Camellia Tree Guide: Growing Camellias, ID Charts, How To Prune Camellia Bush

Woman with cutters wonders about a camellia tree guide that explains types of camellia bush to plant and grow, how to plant and prune camellias, when does a camellia tree bloom, and camellia evergreen tips.

A native to Asia, the Camellia tree made its way to the U.S. at the end of the 18th century and has since become a staple of southern gardens.1

Known for its large, symmetrical white, red, or pink flowers, this plant has been cultivated into more than 3,000 varieties,2 including some cold-tolerant cultivars that allow the Camellia to be planted in northern climates for the first time.

Popular as an ornamental plant in gardens and floral arrangements, this species is also used to make tea and cosmetics.

If you’re looking to add this “winter blooming” shrub to your landscape, this complete guide explains how to cultivate and grow Camellia tree varieties, how to prune them effectively, and also how to identify them.

Growing Zones for Camellia Tree: Where To Grow

The Camellia tree is a Southern tradition, but many are surprised to learn it is not native to the south, or even the U.S. The Camellia tree is native to Asia, particularly China, Japan, Korea, and parts of India.

Graphic of best growing conditions for Camellia tree showing a full-grown Camellia tree and a list of the light and weather condition and type of soil the Camellia tree needs.

It was first brought to the U.S. by a priest named George Joseph Kamel who was serving in the Philippines in the 1700s, and who gave the plant its name.

Camellia Tree Growing Zone

The traditional Camellia tree growing zone stretches from Maryland down to northern Florida and throughout the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. These trees grow best in USDA hardiness zones 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a and 9b.3

To determine if you live in one of these planting zones, check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.7 The map allows you to search by zip code to find your zone, and then discover the best plants to grow in your area depending on your goals.

Best Growing Conditions for Camellia Tree

The best growing conditions for Camellia tree plantings include:

  • Areas with partial shade. This plant only needs 2 to 6 hours of direct sunlight each day,3 and too much direct sun exposure can dry out roots, bleach blossoms or cause petals and leaves to wilt and droop. Ideal conditions include a semi-shaded area thanks to a canopy of nearby trees.
    As the Camellia grows, its canopy can provide much-needed share to the roots of the tree.
  • Acidic soil with a PH below 6.0. Camellia trees hate alkaline soil.3
    Even with the proper PH, it’s also important for the soil to be moist, rich in organic matter, and well-draining.
  • Protection from wind. Camellias grow well when they are protected by larger surrounding trees that can act as a windbreak.
  • Areas with drier winters and wetter summers. This prevents excess winter moisture from contributing to root rot and other fungal diseases that are common with Camellias.8

Camellia Tree Growth Rate

If your biggest question when planning your garden is, “How long does it take for a tree to grow?” you might want to choose a tree or shrub other than the Camellia. Even the fastest growing species of Camellia have a growth rate of 12 inches a year or less.9

That means you’ll wait a decade for a newly planted Camellia to reach 10 feet in height.

Of course, not everyone is concerned with speed, and those who put in the time and effort to plant this species will find that Camellias live a long time with proper care. There are still Camellias growing around the Imperial Palace in Japan that were planted around 500 years ago.9

How To Grow Camellias

Anyone can learn how to grow Camellias, but not everyone is prepared for the amount of effort involved in caring for these finicky plants. One important thing to remember, while Camellias are seen as traditionally southern, they are not native to the south and will require much more work and care than a native plant.3

Graphic identifying Camellia trees, showcasing a vibrant red Camellia flower, green Camellia fruit, dark green Camellia leaves, and brown Camellia seeds, with an image of a Camellia tree with flowers as the centerpiece.

These planting tips for Camellia trees can help improve your chances for success.

Growing a Camellia Tree From a Seed, Cutting or Seedling

While growing a Camellia tree from a seed, cutting or seedling is possible, many gardening resources suggest propagating this plant using stem cuttings for best results.3 Trying to propagate these trees using seeds is very unreliable,1 as different seeds from the same tree can produce significantly different trees or shrubs.

