Camellias (Camellia spp.) provide the perfect complement of elegant blooms against glossy, evergreen foliage. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 9, these beautiful shrubs are covered with profuse blooms from fall until spring. Understanding the special features of camellia blooms and the best way to handle them when they pass their peak can help you keep your camellia looking its best all year.
Camellia blooms take many different forms, depending on the type of camellia. The flowers range from delicate single sets of petals, to many-petaled, fully double blooms. Borne in clusters, the beautiful flowers come in colors from alabaster and blush-pink to yellow, lavender, deep ruby-red and some variegated, bi-color varieties. Measuring 2 to 5 inches across, the blooms are often entirely without fragrance, but it’s the beauty of the blossoms, not their smell, that make camellias so attractive.
Lovely when covered in fresh blooms, camellias can look untidy as flowers begin to fade. Unlike some flowers that drop quickly once they wilt, old camellia blooms linger on the branches, sometimes holding on for weeks. Old blooms detract from the beauty of the foliage and new blossoms, and the petals can be unsightly when they finally loosen their grasp and fall to the ground. To keep your camellia as attractive as possible and promote more new blooms, remove old blooms. This process of removing the dead flower is called deadheading. For camellias, this is best done by hand.
Deadheading camellias by hand is better than cutting off old blooms. Camellia flowers grow in clusters, with many new flower buds near the spent blossoms. The growth tip that will produce future flower buds is also right below the old bloom. Working by hand makes damage to that tip less likely and helps protect the cluster of new buds. Using shears can leave an unnatural look, plus it can damage buds next in line to bloom. To deadhead your camellia, grasp the spent bloom with one hand. Use your other hand to gently hold the stem right below the old blossom. Then pull the bloom, twist slightly and the wilted flower will come off in your hand.
Deadheading your camellia has many benefits, including the immediate gratification of seeing your plant look tidier. Deadheading causes the plant to redirect its energy away from seed production into more flowers and healthy new growth. It also creates room for new buds to develop and helps guard against fungal diseases that can affect old petals on the plant or accumulated on the ground. Whether you have a few minutes or more, deadheading can be done any time. With no tools or shears required, even little hands can help instantly improve the appearance of your camellia and keep it looking its best all season.