Camellias for Fall and Winter

Let’s begin 2011 with a look at one of my favorite solutions to a frequent design problem. Creating shade gardens where you need evergreen shrubs can be a challenge. One quickly tires of the ubiquitous choices (yews, cherry laurels, nandina), useful though they may be. Add a desire for a flowering plant and one idea that comes to mind for me in our area is a fall or winter-flowering camellia.

Although it’s not one of the Ackerman hybrid camellias (more about them below), members of the Camellia sasanqua “family” have hardiness traits that make them appealing to try in residential gardens above the Mason Dixon-line. In fact, C. sasanqua ‘Kanjiro,’ was one of the first evergreen plants I put in my own garden after going through my landscape design program.

Camellia sasanqua 'Kanjiro', evergreen plants, evergreen screens

My Kanjiro sasanqua camellia in bloom in 2004.

Note the dark green color of the leaves, which on this variety of camellia (as opposed to the better-known Camellia japonica shrubs) are smaller, making them a bit easier to incorporate into the landscape. Here is a shot taken about two years after planting. Today, after approximately eight years in my garden, this “shrub” is now about eight feet high, and partially screens a view of my neighbor’s house, to my pleasant surprise.

Camellia sasanqua 'Kanjiro', evergreen plants, evergreen screens

Kanjiro has a somewhat upright, vase-shaped habit in the landscape.

While the individual blooms of sasanqua camellias and the ‘Ackerman hybrids,’ as they are often called, aren’t like the lush, full blooms of a Camellia japonica (see the images in my Filoli Center and Gamble Garden posts from last February), they can be numerous and eye-catching. In my garden, ‘Kanjiro’ begins blooming on or around Thanksgiving and can continue until the end of January if we don’t get a hard freeze.

Developed in large part by the work of Dr. William Ackerman, “winter-hardy” hybrid camellias can be grown in Zones 5b and warmer, especially if given some protection when choosing their site. Ackerman’s hybridization work has resulted in the creation of such varieties as Camellia ‘Winter’s Interlude’ and ‘Winter’s Snowman’ (among many others).

Camellia x 'Winter's Interlude', evergreen plants, evergreen screens

Winter's Interlude, a cross between the tea camellia (C. oleifera Plain Jane) and C. sinensis Rosea, can be used as a hedge since it tends to spread both horizontally as well as vertically. Guess the gorgeous pink flowers are just an extra added bonus!

Camellia x 'Winter's Snowman', evergreen plants, evergreen screens

A triple-cross with tea camellia, sasanqua and C. hiemalis parentage, Winter's Snowman has white, semi-double or anemone flowers from mid-November through December. Another good choice for hedging situations.

I’ve used a number of these fall/winter-blooming camellias in client gardens, either to provide winter interest or to help screen a utility meter. They may go in at a relatively small size but since they grow well in filtered sunlight, even in the shade of a building, in a couple of years they do the trick.

Camellia sasanqua, evergreen plants, evergreen screens

A Camellia sasanqua used to screen a gas meter on the front of a clients house (below the window on the left)

One word of advice for those of you interested in adding them to your garden: Dr. Ackerman recommends planting them in the spring to give their roots the best chance to settle in before the end of the growing season.

For more information on these camellias and the fascinating history of their creation, read Dr. Ackerman’s description of their origins and development here. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for me – I’ve just pushed the boundaries further by planting a Camellia japonica cultivar (‘April Blush’) in the front of my house, late in the season – with apologies to Dr. Ackerman and lots of prayers to Mother Nature!

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9 Comments on “Camellias for Fall and Winter”


  1. Good Luck! May your Camellias become robust with profuse blooms to delight you. Happy New Year to you and yours.

  2. Melissa Says:

    Thanks so much, and the same wish to you! Only time will tell about the camellia. I have my fingers crossed for a mild winter this year!

  3. Jean Says:

    Melissa, If I were planning to stay in Gettysburg for the long run, I’d be really tempted to add one of these to the garden there; they’re really lovely. Happy New Year!

  4. John Says:

    Melissa, I love your appreciation of camellias (as well as the great photos). I used to grow them in the basement until I finally realized they might survive outside (even if I did bring most of them as carry-on luggage from Southern California). They seem to be adapting very well to the outside. A lot of leaf burn the first year outside, but now they seem to be getting the hang of it. My son has a beautiful white Sasanqua just outside of Boston which has made it through a couple of years now.

    • Melissa Says:

      The sasanquas are pretty hardy by themselves. I can’t believe how big mine has grown. Glad to hear you’ve removed yours from the exile of the basement.

  5. Myrna silverman Says:

    You convinced me. I will try the camellia


  6. […] sure to be space for some other early bloomers as I find them; perhaps some rhododendron, camellia, or witch […]


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