CAMELLIA SASANQUA:
PHOTO BY CHARLA BORCHERS LEON, VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
The camellia sasanqua is known for its single layer petals that open to vividly display the gorgeous bloom. This petal characteristic differentiates the sasanqua from the japonica cultivar that has multi-layer petals.
Plants are easy,
rewarding to grow



November 13, 2008

By Jean Wofford,
Victoria County Master Gardener

Edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Camellia sasanquas, like magnolias, are synonymous with the South.  They are very often found planted in older neighborhoods, but sadly, are seldom found in newer ones.  That really is unfortunate because these wonderful plants are very easy and rewarding to grow. 

They are usually found in one of our local nurseries in the fall and are reasonably priced.  The plants range in size from short to tall and the flowers come in a range of colors from sparkling white to a brilliant jewel red.
Sasanquas are known as much for their foliage as their blooms with leathery dark green leaves that are shiny, broad and about 2 inches long
Sasanquas have leathery, dark green leaves that are shiny and broad.  They are usually about 2 inches long.  They are treasured for their foliage as well as their beautiful blooms. 

They are absolutely stunning when used as a property divider or to cover up a fence line. They even thrive in containers on a front or back porch for seasonal flare. They give us fall and winter color when nothing else is blooming in a large shrub or tree form.

Sasanquas are fast growing and require little care if they are planted properly.  They do not like to be moved from one location to another in the landscape, so think about where it is to be planted and leave it there.

The camellia sasanqua with single layer petals aptly substitutes for the sometimes-preferred camellia japonica, which has blooms in layers of petals, in this part of the South due to its growing characteristics.  According to

Dr. Bill Welch, Texas AgriLife Extension Horticulturist at Texas A&M University, sasanquas are considered to be somewhat easier to grow than camellia japonicas and are often used as hedges as well as specimen plants and as background shrubs in borders.  They also fill an important garden niche because they are fall blooming while C. Japonica cultivars bloom in late winter or early spring.  Careful planning and planting of both species, however, could provide lasting beauty from fall through spring.

A Bit of History

Camellias go back to a documented 400 years.  According to my research, they were brought from China to England in 1676.  The beautiful stately plant was named for a Jesuit botanist, George
Joseph Kamel in 1735.  He was working in the Philippines and had nothing at all to do with camellias.

In 1739, Lord Petry had the only camellia plant in England.  It bloomed with single red petals.  The camellia was finally recognized in 1792 and interest exploded in this hardy plant.  In 1820 the camellia was brought to Woodville, Mississippi and named Woodville Red.

The first Camellia Society was founded by men and has evolved to include the entire family.  It is a social society as well as a horticultural one.  Other than working with camellia culture, typical Southern social graces are also taught to the young girls and boys of the members.

According to other research the camellia was introduced in Boston and New York.  However, since I am from the South, I chose to relay that which is more relevant to this area.

Propagation

The propagation of camellias is regarded to be a difficult undertaking.  My research shows they have been successfully propagated using cuttings and air layering.  Poor results have been reported, so I chose to buy camellia sasanquas in local nurseries.  It would be interesting to try propagating.

If you are brave enough to try propagating, take a cutting about 6 inches long.  Do this in late July or early August.  Strip off all but the three top leaves.  Dip the stem into rooting compound, plant in a good rooting medium such as a very fine peat moss.  Keep damp, but not dripping wet.  Soon as you have a few new leaves, you will know the cutting is getting roots.

Put it into a larger pot and keep the soil damp as you did with the new cutting.  Let it get a couple of feet tall and plant it outdoors.

Planting Location

Camellias like to be planted in dappled shade, but will tolerate full sun if they are kept well watered.  They do like to be damp, but do not let water stand around the plant.  They can and probably will develop root rot and die.  Once established camellias are very hardy.

How to Plant

Camellias like a soil that is rich in organics and acidic versus alkaline.  My soil, like much in Victoria is the hard gumbo soil, so when I start to plant a camellia, I dig down a couple of feet, add good composted peat moss, manure and a little sand.

The peat moss reduces the soil pH making it more acidic increasing the success.  I mix this thoroughly and dampen it.  I let the water run through so it isn't standing.  I very carefully start to take my camellia out of the damp soil in the pot, turning it on the side and just working it out of the pot. 

The camellia usually has a lot of small roots that may need to be carefully separated if they are growing in a circular pattern. 

If the soil is damp, it isn't hard to do.  Just be careful not to break them and then plant the damaged root.  It is ok to slightly root trim before planting.  Mulching periodically will help to retain good moisture and plant growth.

Pruning

I think camellias have such a stately presence that little to no pruning is necessary.  However, if you really must prune, be sure and prune carefully after blooming so you won't lose the bloom buds for the following year.  If the plant is damaged with broken, weak or dead limbs, then by all means prune those out for best results.

Give a sasanqua a try this fall.  Besides their aesthetic value in the landscape, individual flowers make a stunning display picked and floated in bowls on the table.
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS CAN BE
PREVENTED:

PESTS

Scale insects
*Watch underside leaves and stems. 
*Causes leaves to yellow. 
*Control with horticultural oils.

Spider mites
*Can be a problem in hot, dry weather
*Causes foliage to turn bronze and speckle  *Control with horticultural oils.
Sasanqua blooms range in color from sparkling white to brilliant jewel red.  The ‘Yuletide’ variety with its deep pink, almost red blooms provides spectacular color during the fall and into the upcoming holiday season

DISEASES

Dieback and canker
*Fungal diseases that occur in hot, humid weather
*Can kill entire plants.
*Plant in area with good air movement, avoid heavy fertilization,
  prune out dead areas and use fungicides if needed. 

Camellia flower blight
*Causes brown spots on the petals
*Makes deformed flowers
*Won't kill the entire plant 
*Same remedy as above.

Root rot
*Can and probably will happen without proper draining and pH conditions.
*Don't let these potential problems deter you from planting camellias as proper planting and care can prevent them.