How to Grow Camellia japonica Plants in your Garden

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing Japanese Camellia

The Camellia japonica plant is also known as the Japanese Camellia or Common Camellia. It is native to the forests of East Asia.

It is a widely grown upright and formal garden shrub that is often used for landscaping. A sign of its long term popularity amongst gardeners is that there are at least well known 2,000 cultivars and maybe up to 30,000 cultivars of the plant in existence.

Japanese Camellia
Camellia Japonica 'Black Prince' photograph by Joe Barnett, CC.

It is long lived, with some plants in its native Japan reported to be over 500 years old. It is grown both for its attractive evergreen glossy leaves and for its flowers; given the number of cultivars these come in a multitude of colors and forms.

The Japanese Camellia plant is a slow grower, and its size depends upon the cultivar but typically in the range of 6 to 12 feet (2 to 4 m), with their spread being a couple of feet (0.5 m) less than this.

There are two main types: var. japonica and var. rusticana. The latter is considered by some botanists to actually be a different species: Camellia rusticana and is known as the Snow Camellia in Japan. This is because it emerges from being burried in deep snow in winter and blooms straight away in the early spring.

Camellia japonica can make a fantastic looking bonsai tree, be sure to keep in a cool environement over the winter and to fertilize regularly with liquid fertilizer.

Camellia japonica bonsai tree
Camellia japonica bonsai tree image by cultivar413; CC.

It also makes a fantastic hedging plant, and looks at home in most places in the garden whether it be bed, border, or container.

Camellia Japonica Cultivars

As mentioned above there are thousands of different Japanese Camellia cultivars available. These have large variations in shade, colour, flower form and size, and height.

  • Japanese Camellia Flowers: are typically crimson, red, or pink through to white in colour.
  • Flower forms include: Single (five to eight petals); Semi-double (two rows of loose petals); Irregular Semi-double (as the semi-double but lacking at least one petaloid; Formal-double (multiple petal rows, lots of petals), Informal doubles (massed and twisted petals), and Elegans (flat row(s) of outer petals with petaloids and stamens massed in the center).
  • Size: Dwarf varieties from as little as 3 feet (1 m) through to very tall trees of over 50 feet (16 m).
  • Camellia japonica Variety and Cultivar Photographs

    Camellia japonica Pink Perfection

    Camellia japonica pink perfection
    Camellia japonica var. pink perfection, photograph by Jan Smith; CC.

    Camellia japonica Debutante

    Camellia japonica Debutante
    Camellia japonica cv. Debutante, photo by 阿橋 HQ; CC.

    Camellia japonica Nuccio's Pearl

    Camellia japonica Nuccio's pearl
    Camellia japonica Cv. 'Nuccio's pearl' photograph by cultivar413Follow; CC.

    Camellia japonica April Dawn

    Camellia japonica April dawn
    Camellia japonica April dawn, picture by Laura Blanchard; CC.

    Camellia japonica Silver Waves

    Camellia japonica Silver waves
    Camellia japonica Cv. 'Silver waves' photograph by Drew Avery; CC.

    Camellia japonica Kramer's Supreme

    Camellia Kramer's Supreme
    Camellia japonica Cv. 'Kramer's Supreme' photograph by Andrea Moro; CC.

    Camellia japonica Mrs. Tingley

    Camellia japonica Mrs. Tingley
    Camellia japonica Cv. 'Mrs. Tingley' photograph by Manuel m. v.; CC.

    Quick Growing and Care Guide

    • Scientific Name: Camellia japonica
    • Common Name (s): Common Camellia, Japanese Camellia, Tsubaki, Rose of winter, Snow camellia
    • Growing Zone (USA / UK Hardiness): 7 to 10: Some cold hardy cultivars to zone 6, but bring inside if very cold temperatures expected (-10°F; - 12°C) / H5

    Plant Details

    • Life Cycle / Plant Type: Evergreen Shrub
    • Plant Height: 7 to 12 feet (2 to 4 m). Wild type to 40 feet (12 m).
    • Plant Spread: 5 to 10 feet (1.7 to 3 m). Wild type to 25 feet (8 m).
    • Blooms: Mid winter or early spring
    • Flower Details: Native plants have single or paired white or rose pink flowers of 1.5 to 2.5 (0.6 to 1 inch) diameter. These are located towards the ends of the branches. Five to eight petals.
      Cultivars: Flowers may be Single, Semi-double, Irregular Semi-double, Formal-double, Informal doubles, or Elegans. Crimson, Red, yellow, lavender, and shades of pink through to white. Typically Showy: 7 to 15 cm (3 to 5 inches) diameter.
    • Leaf Foliages: Oval or Ovate. Alternate. Glossy, Green, leathery. 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 inches).
    • Fruit: Globe. Capsule. Early to mid autumn.

    Growing Conditions

    • Best Light Conditions: Partial or Dappled Shade (for best results) to Full shade.
    • Suitable Soil Types: Well drained. Organic. Loose. Woodland.
    • Suitable Soil pH: 5.5 to 6.5
    • Soil Soil Moisture: Moist
    • Sowing, planting, and Propagation: Transplant nursery grown specimens in the autumn. Spacing 9 to 15 feet (3 to 5 m).
      Propagate from Semi-ripe hardwood cuttings from season's growth towards the end of summer through to mid-autumn.
      Sowing: Seed grown Camellia are unlikely to stay true to their cultivar, and may take up to 7 years until they bloom. To sow: Use freshly harvested seed from ripe pods. Soak seed overnight and sow immediately, eye downwards in a pot containing perlite-moss mix. Place lid on pot and locate in partial shaded part of the garden. Maintain medium moisture. Seedlings should appear after about three months. Pinch taproot to encourage further branching of roots. Transplant and space as described above.

    • Care: Water regularly for the first couple of years of growth. Water well in the summer. Soil should be moist (not wet) to about 4 inches deep (10 cm). Early spring feed (high acidic / Ericaceous fertilizer) - Do not feed later than mid-summer as bud dropping will occur. Sheltered location, protect from winter winds. Deadhead to maintain appearance. Supply mulch. In most cases light pruning only (After flowering, to remove dead and diseased tissue, and to tidy long shoots). For hedging you may wish to prune Camellia japonica at the start of summer to encourage branching. Also consider pruning Camellia japonica / removing buds to one bud per flower cluster to increase the size of flowers. Protect from root rot.

    Further Information

    • Best used for: Early season colour, Winter interest, Containers, hedging, beds, borders.
    • Family: Theaceae
    • Closely Related Species: Tea (Camellia sinensis).
    • Miscellaneous: Named after the German missionary Georg Joseph Camel. Fairly salt tolerant. Resistant but not totally tolerant of deers.
    • Further Reading and References used for this Camellia japonica growing guide: Garden Clinic; Jay's Nature Blog; NC Extension Camellia Growing Guide

    I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Camellia japonica. You may also enjoy the following winter interest Gardener's HQ growing guides: How to grow Pieris japonica and Arundo donax plants.