When To Prune Camellias And How To Care For Them

Camellias are native to East Asia, but plenty of camellia bushes are found all over the UK. With over 300 species, glossy leaves, and attractive colourful flowers – the popularity of these plants is hardly surprising. Be it camellia japonica or camellia williamsii – a little pruning now and then can work wonders for your plants. How? That’s simple. You see, pruning involves removing dead leaves and branches to make room for healthy new growth and can provide pest control. Don’t make your bay trees, jasmine, rose bushes and magnolias get jealous!

Pink camellia

So, whether your garden camellias are a little worse for wear or growing all over the place – our pruning guide is just what you need. Plus, we’ve covered all there is to pruning camellias – be it the perfect time, a step-by-step instructional, and valuable tips and tricks to help you make your garden look its very best!

About camellias

They are evergreen shrubs – which means they can remain green through more than one growing season. Their leaves are glossy green with serrated edges, and the flowers can vary from white to red – depending on the types of camellia

The plants adapt well to a soil that’s high in acidity and includes plentiful humus (organic matter that’s formed by the decomposition of leaves and other materials by soil microorganisms). Since most soils in the UK range between 4.0 (very acidic) to 8.5 (very alkaline) on the pH scale – camellias tend to grow here quite easily

Nonetheless, it’s not uncommon for gardeners to grow these plants in pots to control the soil acidity and hence, the growth of the plants. Additionally, you should note that different varieties of camellia will bloom at different times. For instance, sasanqua camellias will flower from late autumn through late winter, whereas camellia japonica will start flowering in early spring

These plants prefer to grow in an area that’s partially shaded and protected from the elements, such as strong winds. What’s more, growing camellias in an open space can lead to flower damage. Finally, some camellia cultivars can grow and spread up to 2 meters upon maturity, so placement is definitely an essential factor. 

White camellia

When is the right time to prune your camellias

Like most evergreen shrubs, camelias can be pretty forgiving in terms of extensive pruning – especially if you’re trying to revive your old camellia plant and bring it back to life. Generally, a camellia plant will not require much pruning; however, a light prune occasionally as part of plant care will do wonders for healthy growth. 

What’s more, they tend to flower on the growth of the previous year. The buds that form in late summer or autumn can go on producing bright and beautiful flowers all the way up to autumn and spring

That’s why the best time to prune camellia shrubs is right after they’ve flowered before there’s any new growth that’ll help produce the following year‘s blooms. Delaying the process can damage the growth that’ll help promote the production of next year’s flowers

However, keep in mind that the flowering time of a camellia may vary based on type. For example, the japonica type may be pruned through mid to late spring. Conversely, sasanqua camellias should be tackled by autumn to early winter

If you’re simply trying to practice some topiary and whip your overgrown camellia into shape – you can prune them at any time of year – provided you don’t mind losing the flower buds. Finally, if you’re a fan of camellia cut flowers – you have the option of pruning your plants as you collect the blooms. 

How to prune your camellias step-by-step

Before embarking on your pruning jaunt to tackle any camellia bush problems, it’s important to gather the supplies you’ll need. 

Pink camellia flowers and scissors on rustic wooden background

Typically, you’ll need a functional pair of pruning shears and a pruning saw. The shears are meant for smaller stems, but you’ll need something more robust for the larger branches. Also note that sharp cuts heal better and faster than a crude one from a blunt tool. Sharp cuts also help reduce the chances of icky disease-causing organisms entering your plants after pruning. 

Thankfully, both pruners and saws are readily available at most garden stores. Finally, if the tools you have are somewhat rusted and not too sharp – it’s best to get a new pair to prolong the life of your plants. 

Once you’ve gathered the necessary supplies – here’s that step-by-step tutorial we promised you:

Step 1

You’ll need to ensure all your pruning tools are completely clean before proceeding. That’s because diseases and pests can easily be transferred from one plant to another, thanks to contaminated tools. 

So, step 1 involves removing dirt and debris from the shears and saw and cleaning the surface of both tools with disinfectants

Hint: Don’t forget to wear your gloves for this part – especially if you’ve got sensitive skin!

Gloved hands prune branches

Step 2

Start your trimming by targeting overgrown foliage, new shoots and thin branches. However, ensure that you utilise the pruning shears to make cuts as near as possible to the continuing branch. Avoid damaging the ridges that appear at the connection of branches because once you’re done pruning, the plant will use the ridges to grow protective material against diseases

Next, work at thinning out the population of dead or inner leaves and stems till the main stem to ward off diseases. Thinning out leaves will improve the plant’s airflow and allow more light to penetrate the middle – which will help control the pest population. 

Hint: Don’t chuck away the pruned material. Instead, utilise it as mulch for your plants!

Step 3

If you want to trim your camellia to a desired height, cut the ends of the branches after flowering has occurred. This will help you control the plant’s shape and growth the way you prefer. To make your plant grow larger, trim back around 7 to 8 cm. On the other hand, if you don’t want too much growth pruning up to 2 to 3 cm is fine.

Tips and warnings about pruning camellias

There’s quite a bit more to camellia care and maintenance than just pruning. That’s precisely why we’ve put together a few valuable care tips to help you up your gardening game. 

Woman's hand holding camellia

  1. While young camellias need to be watered regularly, mature plants don’t require much water. That’s one of the reasons why overwatering is a danger when it comes to this plant type. Too much water can damage the health of your camellias and can promote fungal diseases like root rot. 
  2. Don’t get lazy about removing the dead flowers from your plant. Wilting flowers can take their time drying up and stay attached to the plant. This means your plant will look almost bedraggled and become susceptible to petal blight – which is a type of fungal disease. In short, it’s best to tackle those dead flowers you see hanging about your camellias by hand to promote looks and health. 
  3. Like we said right in the beginning, they love most things acidic and don’t do well in soils with too much alkalinity. That’s why you should remember to fertilise your plants with an acidic fertiliser in early summer and spring. However, before fertilising, remove the mulch and spread the fertiliser around the plant. Next, water the area well to stop your plant from being burnt

Camellia with two colours

There you have it, fellow gardeners. We’ve officially reached the end of our camellia pruning guide and sincerely hope all your queries have been settled. Often pruning is misunderstood, and mostly it’s not given the respect it deserves. Considering the benefits of this gardening technique – it really should be more researched by budding horticulturalists. However, when it comes to camellias, a good trim every so often can help keep your plants healthy, avoid pests, and control their rapid growth. And that’s nothing short of an overall favourable situation for any gardener. 



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