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Sasanquas will make December bloom outdoors

Camellia sasanqua is distinctive for its lovely color and the bright yellow stamens in the center of each bloom.
Camellia sasanqua is distinctive for its lovely color and the bright yellow stamens in the center of each bloom. Observer file photo

Pink, be it pale or vivid, is not a color I associate with December. But there it is because one of the best plants for the Piedmont landscape is blooming.

It is the Camellia sasanqua, which opened its winter show a few weeks ago. This is a fantastic, long-lived plant, both useful and beautiful.

Where a screen is needed, the upright sasanquas make a great choice because of the natural density of the stems and foliage. Others are more spreading and can form with proper pruning, a lovely tree with a broad canopy rising 10 to 12 feet. This can become a signature tree for your landscape. It is not the only choice but if you are keen that this special plant be evergreen, a sasanqua makes a good one.

The sasanquas are just part of the camellia show that can last from mid-autumn to March when you add selections of early, midseason and late-flowering types of Camellia japonica that bloom from January through the winter and into spring.

Most camellias prosper in filtered sunlight, which is the kind of light that breaks through light tree canopies. Sasanquas will take stronger sunlight, which increases their usefulness particularly when you need a set of plants to make a hedge away from the shade of trees.

The color range of sasanquas is mostly white and shades of pink from pale to vivid as well as red. Some are distinctive for their bright yellow stamens. Some varieties produce single, open blooms; still others have double, fluffy ones. Blooms tend to be a smaller than the Camellia japonica, but every bit as lovely and can be cut for vases indoors.

Plus, because December weather tends to be milder than January or February, sasanqua blooms are rarely lost to deep freezes.

For such beautiful plants, camellias pose few problems. You can plant them now and through the winter. Good soil is important, so improve and lighten heavy clay soil with compost that will ensure good drainage and root development. Because the roots tend to spread rather than dive, dig the planting hole

Set the plant so that the top of the root ball is just a tad higher than the surrounding soil level, then apply mulch such as pine needles, shredded bark or loose leaves.

In late winter, just ahead of the growing season, apply a long-lasting, slow-release shrub fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants such as Holly-Tone. Pay attention to watering the new plant especially during dry stretches next summer.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I didn’t get any lawn work done this fall. I still want to do it but think it is too late. What should I do?

A. It is too late for the fall rejuvenation, but you can apply fertilizer in mid-February to give the lawn a boost. Some small repair jobs of seeding bare or thin spots can also be done at that time.

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