Camellias are a shrub that, with care, can be grown into a tree. They usually top out at about 10 feet, but some can grow up to 20 feet tall. The oval or rounded shape can spread up to five to seven feet. This shade loving plant likes to be the understory in a grouping of taller trees like pines. Don't plant them under trees like maples that have shallow roots which can interfere with the camellia's own shallow root system.
Many people often think of this as a plant for southern gardens, but with proper care the camellia can thrive in cooler areas as well. In warmer climates, it will bloom all winter long. With shiny dark leaves and bright blooms, this evergreen tree will brighten any yard. Blooms come in shades of white, pink, red, and yellow, and a number of shapes and sizes. If you plant several varieties, you could have color in your yard year round.
Choose a spot with rich well-drained, acidic soil for your camellia tree. A pH of 6 is perfect and don't make the mistake of overwatering or over-fertilizing. If you do fertilize, apply around the drip line of the tree and use a fertilizer designed for acid loving trees. Add compost or other rich organic matter to the soil before planting. If planting under other trees, make sure you don't plant it too close to the trunk of other trees or the other tree's roots will interfere with the camellia trees access to water and other nutrients. Camellia trees must be kept moist but not waterlogged.
Plant your camellias so that the top roots just barely show above the ground. Camellia trees need to have good air circulation around the roots. Mulch the camellia tree well with pine bark mulch mixed with sand to hold in moisture. Use a time release fertilizer that will last for six months. Some gardeners put a rock underneath the roots to support them.
Pruning the tips of your camellia during the growing season will keep it healthy and blooming. You don't need shears to prune the tips; just pinch them off after each growth spurt. Prune the tree once a year after it stops blooming. You can cut it back drastically and it will do just fine. You can propagate camellias by taking softwood cuttings, or by air-layering or grafting.
Camellias are susceptible to few diseases but many pests like to feed on them. The most troublesome are varieties of scale. Scrape off the scale and destroy any branches that are heavily affected. If necessary, you can try commercial pesticides but few are effective against the hard-bodied scale. You might want to take an infected branch to your county extension agent and ask for help.
With proper care, your camellia tree will provide a great spot of color in your yard or garden.