The camellia (Camellia japonica) is a beautiful plant. It is so popular above all because it brings variety to gray autumn and winter days with its colorful flowers. It is all the more annoying when the camellia becomes unsightly because it loses its leaves and flower buds. Here it is important to find the cause quickly so that it does not occur. Incorrect care is usually to blame.

Normal leaf shedding

If there is a mistake in care, the flower buds usually fall off before the leaves hit. If the Camellia japonica only loses leaves, this is mostly a natural process. The tea plant (Theaceae) renews its foliage about every three years. This happens because the camellia uses hormone control to withdraw important nutrients and other substances from the leaves. These turn yellow to orange and then detach from the stems. There is no cause for concern, although leaf loss causes a temporary bare appearance. New leaves can usually be observed shortly after they are shed. The flowers/buds usually do not suffer from this.

Note: Action only needs to be taken if the leaves are shed every year or the flower buds fall off. In both cases, the reasons are predominantly always due to the same care errors.

Act fast

If the camellia loses leaves and its flower buds at the same time, this is mainly due to a care error that can have life-threatening consequences. This means that the keeping conditions do not meet the demands of the plant. If hobby gardeners and plant lovers do not intervene immediately and change the situation for the camellia, which is very sensitive during the flowering season , it will inevitably die. As a result, quick action is urgently needed, because the sooner help is given, the greater the chances that the Camellia japonica will recover.


In most cases, a suboptimal location is when the foliage thins and the buds fall off. Especially during the winter, the camellia requires different temperatures than in the summer to keep the supply system running. This is necessary because the plant needs to provide enough energy for flowering and nourishing the leaves. The lighting conditions must also be adjusted in winter. If the leaves and buds fall, it is essential to check the location so that, if necessary, a change of location is made that meets the requirements of Camellia japonica. The ideal location fulfills the following conditions:

  • From spring to autumn temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius (necessary to form many strong buds)
  • Temperatures between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius between October and April (ideal unheated conservatory)
  • Light conditions bright from October, but no direct sunlight
  • For strong, resilient buds, place in partial shade at most until September
  • Humidity around 50 percent or less
  • Avoid cold drafts


While a Camellia japonica can spend the winter outdoors in warmer areas, moving to a winter quarters that meets the above requirements is necessary in colder regions. However, the camellia can react so sensitively to a change of location that it loses its leaves and flower buds. This happens especially when flowering is imminent and a move is being made. Here, experts speak of “staying seated”. There is a load, the supply is disrupted. As a result, limp leaves and buds show up before they drop. The plant usually recovers if the new location is ideally chosen, but once the buds have fallen, the hoped-for splendor of flowers for the year is usually gone. To prevent sitting still, do the following:

  • Do not change location until after the buds have formed (mainly July/August)
  • Best Time to Relocate: September (gives time to recover until bud opening in October)
  • Choose a location where it will remain until spring (to avoid changing location again)

Spring sun

If the Camellia japonica is exposed to warmer solar radiation too early, this often leads to burns. Usually brown spots form on the leaves and the buds dry up. As a result, the leaves and flowers or buds that are still present can fall off. As soon as the sun gets stronger, which can sometimes happen as early as early spring, the plant must slowly get used to the “new” situation. If excessively warm and long exposure to the sun can be the cause of the loss of leaves and buds, it must be protected from the sun immediately. A change of location is not recommended for the reasons already mentioned. A blind or something similar can help here.


At least night frosts are not uncommon until the Ice Saints. If the Camellia japonica comes out early, there is a risk of frostbite. This is particularly evident in the shedding of the leaves, which often have dark brown to black spots. Leaf changes do not have to be recognizable. The cold is enough to lose even green leaves. If there are still flower buds, these can also freeze and fall off. If there is a suspicion of frostbite or damage from the cold, the following action should be taken:

  • Free from frost immediately
  • Cut off affected parts of the plant if they haven’t already fallen off
  • In the case of extensive cold damage, shorten the plant by a third
  • Do not place until mid-May after the ice saints in a wind- and cold-protected location


In addition to a suboptimal location, incorrect watering is one of the most common causes of leaf and bud drop. Too much water can be just as responsible as too little water. Here is to check how dry or wet the soil is. Especially during the formation of the flower buds, a balanced moisture ratio is required so that they can grow undisturbed. When pouring, proceed as follows:

  • Keep constantly moist, but never over-soak
  • If necessary, water several times a day on warm summer days during bud formation (soil must not dry out)
  • Avoid waterlogging
  • Excess water must have a drainage facility (drainage hole in the pot and/or permeable soil)
  • When using saucers, pour them off after watering (avoid standing water)
Tip: Whether the Camellia japonica needs water or not can be easily checked with the thumb test. If the thumb can be pressed more than two centimeters into the soil/substrate without effort, there is still sufficient moisture. Watering is required for less than two centimeters.

First aid

If the leaf and bud drop is due to too much or too little water, the following should be done to fix the “problem” and help the plant recover:

Too much water/waterlogging:

  • Stop watering immediately
  • Plant out camellias if possible
  • Free roots from wet soil
  • Let the roots air dry for about two to three hours
  • Lay out drainage from gravel or quartz sand floor, if not available
  • Fill the pot/tub/planting hole with fresh, dry soil
  • replant the plant
  • Only give a small amount of water after five days and increase it slowly
  • Reduce/adjust the watering quantity in the future

Not enough water:

  • Catch up watering immediately
  • Administer small amounts of water, several times a day
  • Make sure that excess water runs off
  • Small and potted plants can be planted out
  • Then place the roots in buckets of water until no more bubbles rise
  • Loosen dry soil / create permeability or use new, fresh, loose soil
  • Plant again


If the Camellia japonica loses its leaves and flower buds, incorrect fertilization can be responsible. The use of unsuitable fertilizer is just as often the cause as incorrect amounts of fertilizer. Unsuitable fertilizers are mainly products that change the soil pH value. Camellia japonica only thrives in acidic soil conditions. If a fertilizer is alkaline, the reaction mentioned can take place. Too much or too little fertilizer often leads to under- or oversupply, which affects the buds and leaf stability. The leaves usually change color and the buds droop before the camellia loses them. If the cause is fertilization, this should be dealt with:

  • Wrong fertiliser: Measure the pH value and administer a pH neutralizing agent (available from specialist retailers)
  • Otherwise plant camellias
  • Loosen soil from roots
  • Fill the pot with fresh, acidic substrate
  • Plant camellia again
  • Only fertilize again at the next fertilization date (minimum waiting time six weeks)

further process

In order to avoid wrong fertilizers and amounts of fertilizer in the future, the following should be observed when fertilizing:

  • On acidic pH of fertilizer products
  • Liquid rhododendron fertilizer is ideal (liquid fertilizer reaches the root tips better)
  • Do not apply too much nitrogen during bud formation (promotes leaf growth, weakens bud formation)
  • Measure the pH value regularly (test strips are available cheaply from specialist retailers) and adjust fertilization
  • Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s dosage recommendations

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