Many gardeners don’t think of pruning as part of regular
camellia care. But Rudy Moore, the horticulturist responsible for the
camellias at Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California,
says removing dead wood and unproductive branches improves plant
appearance and performance more than you might think. Shaping or
thinning to control size can help if your camellia is in front of a
window or in a tight space. It can also stimulate production of flowers
and improve their quality.
You can thin and groom a camellia any time of year without danger
of hurting the plant. But the best time to reduce plant size is right
after flowering; none of next year’s flowers are lost, and the
energy of spring growth is directed as your pruning determines.
Moore’s most important tool are sharp hand shears and
long-handled loppers. If you’re tackling a big plant, you might
also need a pruning saw and a stepladder.
The principles of pruning most types of camellias are the same,
whether you’re trimming a 3-year-old youngster or a 30-year-old
tree like the one pictured here.
Study the plant before you start. The idea of thinning is to
remove about a third of the growth to enhance shape. Determine what
size and shape you want: tree-like or shrub-like, tall or compact.
Cut out dead growth. It contributes nothing to the plant’s
structure, and eliminating it will make subsequent pruning choices
easier. Remove unnecessary interior branches at their point of origin;
cut back long branches just past a growth bud in order to strengthen
them. Make all cuts close to the branch–never leave stubs.
Look for wild branches. These grow much faster than most, are
crooked, or head the wrong direction in relation to the desired shape.
Moore suggests making a few cuts, stepping back and taking a look, then
cutting additional branches as necessary.
Cut away root suckers (see photograph at left). You might also
prune out lower branches to make raking under the plant easier.
Feed. Use a fertilizer of your choice, following label directions.
Most experts prefer cottonseed meal, about 8 to 12 ounces per mature
plant; most also recommend using chelated iron at the same time to
For examples to follow, you can visit the display garden at Micke
Grove Regional Park in Lodo, with an eye to using their best-looking
specimens as a pruning guide. The park is at 11793 N. Micke Grove Road.
Hours are 9 to 4 weekdays, 9 to 2 Saturday and Sundays. Admission is
free; parking is $2 per car weekdays, $2.50 weekends. From State Highway
99 three miles south of Lodi, take Armstrong Road 1/2 mile west, then
turn left. The camellia collection is adjacent to the Japanese Garden.