For example, if it is going to be warmer and drier due to La Nina in Italy, be prepared to supply water more than you would do in a normal winter. If the shrub stays outside in the pot, consider bringing it temporarily inside if winter is warm and conditions suddenly turn much colder, much below the freezing mark. I like to prepare some of my plants in super heavy pots (pots that cannot be moved due to the weight) by watering them well before the extreme cold arrives; doing that may help you prevent camellia bud drop problems in late Fall and during Winter.

The shrub may also have had watering issues that caused the branches to dry out; the time of year when this happens may be a clue to the problem. If it happened in the summer, it may have been caused by dry soil. I try to maintain the soil in my potted hydrangeas as evenly moist as possible and I also sometimes dip a finger to test the moisture in the soil (if the soil feels dry or almost dry then water but if otherwise, delay watering). If the pot location is windy, the winds may be 'helping' the soil dry out. There is also a disease called camellia dieback but I do not know if it common in Italy.
[Last edited by luis_pr - Nov 2, 2017 5:45 AM (+)]
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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
Oct 24, 2017 10:31 AM CST
I'll add my 2 cents' worth to Luis's great advice - I think any plant that has been in the same potting soil for 20 years needs at least yearly amendments added to the soil. It may be that the soil has just lost all its "tilth". That is, the organic components in the soil have been used up by the plant or washed away from watering the pot.

You don't necessarily have to re-pot although I think I would at this point. Adding rich amendments to the top of the soil such as the Hydrangea compost you mentioned will certainly help but you need to do this often, preferably a shovel-full or two at least twice a year in spring and fall. I also add a "tea" of soaked alfalfa pellets (horse food) to all my potted plants each year which replaces organic material, and also gives a mild boost of nitrogen to start the plants up in spring. These amendments will gradually wash down into the depleted soil in the pot, but don't pile them up around the trunk of the plant.

If you decide to re-pot, I think I would do it this fall or winter while the plant is growing slowly, not in spring when the plant has started growing faster and is getting ready to bloom. Wash away as much of the old soil from the root ball as you can and replace with new sterile potting 'compost'.

I would also definitely put the plant out where it can get some rain, although if this means it will suddenly be in more sun as well, move it slowly to the new location so it can get used to more light. Camellias generally like to be in the shade at least for the latter half of the day.

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Nov 7, 2017 5:30 PM CST
Hi all, thanks for being so generous to my mom's camellia, as soon as I am back home i will post some picture so you all can identify the striking contrast between the bare twigs/ trunk and the new buds - 5 in all - and the tiny new leaves, by the way I did scratch the brown bare twigs, and they are bright green, most of them. It's 12 degrees C in Italy now, she won't be cold.....
Dec 30, 2017 2:20 PM CST
My first post was at the end of October, I am now back from a trip and add some photos hoping to find more help. No, she didn't get better as you see, more leaves have fallen but three buds are green and alive at this time of the year and scratching the header shows green, even though it doesn't show in the image, which makes me hope she'll survive until the spring, when I will re pot. Most searches say to re pot in the spring and, again, for the fact that it hasn't been done in - actually - 40 plus years - to be more precise - I have a hunch that might help.
Winter is starting now, not particularly bad, but I am going to get fleece and bubble wrap tomorrow. This is not a question about cold, again, she has been outside for 40 plus years, and she was well, but about her life expectancy. Anybody else, or you guys again? As you see, this plant has a special place in my heart.
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[Last edited by journalistmena - Dec 30, 2017 2:25 PM (+)]
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Hurst, TX (Zone 8a)
Dog Lover Region: Texas
Feb 3, 2018 4:05 AM CST
Like I said, camellias can get to be over 500 years old if they are given proper care, etc. Here are some old ones from Spain but you can also see others in areas where they can get tall and old with proper care (usually city gardens, etc). Photos courtesy of Okintos, a camellia acquaintance from Spain.

Photo with people walking underneath so you can get an idea:

Mathotiana (sp?) Rosea Trees:

Mathusalem Tree:

The soil in pots can loose minerals as potted plants are watered so much. The minerals leech out thru the holes at the bottom of the pot. After a while (not 40 years though), the soil should be replaced. Also, the plants -or rather the root ball- can dry out a lot and repel water if the potting soil is allowed to dry out. You can monitor the soil moisture by inserting a finger into the potting soil. But really, I would replace the soil or add minerals if it has not been fertilized recently. You can use simple things like composted manure or organic compost, all of which have a variety of nutrients that may be lacking in the potting soil. I have a nearby organic plant nursery where I also get bone meal, cottonseed meal and alfalfa meal.... all of which I feed to my camellias. Alfalfa also has growth hormones.

While repotting, cut any roots that may be growing in circles in the pot.

Feb 4, 2018 3:08 PM CST
yes, can't wait for the end of the month and re pot, thanks for reminding me to trim roots.

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