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Southeast Gardening: Growing Camellias

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

While camellias are native to the deep south and prefer acid soil, use these tips to grown them in zone 7 and even zone 6.

While camellias are native to the deep south and prefer acid soil, use these tips to grown them in zone 7 and even zone 6.

Spring is rising like a musical crescendo, building volume in perfect harmony. Precocious trees and shrubs are both blooming and fat-budded. At the moment, spirea is nature's lace, and witch hazel has quietly unfurled its fringe of yellow. But for sheer audacity, with fists of color on glossy green leaves, nothing tops a camellia.

Forgive me. I know that camellias are Deep South shrubs fond of acid soil. That makes them a challenge for some. However, many are hardy in zone 7 and, with careful selection, gardeners will find selections that will flourish in zone 6.

Whether the soil is alkaline or like mine - heavy clay full of tree roots - the answer can be growing them in containers. I have successfully grown camellias in pots outdoors for four to five years. Plants in pots are more susceptible to cold, but I usually harbor them near a wall of our home for extra protection. In summer the plants provide a green background for groupings of colorful containers on our porch and deck.

Of course I aspire to the big evergreens three times my height, with branches pendant from the weight of their blooms. The camellias shown here are growing a scant 10 miles from my home at Aldridge Gardens in zone 7b, but they have one thing mine do not - decades. The cuttings were rooted in 1965. Good things take time.

I have killed several in their first seasons, planting too deeply or failing to water during summer drought. However, several more have taken hold and are now tough, drought-tolerant shrubs as tall as I. It has taken five to 10 years, but I know they will only get better now that they are established.

Camellias provide both evergreen screening and color in the shade, two of the most sought-after qualities in a plant. It is spring, and this is their moment in the spotlight.

Tell us which camellias grow best in your area. Your experience will help others succeed.