Camellias have come a long way—literally, in many cases—from their beginnings as wild plants in the landscapes of China, Japan, and South Korea. Today they can be found in gardens all over the world. However, the first camellia species were not cultivated for their enchanting flowers, but as a tea plant. But gardeners all over Europe soon appreciated the “exotic” plant as an ornamental tree and began to propagate and breed the camellia more than 100 years ago. The result is impressive.


  • botanischer Name: Camellia japonica
  • other names: Japanese camellia
  • belongs to the tea plant family (Theaceae)
  • Growth height: up to several meters (outdoors)
  • Leaves: Glossy, leathery dark green foliage, serrate leaf margin
  • Blossoms: between December and May, depending on the variety
  • depending on the variety, double or single flowers, one or more colors (4-15 cm)
  • Use: container plant (rarely outdoor plant), flowering ornamental plant


Most camellias require plenty of sun to thrive and form flower buds. However, some shade is necessary to protect the plant from burns, especially in the midday sun. Leaves and the color of the flowers fade slightly if the sun is too strong. Cold, but also strong sunlight can cause the buds, which appear very early in spring in some species, to shrink or freeze to death.

  • bright but without midday sun
  • best on a warm house wall
  • do not plant on the south side
  • should be able to enjoy the morning sun in winter
  • protected as much as possible from icy winds
  • high humidity is ideal
  • wherever azaleas and rhododendrons feel comfortable
Note: Wherever there is no natural shade for the Camellia japonica, artificial shade constructions must be used.


In most gardens around the world where camellias thrive, the soil is well drained and has a slightly acidic pH. Camellias form deep roots in the soil to anchor themselves sufficiently. They also spread a fine network of roots shallow under the ground to absorb water and nutrients.

  • humos (high organic content)
  • slightly acidic pH
  • very well water permeable
  • airy and fluffy (crumbly)
  • Mixture of compost, peat and garden soil
  • some coarse, organic material (pieces of bark)


In addition to an optimal location, good soil preparation is the be-all and end-all for Camellia japonica to grow and thrive. In this way, an optimal basis for the plant has already been laid. Subsequent soil improvement measures are usually difficult because transplanting or digging up destroys many roots. Only varieties that are considered hardy in our latitudes and are at least five years old should be planted outdoors. It is best to ask a specialist in the nursery right away when buying which variety is best for the planned location.

  • Time: Do not plant out plants with open flowers before the ice saints
  • last possible date: end of July
  • remove all weeds from the planting area
  • Dig the soil at least three spades deep and loosen it up well
  • Planting hole: two to three balls deep and wide
  • Possibly create drainage (expanded clay, pumice gravel)
  • pour in a layer of well-rotted compost
  • For each plant, work compost into the soil over an area of ​​about 1 m²
  • Substrate: garden soil, compost, some peat or bark mulch
  • Never plant camellias too deep
  • Fill the planting hole with substrate

right season

Shrubs like the camellia need a little time for their roots to spread after a new planting in the ground. During this time, the plant is not sufficiently able to absorb water from the environment via the roots. Planting is therefore best done at a time when it is moderately warm and there is sufficient rainfall. In addition, it is possible to limit evaporation from the leaves by shortening about a third of the branches.

Water requirements & fertilizing

A Camellia japonica needs the most water when the temperatures slowly rise in spring. Then the camellia wakes up from its hibernation and not only begins to sprout, but also develops its flowers. The development of the new leaves needs a lot of water and nutrients. A failure of the water supply during this time has fatal consequences for the plant: only a few flowers develop or the buds that form simply fall off. It doesn’t matter how this water shortage came about. One possibility is a lack of rainwater or irrigation water. The second variant is difficult to influence: a cold snap during bud development.

If rainwater can be stored in a barrel or tank to irrigate the camellia, it would be ideal for watering the plant during drier periods. If this is not possible, this is usually not a problem in our climates. Tap water is of course better than no water at all, but over time it increases the pH of the soil. If the summer is very dry and hot, it could be a bit problematic. Something urgently needs to be done here:

  • mulch generously with organic material
  • alternatively place a plastic membrane on the root area
  • water regularly when dry
  • occasionally mix in some peat, conifer compost or other acidic soil

For camellias, which can usually be bought in pots from garden centers and nurseries, a little fertilizer at the time of planting in the garden will help them establish well. At the beginning of each spring, a Camellia japonica should be fertilized heavily with mature compost. Organic long-term fertilizers such as horn shavings are worked into the soil once in spring (before they sprout) and once in July. Mineral fertilizers are less beneficial, since high levels of salt in the soil will kill the pretty ornamental plant.

Tip: Some camellia experts in warmer areas (wine regions) swear by fertilizing in late winter to improve the color intensity of the flowers.