Here’s a step-by-step how-to guide for growing a Camellia tree using a stem cutting:

  1. Take a fresh cutting from the tree in July when new growth has had a chance to harden off.1
  2. Trim stems so they are about 4 inches long,9 leaving just a couple of leaves on each one.
  3. Use an acidic planting medium, testing soil PH to make sure your soil is not alkaline.
  4. Stick the stems 2 to 3 inches into the planting medium,9 making sure the soil is at least 6 inches deep so the roots have space to grow.
  5. Keep the cuttings warm and moist. Do not let them dry out or they will likely die.
  6. After 2 to 3 months,9 roots should develop, and the cutting can be transplanted into a plant pot or the ground.

How Far Apart To Plant Camellia Tree

When planning the layout of a garden, spacing between Camellia trees is very important to the long-term health of the plant. If the trees are too close together, they won’t get proper circulation and airflow, which can lead to root rot and other diseases.

Lack of space can also prevent the trees from growing to their full size.

For best results, plant Camellias 6 to 12 feet apart.3 Dig the hole for the root ball so that it is 3 to 4 times wider than the ball itself.3 This gives the roots room to spread out and take hold.

Use caution not to dig the hole taller than necessary, as this can lead to potential moisture control issues, including fungal diseases.

Watering Needs for Camellia Tree

While watering a tree may seem like a no-brainer, it can be the difference between life and death for your Camellia. Too little water is an obvious issue, but so is too much water.

A pink Camellia flower in full bloom, set against a backdrop of a clear blue sky, with a few branches and green leaves surrounding the flower.

(Image: JACLOU-DL20)

Plan to give your Camellia about an inch of water every 10 to 14 days for best results.1 Mulching around trees can help with moisture control and also protect roots from the peak afternoon sun.

How Much Sunlight Does Camellia Tree Need Each Day?

You may expect a southern classic like the Camellia tree to thrive in bright sun, but this species prefers partial to full shade.2 When they are young, the trees do well when planted next to taller trees for shade.

As they mature, Camellia canopies produce shade that helps to protect their roots from strong sun. Extreme sunlight and heat can also damage the flowers on this tree, sapping their colors.

What Type of Soil Should I Use for Camellias?

Avoid alkaline soil and stick to slightly acidic soils when planting a Camellia tree.2 Choose well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter and nutrients for best results.

If you’re not sure about the acidity of your soil, use a test kit to determine its PH, as alkaline environments are not conducive to Camellia growth.

How To Prune Camellias

For best results, prune all dead growth from your Camellia immediately after it blooms each summer.3 If you wait too long after you see blossoms, you may end up pruning off new flower buds, which means fewer flowers the next season.

You may be surprised to learn that Camellias require minimal pruning.1 Selectively remove dead or damaged branches or stems and any other pruning needed to maintain your desired shape.

Companion Plants for Growing Camellia Tree

The best companion plants for growing Camellia trees are other plants that thrive in the acidic soil favored by the Camellia. This includes other garden favorites like hydrangeas, gardenias, rhododendrons, and azaleas.10

Because Camellias thrive in partial or full shade, they also do well when paired with trees. Some ideal companion trees for Camellias include Japanese maples, Dogwoods, Crabapple trees, and Magnolias.11

How To Identify Camellia Tree

The Camellia tree is a broadleaf evergreen that can range in size from a large bush or shrub to a small tree.

In the U.S. the most common species of this plant found in gardens is the Japanese Camellia, or Camellia japonica, which generally grows between 10 and 13 feet tall and 5 to 10 feet wide.3

Camellia Leaves

Camellia leaves are deep green with a glossy, leathery texture. They are usually 2 to 3 inches long,3 but can be as long as 6 inches.

Alternating down the stem of the tree, they have an oval or elliptical shape, are hairless, and are known for lasting a significant amount of time once cut.

Camellia Seeds

Camellia seeds are housed in a small fruit measuring 1 to 5 cm in diameter.4 The Camellia japonica fruit looks like a tiny red apple, while other varieties of this tree produce fruit that tends to be olive or green in color. Each pod contains 3 to 12 brown,4 hard, nut-like seeds.

