Cold Hardy Camellia Plant Varieties
It’s about this time every year that I quietly thank the myriad plant breeders that spent a large portion of their careers working to bring cold hardy Camellias to me here in Nashville. Fifteen years ago, if you’d asked a landscaper to plant Camellias for you, he may have looked at you like you were crazy. Nowadays, we have nearly a hundred varieties that can be grown easily here in middle Tennessee.
There are few plants that can boast the wonderful traits of camellias. Most are upright, evergreen shrubs with soft (not spiny) leaves and beautiful blooms opening some time between mid fall and mid spring. When the rest of your garden is shutting down for winter and the landscape is looking bleak and dreary, Camellias are gearing up for their time in the spotlight.
Bloom colors can range from white to pale pink to dark red. There are single and double blooms — some flowers are up to five inches in diameter. Many varieties are hardy in zones 7 and 8, and some cultivars can be grown in Zone 6. Camellia japonica is normally hardy to 10°F, but sudden changes in temperature can damage the foliage or kill open flower buds. Sasanqua camellias are more cold hardy — tolerating temperature as low as 5°F. Many new cultivars have exceptional winter hardiness.
Camellias grow best in partial shade — they do not like early morning or late afternoon sun. Red blooming cultivars are more sun tolerant then white or pink flowering cultivars. In the winter camellias need protection from direct sun and drying winds. A planting site under tall pine trees or on the north or west side of a building is ideal. Plants grown in full sun may develop leaf scorch.
The real necessity for these garden treasures is good drainage! Camellias (like many of our blooming evergreens) hate wet feet and need sharp drainage. Unfortunately for us, that soil type doesn’t exist in most of middle TN, so it must be created. Amending the soil around the planting hole with lots of well draining organic matter makes a huge difference in how well Camellias grow and bloom. Acidic soil is also a must, but most of us have that in spades.
Some of my favorite varieties include:
Camellia japonica ‘Korean Fire’ – this camellia can grow 12-15 feet tall and 6-8′ wide, and it blooms march to may here in Nashville. It has beautiful deep red, single blooms with contrasting golden stamens in its center. This variety is the hardiest of the japonica cultivars, surviving recorded temps of -12F!
Camellia japonica ‘April Dawn’ – another super hardy variety. This beauty grows to about 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide and bares on of the most beautiful blooms, in my humble opinion. ‘April Dawn’ is a mid season bloomer (winter and early spring) and the big double blooms, opening pale pink with dark pink streaks, will stop you in your tracks!
Camellia x ‘Artic Rose’ – This beautiful double looks just like the long stem red roses we all know and love, but on a beautiful, compact, evergreen shrub that looks as good in the landscape as its blooms look floating in a bowl of water on the dining room table. This variety only grows to 6 feet tall and wide.
Camellia x ‘Winter’s Snowman’ – a fall blooming, heavy flowering variety that can grow to 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide if left untrimmed. This gorgeous plants shows off it’s semi-double white blooms around the first frost here in Nashville. It’s hard to beat for sheer profusion of blooms and it adds a little flair with wine red new growth in the spring.
There are countless other varieties available at garden centers all over town! I am constantly discovering new cultivars and seeing Camellias used in new and interesting ways all over town. If you haven’t introduced Camellias into your landscape yet, give us a call at Perfect World Landscapes and we will find a home for some of these beauties in your yard this winter.