To cut

Camellias do not need pruning. They only have to be removed when the plant gets too big or branches are dried up or otherwise damaged.


If the Camellia japonica is grown in a pot, it should be transplanted into a slightly larger pot about every two years. It is best to exchange a large part of the earth in the process. A good time to do this is after flowering. The older the camellia gets, the less often it needs a larger pot. However, the substrate should still be changed at regular intervals. Suitable substrates are azalea or rhododendron soil, alternatively you can also use a mixture of potting soil and peat.


Cuttings or lowers of the Japanese camellia are suitable for varietal propagation. Seeds usually produce weak plants that don’t have much in common with the mother plant.


Camellias are found in areas with mild winters. Although one or two frosts cannot be ruled out in their homeland, the average temperature there is between 0 and 10 degrees. Therefore, most varieties of camellia are quite sensitive to frost. A camellia should not be warmer than a maximum of 12 degrees, as it absolutely needs a resting phase. In order to get the Camellia japonica well over the winter, you have to start early with the preparations:

  • do not fertilize after August
  • water less from October
  • Place potted plants in their winter quarters from the first frosts
  • Winter cool and light (0-10 degrees)
  • frost-free greenhouse that can be shaded and well ventilated
  • bright staircase without direct midday sun
  • high humidity
  • Protect outdoor plants from cold winds
  • apply a thick layer of bark mulch to the soil
  • the camellias usually do not freeze to death in winter, but dry up
Tip: A well-packed pot protects the root ball from freezing through to a certain extent. Hardy camellias protected in this way can stay outside in a sheltered spot down to -10 degrees. If the temperatures drop further, they too have to go to winter quarters.

Care after hibernation

Many camellias start blooming as early as February. In these cases, the hibernation ends in mid-January. From now on the plant needs a lot of light. If shades have been installed, they can be removed. Somewhat darker standing camellias are placed in a lighter location (slowly get used to the light).

  • Temperatures at night: 6 to 12 degrees
  • Temperatures during the day: not over 15 degrees
  • pour some more
  • produce no waterlogging
  • Place potted plants in a little more shade from April onwards
  • Protect outdoor plants from frost with fleece

Tips for more blooms

Lazy plants can be stimulated to bloom again with the following trick:

  • When: late June/early July
  • after flowering when the leaf buds are mature
  • don’t water for a week
  • the lack of water triggers increased flowering in the plant
  • water extensively again after the dry period

Recommended Varieties

From the huge number of different camellia breeds, there are around 90,000, only a small selection can be presented here. All species listed here are conditionally hardy in our latitudes with protection. One of the least sensitive camellia varieties is the ‘Elegans’ variety, which is mostly sold as a houseplant.

  • Adolphe Audusson Variegated: red flowers with white spots (up to 12 cm) in February to May, hardy with protection down to -18 degrees, one of the most beautiful of the red-flowering varieties, ideal for beginners
  • Angela Cocchi: white, sometimes slightly red, double flowers from February to May, old Italian variety, hardy to -15 degrees with protection
  • Anticipation: light red, double flowers, reminiscent of a peony, flowering period February to May, hardy to -18 degrees with protection
  • Brushfields Yellow: white, anemone-shaped, full flowers, pale yellow in the middle, flowering period from February to May, hardy with protection down to -18 degrees
  • Collettii: dark red flowers with large white spots that vary greatly, flowering period from February to May, with winter protection down to -18 degrees
  • Cornish Snow: small, simple flowers (4 cm), rich in flowers, grows very slowly, flowers between February and May, down to -18 degrees with winter protection
  • Scented bells: new dwarf variety, loose growth, pink, small flowers, scented, hardy with protection down to -10 degrees
  • Elegant Beauty: bright pink flowers with wavy petals, flowering period March to May, loose growth, ideal trellis plant, required topiary as a shrub, hardy with protection down to -20 degrees
  • Elisabeth Dowd Silver: rose-shaped, light pink flowers with dark veins in March to May, columnar, upright habit, with winter protection to -18 degrees
  • Leonard Messel: pink, semi-double flower in February to May, one of the largest flowers on camellias (up to 15 cm), loose growth, hardy to -18 degrees with protection
  • Shirobotan: white, double flowers from March to May, hardy with protection down to -18 degrees
  • William Bartlett: bright pink flowers with red sprinkles, flowering period from February to May, with winter protection down to -20 degrees, one of the particularly hardy varieties, evenly colored flowers

If you want to cultivate a camellia and are hoping for a plentiful bloom, you should consider the following points: 1. slightly acidic substrate, 2. use low-lime water for watering, water frequently, especially at the time of flowering (from the end of January to May), 3. ensure good site conditions, light semi-shade is ideal, avoid full sun at all costs, 4. Proper preparation for winter, bright and cool site until flowering.

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