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Archive: Dec 2018

  1. The Best Hardy Camellias for the Landscape

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    Camellias have been known to trigger acute plant envy in Northern U.S. gardeners.  If only those voluptuous blooms came on hardier shrubs that could withstand sub-zero temperatures.
    As a matter of fact, in some cases they do.  Although most camellias trace their origins to mild subtropical and maritime areas of East Asia, a few hail from chillier regions.  These cold-hardy camellias have contributed their genes to the development of new varieties that are as happy in Newport, Rhode Island as they are in Newport News, Virginia.

    Hardy Camellia Origins

    The hardiest spring-blooming camellias can even take snow flurries.


    Many of these winter-ready camellias owe their toughness to arguably the hardiest species in the genus, Camellia oleifera.  Widely cultivated in China for its seed oil, it occurs in the wild as far north as Shaanxi Province, where winter temperatures resemble those in south-coastal New England and the upper Mid-Atlantic.  In American gardens, it’s grown chiefly for its fragrant, white, 2- to 3-inch-flowers, borne in fall on large, shrubby plants furnished with oval, evergreen leaves that taper at the tips.  The handsome gray-brown bark makes an eye-catching winter feature.
    Camellia oleifera proved its hardiness in a series of bitterly cold winters that clobbered the eastern U.S. in the late 1970s.  Of hundreds of decades-old camellias at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., only a dozen or so survived – including several selections and hybrids of this rugged species. Subsequently, horticulturists have used Camellia oleifera to produce a number of comely cultivars that flourish into USDA Zone 6 (0 to minus 10 degrees F minimum temperatures).  Most of them produce pink or white, 3-inch-wide, single to double flowers in early to mid-fall (the earlier the better, so as to escape damage from Arctic spells).

    Recent introductions of Camellia japonica (shown) from Korea and northern Japan are very hardy. (Image by PumpkinSky)


    Camellia oleifera and its progeny are not the only hardy camellias on the block, however.  Recent introductions of Camellia japonica from Korea and northern Japan are also blessed with USDA Zone 6 hardiness.  Handsome year-round, they typically form dense 6- to 12-foot shrubs with lustrous, leathery, evergreen leaves and early-spring flushes of rich-red, 2- to 3-inch-wide flowers accented with yellow stamens.
    Thanks to these two species, gardeners in Zone 6 can now do the formerly unthinkable: enjoy a fall and spring garden display of showy camellias.

    Fall-Blooming Hardy Camellias

    The flowers of Camellia ‘Snow Flurry’ appear in mid to late autumn.

    Camellia ‘Autumn Spirit’

    Combining the showy flowers of the cold-tender Camellia sasanqua with the Zone 6 hardiness of Camellia oleifera, this highly prized hybrid bears zingy, double rose-pink flowers in early to mid-autumn, well before freezing weather threatens.  They’re lovely planted in combination with Colchicum ‘Waterlily’.  The dense, 8-foot plants have relatively small, dark green leaves.

    Camellia ‘Snow Flurry’

    Two of the hardiest white-flowered camellias (‘Plain Jane’ and ‘Frost Princess’) teamed up to produce this beautiful, tough-as-nails cultivar.  Frilly white pompons appear in early to mid-autumn on a fast-growing shrub that takes well to early spring pruning and winters reliably through Zone 6.  Combine it with Anemone japonica ‘Whirlwind’ and Ilex glabra ‘Ivory Queen’ for a fall symphony in white.

    Camellia ‘Survivor’

    Single white flowers open in mid-fall on vigorous 10- to 20-foot plants.  A hybrid of Camellia oleifera, it lives up to its name by consistently showing superior hardiness in cold-winter climates (to USDA Zone 6).

    Camellia ‘Winter’s Star’

    Named for the shape of its single, lavender-pink flowers, ‘Winter’s Star’ actually commences bloom in October, well before the onset of winter weather in Zone 6 (where it’s perfectly hardy).  It forms an open, conical, 10- to 12-foot shrub.

    Spring-Blooming Hardy Camellias

    The flowers of Camellia japonica ‘Bloomfield’ appear in late winter to early spring.

    Camellia japonica ‘April Remembered’

    No cold-climate camellia produces anything more luscious than the 5-inch-wide, semi-double, creamy-pink flowers of this remarkably hardy 1996 introduction from Camellia Forest Nursery.  It rapidly forms a vigorous, 6- to 10-foot shrub with large rich-green leaves.  If you garden in USDA Zone 6 but want bodacious Southern belle camellias, ‘April Remembered’ is the place to start.  And yes – it does bloom during the first warm days of April, or sometimes March.

