Growing Camellia in Toronto

(Question)

Hi, I have recently brought a Camellia plant from England, and wondering if they can survive on the ground during winter in Toronto? Since England doesn’t have cold/snow like Canada, they can survive well in the ground all year around. I am just worried, and don’t want the plant to die. Can you please help me with advice as to how I can plant it so that it can survive? Can I grow them outside in the ground all year around, or in a pot inside?

Thank you.

(Answer)

Dear Writer,

Thank you for  your questions. Camellia is a genus of the evergreen, flowering shrub of the family Theaceae. They are native to eastern and southern Asia, from the Himalayas, east to Japan and Indonesia. Their leaves are alternately arranged, simple, thick, and serrated, and usually glossy. Their flowers are large, with beautiful blossoms of five to nine thick petals, most often red or white.

The various species of camellia plants are generally well-adapted to acidic soils, rich in humus. Most species of camellias also require a large amount of water, and will not tolerate being parched. Regarding your experience with growing camellia in England, please read our expert Toronto Master Gardener’s reply to a like-minded gardener as yourself:

” For decades, horticulturists in the north have tried growing southern camellias, often unsuccessfully. The discovery of C.oleifera along with an extensive breeding program that was established at the U.S. National Arboretum in the late 1970s, incorporated the cold hardiness of C.oleifera with the elegant flowers of the most widely standard varieties resulting in a range of both Spring and Fall flowering varieties.”

The link to the complete response is here:

https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/index.php/askagardener/overwintering-hardy-camellias-in-toronto/

Now, if your camellia is currently in a pot, you could soon introduce it to your outdoor patio, for a humid clime during the coming summer months — with a plan to returning it indoors during winter. Hence, the beauty of pot planting. Growing camellias outdoors for the summer will coax new flower buds to form. Keep them shaded from direct sun. Camellias are tender perennials,  so please be sure to bring them back indoors before the first frost.

Throughout the indoor winter months, take care to prune the stems to keep them a manageable size, to encourage branching. Also, prune the stems back hard in spring, after flowering. Buds form on the tips of new branches: so you’ll get more blooms this way.

Then next spring, repot after flowering, move up to a container one size larger, and so on, every 2-3 years, or when needed, as you see fit. If your camellia plant is already big, you can always “top-dress”, instead of fully repotting,  by removing the top 2 0r 3 inches of soil, and replacing it with fresh acidic soil.  Employing this method  of culture should bring you many years of blossoming pleasure !