Why prune camellias? For more flowers, for a better shape Essay

Many gardeners don’t think of pruning as part of regularcamellia care. But Rudy Moore, the horticulturist responsible for thecamellias at Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California,says removing dead wood and unproductive branches improves plantappearance and performance more than you might think. Shaping orthinning to control size can help if your camellia is in front of awindow or in a tight space. It can also stimulate production of flowersand improve their quality. You can thin and groom a camellia any time of year without dangerof hurting the plant. But the best time to reduce plant size is rightafter flowering; none of next year’s flowers are lost, and theenergy of spring growth is directed as your pruning determines. Moore’s most important tool are sharp hand shears andlong-handled loppers.

If you’re tackling a big plant, you mightalso 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-oldtree like the one pictured here. Study the plant before you start.

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The idea of thinning is toremove about a third of the growth to enhance shape. Determine whatsize and shape you want: tree-like or shrub-like, tall or compact. Cut out dead growth.

It contributes nothing to the plant’sstructure, and eliminating it will make subsequent pruning choiceseasier. Remove unnecessary interior branches at their point of origin;cut back long branches just past a growth bud in order to strengthenthem. Make all cuts close to the branch–never leave stubs.

Look for wild branches. These grow much faster than most, arecrooked, or head the wrong direction in relation to the desired shape.Moore suggests making a few cuts, stepping back and taking a look, thencutting additional branches as necessary. Cut away root suckers (see photograph at left). You might alsoprune 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 matureplant; most also recommend using chelated iron at the same time toprevent yellowing. For examples to follow, you can visit the display garden at MickeGrove Regional Park in Lodo, with an eye to using their best-lookingspecimens 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 isfree; parking is $2 per car weekdays, $2.50 weekends. From State Highway99 three miles south of Lodi, take Armstrong Road 1/2 mile west, thenturn left.

The camellia collection is adjacent to the Japanese Garden.

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