Camellias add winter colour to the greenhouse or even in the conservatory. Particularly hardy varieties can decorate even frosty gardens.
Camellias (Camellia japonica) are also called “Roses of Winter”, but this is not due to their love of frosty temperatures, but to the flowering period, which extends from September to May, depending on the variety. Because even if winter names like ‘Ice Angel’ entice with the promise of insensitivity to ice and snow, no camellia variety is completely winter-hardy in our gardens. But with the right winter protection, the optimal location and a skilful choice of varieties, your camellias can still overwinter in the bed. Otherwise, the evergreen winter flowers can simply be moved to sheltered winter quarters in a pot. We will show you the steps you can take to get your camellia through the winter, whether it is in a pot or a bed.
Overwintering camellias: what to consider
While none of the more than 20,000 camellia varieties are considered completely hardy, a few varieties can survive the winter outside. However, this is possible only in a well-protected corner, so that these delicate little plants are not completely defenceless to frosty conditions. Therefore, when planting your camellias, you should already ensure site conditions that will allow them to survive the winter planted out in the bed. It is important to create an ideal microclimate, especially in regions where temperatures sometimes fall below -12 °C. In general, there are the following things to consider when overwintering camellias in the garden.
Planting conditions for camellias:
- Do not plant out camellias until they are about five years old, as young plants usually do not yet have enough hardiness to withstand the cold.
- Plant your camellia in a spot protected from the wind, such as a house wall, fence or hedge.
Winter protection for camellias:
- Cover the root zone with a breathable garden fleece, a coconut mat or a thick layer of mulch.
- Additional protection can be provided by a warm layer of spruce branches, brushwood, leaves or moss.
- Water with calcium-free water on frost-free days when the soil above ground has dried out so that the root ball is never completely dry.
If particularly frosty temperatures are expected, the above-ground part should be wrapped with fleece as protection against cold and drying. Through the fleece, the plants are shaded and thus lose less water via transpiration (bare frost protection). Once the most severe frost period is over, the fleece can be removed so that the plants get enough light. As an alternative to wrapping with fleece, you can loosely wrap the plants with wire mesh and fill the resulting space with foliage up to half the height of the plant. This way your camellias will still get enough light. In very cold temperatures, or if they are young plants, the upper part should also be covered with foliage. Snugly wrapped and thus well protected from sun and cold burn, your camellias will survive the annual visit of Father Frost even when planted out in the garden.
Note: Keep in mind that the flowering power of your camellias in flowerbeds will never reach the proportions and splendour of those that spend the winter in a bright, optimally heated conservatory or greenhouse.
Potted camellias in winter
In pots, camellias can be placed in frost-free winter quarters, because if not, there is a great danger that the soil in the pot will freeze through and the pretty plants will not survive the frosty period. Still, you should wait as long as possible to move them indoors. Camellias should remain outside until temperatures fall below freezing for extended periods, or at the latest until they fall below -5 °C. After that, the plants need to move to bright winter quarters.
Pay attention to the following conditions when overwintering your camellias and you will be able to enjoy your Asian beauties again next year:
- Temperature: 5 – 15 °C
- Humidity: around 60%
- Once the soil has dried out above ground, water with calcium-free water so that the soil never dries out completely
- Spray with calcium-free, lukewarm water or set up a humidifier to increase humidity
- It is not necessary to fertilise camellias until flowering
Exceeding temperatures of 15 °C in winter should be avoided at all costs. Camellias need a rest period of at least six weeks a year. This is crucial for their flower quality and duration. Heated rooms are therefore not suitable as winter quarters. Under the influence of warm and, above all, dry air from artificial heating, the delicate plants, in fact, quickly discard their buds and drastically shorten their flowering phase. Therefore, the ideal place is an unheated conservatory, greenhouse or staircase windowsill. Once you have decided on winter quarters, they should not be changed, because tea bushes do not like a spontaneous change of scenery at all. Finally, in January or February, the camellias can be moved out again. Temperatures should be at least 5 °C at night. When overwintering potted camellias, not only the spatial environment is decisive, there are also a few things to consider when planting.
If you let your camellias overwinter in the dark, for example in the cellar, the plants must first be slowly accustomed to a brighter and warmer environment again after the cold darkness. For this, the hibernators can first move into the hallway and slowly get watered more again.
Winter hardy camellia varieties: a selection
You should always keep in mind with camellias that while some varieties have been selected to be as winter hardy as possible, it has not yet been possible to make these Far Eastern plants completely winter hardy. The extra robust cultivars are mostly the result of crossbreeding with the Camellia oleifera and Camellia sasanqua species.
Here, we present 20 particularly cold-tolerant and beautiful camellia varieties for outdoor wintering:
- Alba Plena: Double, white flowers from October to January; growth height up to 2.4 m
- Anticipation: Pink flowers from February to May; growth height up to 4 m
- Black Lace: Double, dark red flowers from March to April; growth height up to 2.5 m
- Bonomiana: Pink flowers with pink stripe pattern from February to April; growth height up to 2.5 m
- Debbie: Double, pink flowers from February to April; growth height up to 2.5 m
- Donation: Semi-double, pink flowers
- Elegans: Pink flowers with white speckles from December to May
- Hagoromo: Pale pink flowers from February to April; growth height up to 3 m
- Hiodoshi: Red flowers from February to May; Growth height up to 3 m
- April Dawn: White-pink flowers with bright pink stripe pattern from February to April; growth height up to 2 m
- Winter’s Snowman: White flowers from October to December; growth height up to 3.5 m
- Matterhorn: Double, white flowers from February to May
- Mikuni-no-homare: Pale pink flowers with pink veining
- Nuccio’s Gem: Double, white flowers from March to April; growth height up to 2.5 m
- Spring’s Promise: Pink flower in April; growth height up to 2.5 m
- Tricolour: Blooms from February to April in pink, white and red; growth height up to 1.5 m
- Spring Festival: Salmon pink flowers from February to April
- Wheeler: Semi-double, dark pink flowers from February to April
- Winter’s Joy: Semi-double, brilliant pink flowers from October to January; growth height up to 2 m
- Winter’s Star: Reddish purple flowers from October to November
Alternatively, you can also resort to Camellia sasanqua varieties. This species blooms in autumn, giving off a beguiling fragrance. However, Camellia sasanqua does not match the colourful and lush blooms of Camellia japonica.
More about camellia care can be found in our special article.