Tree pollination in the wild can produce interesting results, as even seeds from the same fruit can produce a wide variety of Camellia cultivars,1 including different-sized plants and different flower colors and sizes.

Camellia Flower

The crowning jewel of this plant is its gorgeous bloom. The Camellia flower measures 2 to 5 inches in diameter and is known for its remarkable symmetry.3

The flowers stay open for 3 to 4 weeks, making this a popular ornamental tree.

Many people are familiar with the white or pink Camellia tree, but so many cultivars have been created that this plant now comes with flowers in countless colors. There are the classic red, white, or pink, as well as golden or yellow varieties.

Some are solid colored, while others have a white center with colorful petal edges, an ombre appearance, or a speckled, variegated look.

Camellia Tree

(Camellia japonica)

Camellia tree in an oval frame on a green background.
  • Characteristics: Evergreen shrub or small tree
  • Family: Theaceae
  • Genus: Camellia
  • Leaf: Oval, green
  • Bark: Brown to copper
  • Seed: Brown to copper
  • Blossoms: Showy, white, pink and red
  • Fruit: Capsule-shaped and small than 1 inch
  • Native Habitat: Asia
  • Height: 10-13 feet
  • Canopy: 5 to 10 feet
  • Type: Deciduous
  • Native Growing Zone: China, Japan, Korea

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern

NE
DD
LC
NT
VU
EN
CR
EW
EX

When Does a Camellia Tree Bloom?

One of the things that makes this tree special is when the Camellia blooms.

While so many people associate the spring with blooming flowers, the Camellia blooms in the fall and winter, generally from October through March.3

Types of Camellias

When it comes to Camellias, gardeners can choose from thousands of types of trees with many different types of white flowers or colorful blossoms. These include both the ornamental varieties favored in the United States and the tea-producing species that are most common in China and India.

Close-up of a white Japanese Camellia flower with a cluster of bright yellow stamens at its center, surrounded by dark green leaves.

(Image: Laborratte18)

1. Camellia Japonica

Camellia japonica, or Japanese Camellia is the most common variety of this plant used in traditional southern U.S. gardens.

It blossoms from December through March, producing giant white, pink, or red blossoms.

Some cultivars are designed to bloom in the spring like many other garden plants, and often feature names like April blush, April dawn, April snow or April rose to distinguish them from winter bloomers.2

2. Camellia Evergreen

The Camellia evergreen, or Camellia oleifera, can be grown over a much wider range of climates than the standard southern Camellia tree. Also known as the Tea-oil Camellia or Oil-seed Camellia, this tree can grow as tall as 20 feet.5

It has a characteristic cinnamon-colored bark and features simple white or pink flowers that are smaller than those on Camellia japonica and other ornamental species. Known for their cold resistance, they have been used to create many hybrids and cultivars that can be successfully grown in colder parts of the U.S., with many featuring “cool” names including terms like Arctic, snow, or winter.

A single pale yellow Camellia flower with golden stamens, hanging from a branch, with green leaves in the background under a clear blue sky.

(Image: bikashjit19)

3. Camellia Bush

The Camellia bush most commonly grown in much of Asia is the Camellia sinensis.

Also called the Tea Camellia or the Tea plant, this species is much more heat and drought tolerant than ornamental varieties,6 making it easier to grow.

Found throughout China and India, it features smaller, less showy blossoms than the Camellia japonica. The small leaves and buds are used to make green tea, while older and larger leaves are made into black or oolong teas.6

Camellia sinensis is an important cash crop in Asia and is grown more for commerce than it is for its looks.

What Do Camellias Represent?

Camellia tree symbolism varies across the globe. In China, the Camellia represents the balance and longevity needed for a successful relationship.
Its symmetry has also made it a symbol of perfection.15 In Japan, the Camellia is a symbol of divinity.

A Camellia tree with dark green leaves and numerous bright red flowers in full bloom, set against an urban background with a building and window behind it.

(Image: u_ovpy27eiob21)

Since at least 1200 BC, Camellias have served as a symbol of love and have been displayed at Korean weddings.15 In the U.S., the Camellia is the state flower of Alabama and is common as a funeral flower.16

Camellia Tree Threats

The Camellia tree faces threats from a variety of pests and diseases, which can affect the look of the plant or even prove fatal.

