We are extremely proud to have a monthly column in The Black Mountain News. The column is titled Gardening in the Valley and the author is a member of the committee. Typically the column is the third Wednesday of each month. So pick up a copy of the paper.
Also want to thank Rhonda Reedy for her behind the scenes management of the column and working with the paper. For being a relatively new member, she has already done so much for our committee.
Committee members interested in writing an article, please contact Rhonda. If you are wondering what to write about, select a month and we can offer you some suggestions.
Scroll down to read this month's column.
When I first moved to Charleston, SC from New Jersey, I was struck by the beautiful red flowers growing prolifically at the beginning of February! The dark-green leafed bushes were a stark contrast to the vibrant blooms. It felt significant to see this burst of red in the month of love and I would later learn of the camellia, a perennial favorite of the southern garden.
In the WNC mountain region, we are a bit more challenged when it comes to successfully growing camellias. Thanks to advancements in breeding by Dr. William Ackerman of the U.S. National Arboretum and at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, camellias aren't entirely out of reach for gardeners in Zone 6.
I came across a blog post by Cinthia Milner, from BB Barnes in Asheville. Written a few years ago, she talked about these camellia cultivars that can thrive in WNC as they are tough, cold resistant, and dazzling. Some of the cold-hardy varieties that she mentioned were April Tryst (red flowers- spring bloom), Pink Icicle (pink
flowers - spring bloom), Snow Flurry (white flowers-fall bloom), and Carolina Moonmist (salmon pink flowers - fall bloom). All total, there are 60 varieties of camellias identified that tolerate the zone 6 mountain climate here
in the Asheville area.
The bloom time for camellias can vary within a few months. I talked with my fellow member of the Black Mountain Beautification Committee, Joyce Black-Woerz about her camellias. “I had never known what camellias were being from NW Pennsylvania,” she says. “Having an evergreen tree with year-round leaf interest that blooms was enticing to me as a beautiful addition to typical evergreens.” She talked about the bloom time for her camellias, “My older one has raspberry-red flowers and blooms in early December. The
other, a pale pink flower, typically blooms in February.”
There is a general consensus for camellia success in WNC, and I have gathered some details:
Camellias do best in semi-shade to shade areas of the garden. Try to plant them in a location that is protected from wind and has filtered light. Afternoon sun is better for your plants than morning sun. Deep shade may prevent blooming.
These lovely plants should be planted by mid-June to establish good roots while soil is still warm. Camellias need excellent drainage. Don’t plant your camellias too deep in the ground. It’s better to plant a little bit high and keep the top of the root ball level with the soil so water won’t stand around the trunk. Camellias have shallow roots and need moderate water, but when your plants are young, they may need water during drought for a few years. For winter care, give their roots added insulation of a nice, deep heap of mulch around the root zone.
James Farmer, spokesman for the American Camellia Society explains, “Camellias like acid, so try Holly Tone formulated for azaleas or camellias.” Farmer warns that they don’t need much fertilizing and says he fertilizes his plants after the blooms finish.
Tea scale is common on the undersides of leaves. Look underneath the leaves for signs of scale and spider mites as well. Joyce says that when her camellias get spider mites the “goo” sticky substance can get mold. She recommends a good cleaning with Neem Oil. Also, keep an eye out for petal blight, a fungus that makes flowers turn brown and fall off. To help prevent petal blight, rake up and remove fallen blooms and petals. Leaf gall is also common. Leaves swell up, fall off, and turn white-ish. Joyce pinches off distorted leaves with her hand right away (no shears) and puts them in the trash - NOT compost!
Pruning: Just do a light shaping or cut the blooms for arrangements. Prune after the blooms finish.
Consider planting camellias in your garden this spring to celebrate that February love for many years to come.
Bio: Lisa Wasoski, who moved to Black Mountain nearly three years ago, has been a member of the Beautification Committee for more than two years. She has been involved with the committee's town holiday decorating, Howachyn Walk sign on Cherry Street, Seed Money and Garden Show Clothesline subcommittees and new planter maintenance.