Feeding camellias: expert tips on the right time & procedure


For me plants are some of the most exciting living beings, even though they live in slow motion. They have fascinating abilities and just so much potential! That's why I studied organic farming. However, since plants are rather thin on the ground in my city, I often spend time hiking in the nearby mountains at the weekend. In the future I would love to run a farm myself.

Favourite fruit: strawberries and gooseberries
Favourite vegetable: courgettes

For camellia to develop its magnificent flowers it requires lots of nutrients. Find out everything you need to know about feeding camellias here.

Lush pink camellia flowers
Camellia flowers are as enchanting today as they were 250 years ago [Photo: senee sriyota/ Shutterstock.com]

The sight of camellias (Camellia) conjures up memories of the past. Of elegantly dressed ladies strolling through their stately castle gardens and elegant gentlemen stepping out of a carriage. Camellias were once reserved for the noble families of Europe and a status symbol of royalty. Since then, camellias, also referred to as winter roses, have not lost anything of their noble, magnificent appearance. A healthy camellia is the pride and joy of every camellia owner. Camellia’s flowers appear early in the year, often when there is still snow on the ground. This is when the plants turn into real seas of blossoms. However, in order for camellia to muster the strength to offer this miracle of blooms, it needs sufficient nutrients and must be fertilised.

Feeding camellias: when?

When the flowers have fallen and the plant needs to channel all its nutrients into fresh new growth, the time to fertilise your camellia. Depending on when your camellia flowers, this will be from March onwards. Due to the abundant flowering the plant will have lost many nutrients but will need new ones to feed the fresh shoots. So watch when the first young shoots appear on your camellia and then start fertilising. In this period of growth, the flowers for the coming year are also set. However, so that the young shoots and buds mature in time you should fertilise until no later than mid-July.

The right fertiliser

Since camellias need to build up a large amount of biomass with their magnificent flowers, they require a lot of nitrogen. Commercial rhododendron fertiliser is best suited here. This is rich in nitrogen and relatively low in phosphate, which is quickly harmful to camellias in too high doses. But it does not matter whether the fertiliser is called rhododendron fertiliser or not, because it is the content that matters. Make sure that the composition of the fertiliser is close to the following ratio: nitrogen (N) 3: phosphorus (P) 1: potassium (K) 2.

Light pink camellia flowers
To unfurl their full beauty, camellias need nutrients [Photo: Julia Kuleshova/ Shutterstock.com]

Whatever fertiliser you choose, the delicate plants should never be over-fertilised. Although the period of fertilisation between May and the end of July is only short, over-fertilisation can cause severe damage to the plant. In addition, camellias then tend to form unsightly long shoots and their susceptibility to disease increases.

Feeding camellias with plant-based fertiliser

Camellias are very well suited to organic fertilisation. This also minimises the risk of over-fertilisation as the nutrients from organic material are released slowly and gradually. Best suited are primarily organic fertilisers such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food with an NPK ratio of 6:3:4. You should apply this fertiliser right at the beginning of budbreak.

All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
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  • Perfect for a variety of plants in the garden & on the balcony
  • Promotes healthy plant growth & an active soil life
  • Long-lasting fertiliser that is free from animal products - child & pet friendly

When adding manure to the camellia, you should always be careful, as it contains significantly more potassium than nitrogen. However, camellias require nitrogen in particular, while other nutrients in excessive amounts are harmful. For this reason, compost is more suitable. You can work this into the soil when buds start to emerge.

Camellia variety with few petals
At over two hundred years old, this camellia plant still bears plenty of flowers [Photo: xantolus/ Shutterstock.com]

Since camellias like an acid pH, you can give them a little leaf compost in addition to the mainly organic fertiliser. Alternatively, you can use the autumn leaves of other trees directly as a mulch layer beneath the tree. That will not make the soil too acidic but will also protect against the cold in winter. But beware: the foliage of Walnut trees is not suitable, because as for many other plants as well as for the camellia, it contains toxic substances.

Fertilising camellia with mineral fertiliser

When feeding with mineral fertilisers, caution must be taken in the case of camellias. The plants have a sensitive reaction to excessively high concentrations of nutrient salts. It is therefore important to use a fertiliser that comes close to the 3:1:2 nutrient ratio. Otherwise, there is a risk of leaf necrosis and in the long term of the plant dying. So it is better to reach for rhododendron fertiliser. To avoid over-fertilisation, you should use half the amount specified for rhododendrons.

Feeding camellias with home remedies

Coffee grounds are becoming increasingly popular among plant lovers and hobby gardeners as a fertiliser, and rightly so. It is found free of charge in almost every household and has excellent fertilising properties. If you are not a coffee drinker, you can simply ask in a café. The nutrient ratio of coffee grounds is well suited for camellias. In addition, coffee grounds have an acidifying effect on the soil, which benefits the camellias. Please note, however, that you should not use coffee grounds as fertiliser in large quantities, although the nutrient content is generally not particularly high. The proportion of nitrogen is just 2%. For this reason, you should not rely solely on coffee grounds, but rather see them as a supplement. This way you can save on fertiliser and at the same time ensure that the pH level does not rise too much.

Spoon of used coffee grounds
Coffee grounds make wonderful fertiliser [Photo: Nor Gal/Shutterstock.com]

Fertilising camellia at a glance:

  • Fertilisation period between the beginning of budding after flowering until the end of July
  • Fertiliser with an NPK ratio close to 3:1:2
  • Mainly organic fertilisers such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food
  • Organic fertiliser: compost, rhododendron fertiliser
  • Mineral fertiliser: half the amount of Rhododendron fertiliser
  • Acidic environment: physiologically acidic fertiliser, leaf compost or autumn leaves, coffee grounds

To ensure that your camellia keeps its growth habit, it is a good idea to prune it from time to time. You can find out when and how to do this in our dedicated article on pruning camellias.