Common Pests of the Camellia Tree

Numerous garden pests make their home on the Camellia and cause damage that can frustrate gardeners. Because many of them are easily removed, natural pest control for Camellia tree is possible but might need to be repeated as pests return over time.

 Camellia tree common pests graphic showing aphids, scale, spider mites, and rose beetles images in circle frames on green background.

Common pets of the Camellia tree include:

  • Aphids: These tiny pear-shaped insects cluster together and feed on new plant growth.12 You may be able to remove smaller infestations by hand, or using a stream of water from a garden hose.
    If this is unsuccessful, apply an insecticidal soap.
  • Scale: Scale includes more than 30 different species of pests that settle on the bottom of leaves,12 creating the appearance of a fuzzy, white mold. You may be able to remove some infestations by pruning, which increases air circulation and makes it harder for scale to thrive.
    Repeated infections will require the application of an insecticidal soap or oil, which will likely need to be applied two to three times to completely eliminate the problem.12
  • Spider mites: These tiny eight-legged critters live on the bottom of leaves and can be removed using insecticidal soap.
  • Rose beetles: Measuring just ¼ to ½ inch long,13 the rose beetle is a brown weevil that destroys Camellias from root to bud. The grubs live near the soil, where they feast on the roots of the plant, while the adults cause even greater damage to leaves, stems, and flowers.13
    Smaller numbers of rose beetles can be picked off by hand or blasted off with jets of water. Larger numbers can be removed using insecticidal soaps and oils.

Camellia Tree Disease Prevention

Camellia tree disease prevention is important because there is at least one common disease that plagues this species which cannot be treated or cured. Known as petal blight fungus,3 this disease causes the leaves of Camellia petals to turn brown starting at the edges and moving toward the center.

Because this disease cannot be treated, plants with this condition must be destroyed and removed from the garden.

Worse still, petal blight fungus can live in the soil from season to season.12 The only way to eliminate it is to apply a chemical fungicide to the ground to kill all fungal spores, but there is no way known to cure existing plants.

Prevention is key when it comes to petal blight fungus. Like all fungal infections, petal blight thrives where there is excess moisture or poor moisture control.

Proper watering techniques and mulching can both help with this issue. Adequate airflow and circulation are also helpful tools in the fight against petal blight, so take the time to prune plants and ensure they are planted far enough away from one another to avoid creating ideal breeding grounds for fungi.

How To Stop Camellia Tree Disease

Outside of petal blight, it is possible to learn how to stop Camellia tree diseases in most cases. Two of the most common include:

  • Dieback, or Twig blight: This condition causes new growth sections of the Camellia to turn brown and die. Fortunately, it can be addressed by pruning away any blighted sections of twig or stem, making sure to cut at least 6 inches past the browned area.12
    Because this condition can be spread via tools or even by splashing water, care should be taken to disinfect tools and prevent water from traveling from an infected plant to a healthy one.
  • Root rot: When a Camellia tree develops root rot, its leaves turn light green or yellow and may start to wilt.12 Usually the newer growths on the tree are less affected than older growths when it comes to this disease.
    Root rot is caused by overwatering or poor moisture control, so dialing back watering, improving soil drainage conditions, and adding mulch can all help treat root rot. Pruning can also improve airflow and circulation to reduce the risk of this condition.
    Once root rot sets in, a fungicide can kill spores and help protect the tree.

While the Camellia tree faces many threats from pests and disease, gardeners who put in the effort to care for this tree are rewarded with brilliant blooms to brighten up the fall and winter months.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Camellia Tree

How Do You Pronounce Camellia?

Both ca-mee-lia and ca-mell-ia are equally correct.14

Why Does Chanel Use the Camellia as a Symbol?

Since Coco Chanel adorned her waistband with a Camellia in 1913, the flower has become a symbol for the Chanel brand, inspiring various designs including jewelry. Chanel’s commitment to the Camellia continues with a dedicated farm in France, cultivating over 2,800 plants for use in their fragrances and cosmetics,17 and repurposing the seed shells for the elegant packaging of their products.