    Camellia japonica ‘Bloomfield’

    Brilliant red flowers, lush foliage, and a large, dense, rounded habit make for one of best all-around camellias for Zone 6 gardens.  The single, 3-inch-wide blooms occur in flushes during mild spells in late winter and early spring.  The original plant – grown from Korean seed at Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia – is more than 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

    Camellia japonica ‘Korean Fire’

    Smoldering-red, six-petaled, 2-inch-wide flowers repeat from late winter through early spring, weather permitting.  Perhaps the hardiest camellia variety introduced to date, ‘Korean Fire’ is well worth trying in favorable microclimates into USDA Zone 5.  Plants grow to 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

    Growing Camellias

    All camellias grow best in acid, friable, humus-rich soil, with protection from north winds and strong sunlight. If you garden in sandy or heavy soil, give your camellia an extra-wide planting hole (at least 3 times wider than the root ball), and amend the backfill with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost.  Spring planting and a yearly application of an inch or two of compost are also advisable, whatever the soil.

  2. Clivia for Glorious Winter Flowers

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    From the last week of November through the first of the New Year, many of us are surrounded by colorful seasonal decorations.  But then January arrives and all that glitters is gone.  To stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder, or at least help tide you over until the first crocuses push up through the cold earth, invest in house plants that bloom naturally during the winter months.  Clivia miniata, occasionally called “Natal lily” or “fire lily”, but most often known as just plain “clivia”, is one of the best.
    With bold orange or yellow clusters of trumpet flowers blooming atop tall (18-24”) stalks and strappy green leaves, clivia is reminiscent of other well-loved Amaryllis family members, like Nerine and Crinum.  It is a perennial, but is only winter hardy in USDA Zones 9-11.  The upward-facing clivia trumpets are somewhat smaller than those of another relative, the showy amaryllis (Hippeastrum app.), but each cluster contains more flowers.  Clivia colors are dramatic—bright orange is the most common—but it is not hard to find pale or bright yellow varieties.

    Clivia History

    Clivia is winter hardy in USDA Zones 9-11, but it is also a popular house plant.


    The genus was named in honor of an Englishwoman, Lady Charlotte Florentia Clive, wife of an early nineteenth century Duke of Northumberland.  Clivia is native to coastal areas in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa, where the orange-flowered form was discovered by English plant hunters in the early 1820’s.  The first plants to bloom in England did so in 1827 in a greenhouse at Syon House, one of the Northumberlands’ residences.  Much later, in 1888, a rarer, yellow-flowered clivia was discovered, also in the Natal.
    The colorful flowers were a hit and clivia became a “must have” for wealthy Victorian plant collectors.  As the nineteenth century progressed, the cheerful orange blooms made frequent appearances in conservatories and greenhouses.  Fast forward nearly 100 years, to the second half of the twentieth century, and breeders in the United States, Australia and elsewhere were hard at work enlarging the number of forms and colors, especially in the yellow range.  Hybridization has also resulted in peach, pink and red-flowered forms, though they are quite expensive.  While clivia hybridizing is not difficult, it takes many plant generations to produce strong, reliable new strains that come true from seed.

    Clivia Sources

    These days, orange and yellow clivia are available at reasonable prices from many traditional and online outlets.  For instant color, buy blooming specimens, which are the most expensive.  However, if you are willing to be patient and play the long game, you can get a smaller plant for relatively little and nurture it to blooming size.  Remember that the pictures you see online or in catalogs are probably photos of mature plants.  Your clivia may not have as many blooms, especially in its first year or two of flowering.

    Clivia Care

    This deepest orange-red clivia is a real show stopper.


    Whether your clivia is mature or somewhat smaller, pot it up using a high-quality potting mixture, like Fafard® Professional Potting Mix.  The size of the decorative pot should only be a little larger than the nursery pot.  Clivia is fond of close quarters.
    The care regimen is reasonably easy.  If yours is already in bloom, position the pot where you can see the flowers best, water when the top of the soil feels dry, and enjoy the show for up to a month.  Afterwards, place in a sunny window and continue to water and feed once a month with a balanced fertilizer diluted according to package directions.  If you can do so, let your clivia have a summer vacation outside in a lightly shaded location that is protected from wind and other weather-related disturbances.
    If you live in a cold-winter area, bring the plant indoors before the first frost.  To stimulate winter bloom, stop watering around October 1, and put the clivia in a cool place, ideally with a temperature between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, for at least five weeks and preferably a bit longer.  When the dormancy period is over, bring the plant back into the warmth and light and begin watering again.  Flower stalks should appear after a few weeks.  Keep up this routine for a few years, and you will most likely see more flowers every year.  When repotting, which should only happen after several years, do not increase the pot size dramatically or flowering may be affected.
    Unlike some other decorative plants, clivia is an excellent long-term investment.  It is well worth it to see some floral light at the end of the mid-winter tunnel.

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