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Camellia sasanqua blooms in autumn

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. This is a busy month for us and we probably won’t get flower bulbs planted for a few more weeks. They are already ordered and I don’t want to cancel. Is November OK?

    A. November will be fine, and I think is one of the best months for getting things done because the weather is often so nice. The only distraction is that the days get shorter. Do not fret.

Fall color is on everyone’s minds as the first hint of changing tree foliage emerges in the Piedmont. I was looking for it last weekend when something else stood out in full force.

It was the opening bloom of Camellia sasanqua – and what a show it will be through the autumn. These vigorous evergreens rank among the best choices for home landscapes, both for the beauty of their flowers and foliage and their usefulness in creating hedges or screens.

The flowers of the earliest sasanquas emerge in full force starting in about mid-October. And what a joy this is, especially on plants that have been given the time and space to develop into good-sized shrubs or trees.

People choose them first for the flowers, very pretty small blossoms that have petals spread wide open around a pretty array of yellow stamens. Others bear fluffy blooms with many petals concealing the central stamens.

The color range is a bit limited, and not consistent with the autumn splendor of golds, yellow, bronze and purple. Most sasanquas bear white, light pink or rosy pink blooms. But one named Yuletide bears red flowers later in the year.

The bloom season is quite long, especially if your sasanqua has enough maturity to produce a lot of buds that open over time. And because the air is cool and getting even cooler, the open flowers tend to last and last.

No matter the color, these are choice plants that will enhance any landscape. But make your choices on the space you have for them, for there’s a great variety of heights and widths among the sasanquas.

For example, the sasanqua named Marge Miller is actually a ground cover camellia, rising only about a foot tall but spreading several feet. Other choices may rise 2 to 3 feet tall, which makes them suited for foundation plantings or a place in a bed mixed with perennials and shrubs. Do not overlook the potential for these short sasanquas.

Such a short stature probably comes as a surprise to gardeners who see camellias as rather tall evergreens. And most are.

An old favorite in the Piedmont is Apple Blossom, which bears white flowers edged in pink around a center of bright yellow stamens. Apple Blossom grows about 10 feet tall and wide over time. But others mature at 6 feet or so, making them well-suited for a screen or unclipped hedge. Yuletide, which grows 8 to 10 feet tall, is also a good one for an evergreen screen.

Camellia sasanqua, it is often thought, is a plant for part shade or filtered sunlight. But look around and you will see them growing and blooming beautifully in open sun. They will take more sun than their cousin, the winter- and spring-flowering Camellia japonica.

Taken together, these two kinds of camellias rank among the finest landscape plants for our area. With a range of varieties, you can have steady bloom from October into March. That’s a gift worth working toward now that the best planting season for the landscape is upon us.

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