Camellias in winter

Years ago, every spell of temperatures nearing zero (Fahrenheit) brought concern for the survival of camellias in the garden, or at least for flower buds of spring blooming Camellia japonicas that typically managed only a few scattered flowers as many buds were cold damaged. Today, I fret only that flowers in late winter are quickly damaged by freezes that are inevitable in late February and March.

While other Ackerman hybrid camellias flower from November into early January, one ‘Winter’s Star’ in afternoon shade rarely begins flowering until January. With mild temperatures late in the week there are likely to be flowers into early March.

This week, the forecast for a night on the weekend falling below ten degrees was amended to twenty degrees milder. Another low looms in this week’s forecast, but while temperatures remain chilly, delaying swelling buds of a ‘Winter’s Star’ camellia (above) that often flowers late in December into January, there are likely to be blooms late in February when milder temperatures become more regular.

Flower buds are swelling noticeably on several Camellia japonicas.

As the winter bloomers fade, the japonicas, with buds that are noticeably swelling (above), will continue with flowering of camellias that has lapsed for only a few weeks since October.

A flower of one of the Ackerman hybrid camellias early in January.

Years ago, when most of the camellias were planted, selections were made only with cold hardiness in mind. All survived, but the few more recently planted were chosen for flower or leaf color, though hardiness was not completely overlooked.

Several flowers opened and were quickly damaged on ‘Royal Flush’, but without severe cold the camellia has suffered no damage.

Several variegated leaf ‘Royal Flush Shi Shi’ were planted two years ago, just as this area has experienced two winters without temperatures falling below ten degrees. I would not have given these a second thought ten years ago.

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