Most camellias grow and produce their best flowers in the broken, mottled shade of tall pines and in protected, partially shaded locations. Camellias located in full sun often begin to emerge from their dormancy during warm periods of the winter and may suffer damage if cold weather follows. Plants in a northern or western exposure of a building or fence or otherwise protected from intense morning sun and cold winter wind will usually stand colder weather than those in an easterly or southern exposures or those buffeted by cold, dry winter winds. Choose a planting site with well-drained soil and as little competition from shallow rooted trees like beech or poplar that will compete for nutrients and water. Camellia sasanqua is more tolerant of sun than japonica, but any camellia that is receiving too much sun will have leaves with a yellow cast, or they will suffer from sun scald. Careful site selection is the single most important requirement for growing beautiful, healthy camellias.
Camellias do best in slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 and high humus content as is found on the forest floor. Your plants will especially appreciate the incorporation of organic matter (composted leaves, pine bark, well-rotted sawdust) into the planting area. The best time to plant camellias are from late October through the middle of April, so the roots have time to develop before the heat and drought of summer. However, container grown plants may be set out at any time as long as the ground can be worked and plenty of water is provided. New plants will require extra watering during their first summer, regardless of when they were planted. They should be soaked once a week during hot weather. Plant your camellias at least five feet apart unless you are making a hedge, then three feet is sufficient.
Follow the steps below for planting
1. Dig a hole at least twice the size of the root ball. Leave an undisturbed column of soil in the center of the hole to prevent settling.
2. Place the root ball on the column of soil so the top of the ball is about 2 inches above grade. Note: Nothing will kill camellias more surely than planting them too deeply. With container grown plants, loosen or score the roots with a knife to encourage root development.
3. Fill the hole around the root ball with the soil that you removed from the hole and enhanced with compost. If the soil is high in clay content or compacted, add a little sand. If you added compost to the planting area or if there is leaf mold from surrounding trees, that will be a plus.
4. Make a shallow saucer outside the root ball to keep your water from running off. Then, mulch your plant with fine ground pine bark and lightly top it off with pine straw.
5. Water thoroughly to settle the soil.
Watering and Mulching
Camellias thrive in cool, moist soil. They do not tolerate soggy, waterlogged conditions. Make light applications (an inch or two) of a good organic mulch in the spring and fall. This will keep weeds down, the roots cool, and retain moisture.
Camellias require little fertilizer, products with a low nitrogen content of 12% or less. Fertilize as soon as growth buds start to swell in late March and early April. Do not feed later than May. You should consider your mulch and compost as feedings as well, but be careful of what you use.
Normally, camellias require only light pruning. The best time to prune is right after blooming because buds form on new growth for the next bloom cycle. Prune out dead or weak branches and small twigs to allow for good air circulation and light penetration. Selective pruning to keep long shoots in bounds is acceptable. Shearing is a bad practice that invites disease and pest problems.