References

1Park Brown, S. (2023). Camellias at a Glance. University of Florida. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP002>

2Bender, S. (2023, May 22). The Complete Guide To Camellias. Southern Living. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://www.southernliving.com/garden/camellias>

3N.C. Cooperative Extension. (2023). Camellia japonica. NC State Extension. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/camellia-japonica/>

4Peper, K. (2023). Camellia: Seed and Seedlings. International Camellia Society. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://internationalcamellia.org/en-us/grafting-and-propagation/camellia-seeds>

5N.C. Cooperative Extension. (2023). Camellia oleifera. NC State Extension. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/camellia-oleifera/>

6N.C. Cooperative Extension. (2023). Camellia sinensis. NC State Extension. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/camellia-sinensis/>

7U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2023). 2023 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. USDA. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/>

8Trehane, J. (2023). Introduction to camellia cultivation. International Camellia Society. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://internationalcamellia.org/en-us/caring-for-camellias/basic-principles-of-growing-camellias>

9Hodsdon, E. (2023, March 3). Camellia Flowers: How Long from Planting to Full Bloom. Petal Republic. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://www.petalrepublic.com/how-long-camellias-take-to-grow/>

10Toscano, K. (2019, August 6). Captivating Combinations with October Magic® Ruby™ Camellia. Southern Living. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://southernlivingplants.com/plan-your-garden/captivating-combinations-with-october-magic-ruby-camellia/>

11Lofgren, K. (2023, October 24). 39 of the Best Companion Plants for Camellias. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://gardenerspath.com/plants/flowers/best-camellia-companions/>

12University of Florida. (2023). Camellia Pests and Problemslight pink camellia flower. University of Florida. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/pests-and-diseases/pests/camellia-pests-and-problems.html>

13State of Connecticut. (2023). Camellia (Camellia). The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://portal.ct.gov/CAES/Plant-Pest-Handbook/pphC/Camellia-Camellia>

14Kessler, J. R., Williams, J. D., Diener, U., Shumack, R., Self, R. I., Tilt, K., Cobb, P., & Hagan, A. (2019, February 4). The Culture of Camellias: The State Flower of Alabama. Extension Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/landscaping/the-culture-of-camellias-the-state-flower-of-alabama/>

15Salisbury, K., & Harbison, G. (2023, October 10). Origin and Symbolism of the Beloved Camellia. Director’s Blog. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://sites.temple.edu/arboretum/>

16Izco, J. (2023). Camellia, a funeral plant in western culture. Internaltional Camellia. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://internationalcamellia.org/public/downloads/o-NRR/ICJ_2013_Camellia_a_funeral_plant_in_western_culture.pdf>

17Harris, A. (2022, April 20). In a small French village, a magical relationship with camellia flowers blooms. Vancouver Sun. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from <https://vancouversun.com/life/fashion-beauty/in-a-small-french-village-a-magical-relationship-with-camellia-flowers-blooms>

18Japanese Camellia Flower Photo by Laborratte.  Resized and Changed Format. Pixabay. Retrieved January 4, 2024 from <https://pixabay.com/photos/japanese-camellia-white-big-flower-697729/>

19Camellia Bush Tea Plant Photo by bikashjit. Resized and Changed Format. Pixabay. Retrieved January 4, 2024 from <https://pixabay.com/photos/tea-plant-flower-plant-tea-shrub-3845424/>

20Pink Camellia Flower Photo by JACLOU-DL. Resized and Changed Format. Pixabay. Retrieved January 4, 2024 from <https://pixabay.com/photos/flower-of-camellia-camellia-pink-3247119/>

21Camellia Tree With Red Flowers Photo by u_ovpy27eiob. Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. Pixabay. Retrieved January 4, 2024 from <https://pixabay.com/photos/camellia-plant-tree-nature-7904016/>

22Species Information Image: Pink Petaled Flowers Photo by Hoyoung Choi. (2020, January 16) / Unsplash License. Cropped and added text, shape, and background elements. Unsplash. Retrieved February 16, 2024, from <https://unsplash.com/photos/pink-petaled-flowers-UbHRaCgdfFs>