Camellia, especially Camellia japonica (Camellia) bonsai tree makes a strong visual impact. Camellia is the name of a plant genus in the family Theaceae. These are hardy, evergreen, flowering shrubs or small trees, native to South Asia (India, China, Korea, Japan, Jawa and Indonesia). Some Camellia species are widely distributed throughout the Mediterranean countries. They have been introduced to the West from Japan and China. Records indicate that Camellias have been cultivated in China as early as 2737 B.C. While the exact size of the Camellia genus is not known, it is estimated that there are at least 100 species and 3,000 hybrids.
The word Camellia is of Latin origin and means ‘helper to the priest’. The plant genus was named after the seventeenth century Moravian Jesuit and botanist Georg Joseph Kamel (Latinized: Camellus) who, in 1639, collected Camellias in the Philippine Islands. Camellia is known under several common names, including tsubaki (in Japan), cháhuā (in China), hoa trà or hoa chè (in Vietnam) and dongbaek-kkot (in Korea). Among the best known and most popular Camellia species is Camellia japonica, or Japanese Camellia. This species is sometimes called Rose of winter.
The Japanese Camellia has a strong cultural significance, often mentioned in many ancient Japanese texts. In China, Camellia flowers symbolize the union of two lovers. In Korea, Camellias symbolize longevity. In 1959, the Camellia flower became the official flower of the State of Alabama. Camellia sinensis, known as the tea Camellia, is used in green and black tea. In China, an oil is traditionally produced from the species Camellia Sassanqua and Camellia oleifera.
The delicate, solitary Camellia flowers can be red, pink, white or yellow. They can be single, semi-double, double, of anemone or of peony form. The flowers lack fragrance. The size of the flowers varies across species, and can range from 5 to 13 cm in diameter. The plant also has attractive elliptic leaves, which are dark green, glossy and leathery. In the wild, some Camellia shrubs can reach a height of 6 meters.
This guide provides the foundations of Camellia, especially Camellia japonica (Camellia) Bonsai Tree Care Guide.
How Long Does It Take To Grow Camellia, Especially Camellia japonica (Camellia) Bonsai?
Most suitable for a bonsai tree are Camellias with smaller leaves and flowers. The preferred styles for growing a Camellia bonsai tree are the informal upright style with single or multiple trunks, and the cascading style. Camellia bonsai trees are considered as relatively easy to grow and train.
The slowest way to grow Camellia is from seeds. Using this method, it may take many years before the Camellia plant flowers for the first time.
Apart from their aesthetic value, Camellias are suitable for bonsai largely due to their slow growth rate and refined roots. This, however, means that growing a mature, exceptional Camellia bonsai specimen, is likely to take decades.
How to Plant and Grow Camellia, Especially Camellia japonica (Camellia) Bonsai?
Some Camellia species are more suitable for bonsai cultivation. Commonly used Camellia species used in bonsai are Camellia japonica (the most popular Camellia tree) and Camellia sasanqua (the smallest and most compact of all Camellias). Other popular species are Camellia maliflora, Camellia cuspidata, Camellia reticulata, Camellia taliensis, Camellia tsaii and Camellia vernalis.
Camellia, especially Camellia japonica (Camellia) bonsai tree can be propagated in three different ways: seed, cutting and air-layering. Propagation from seed is done in spring. The seeds need to be soaked for 24 hours in warm water, after which the outer casing is removed. The seeds germinate quickly. Semi-hardwood (lignified) cuttings in performed in mid-summer. However, the rooting is a difficult and slow process. The method of air-layering is appropriate during the growth season.
Position, Lighting and Temperature Requirements
Camellia, especially Camellia japonica (Camellia) bonsai tree needs to be placed in a well-ventilated areas with direct sunlight in the morning and shade in the afternoon.
Most Camellias are not very hardy, but can blossom even while there is snow. However, if the temperature remains very low (below -12 °C) over a longer period, it is recommended to move the Camellia bonsai tree in a frost-free, yet cool/cold environment. The winter dormancy period typically lasts for three months. At that time, a good practice is to place the plant in a shallow gravel tray filled with water. This provides additional moisture to the tree and offset any moisture loss while the plant is kept indoors.
Camellias kept outdoors can be vulnerable in several ways. Heavy rain and strong wind can damage the delicate flowers, while excessive sun can scorch the leaves. In late winter and early spring, the frosted flower buds may be damages by the morning sun.
Soil and Watering Needs
Camellia, especially Camellia japonica bonsai tree, needs to be watered regularly. The root should never dry out completely. Watering should be more abundant during summer. In winter, the soil needs to remain moist, else bud drop might occur. It is also important not to use calcareous (hard) water. Ideal choice is rain, neutral or slightly acidic water. Misting should be avoided while the tree is blooming, as it can cause flowers to wither.
The Camellia plant should never be fertilized while it is flowering. A high-nitrogen fertilizer needs to be applied once, in spring, immediately after the flowering is over. In late summer, the Camellia bonsai tree can be fed again with a low-nitrogen fertilizer. Other sources recommend the use of a special acid feed which is tailor-made for Camellia, Azalea and Hydrangea plants. In addition, solid organic fertilizer can be applied once a month, or liquid fertilizer can be used every three weeks. Some horticulturalists recommend to feed Camellias with compost made of the plant’s own flowers.
How to Care for Your Camellia, Especially Camellia japonica (Camellia) Bonsai?
The best time to perform transplanting (repotting), fertilizing and wiring is during April, May and June. Sprout plucking can be done during April and May.
Pruning, Pinching and Wiring
In spring, the branches that have stopped growing need to be pruned. Camellia is an evergreen bonsai tree, so the leaves need to be cut. The leaves on the upper branches are typically stronger, and thus cutting them promotes better leaf uniformity on the lower branches of the tree. The Camellia bonsai tree does not tolerate hard pruning.
Deadheading (removal of faded, wilted or spent flowers) needs to be done regularly, to redirect the energy of the plant and promote more flowering. The process can be followed by pruning back to one or two buds. As soon as new shoots appear, their tips can be pinched out. However, after mid-summer to early-fall pinching should stop, to protect those shoots which will bear flowers in the spring.
For wiring, it is recommended to use copper or aluminum wire, protected by raffia. The bark is very sensitive and, of done without due care, wiring can leave long-lasting scarring and marks. The method is effective for training bonsai tree branches that are no thickness than a pencil. One should avoid adding wire in early spring. Best time to wire a Camellia bonsai tree is in winter.
If properly applied, wires need not be removed for a couple of years. However, the wiring should be regularly checked, to avoid damage to the brittle branches which, in turn, can debilitate the plant’s growth.
Camellias need to be repotted every two to three years. Ideal time to repot a Camellia bonsai tree is early spring (immediately after the tree has flowered), but reporting can also be done between spring and mid-summer.
The Camellia tree should be removed from the old pot along with all of the soul. After scooping the roots, the longer ones need to be cut off using rooting scissors. Trimming the roots is necessary, so that the plant does not absorb too much moisture. It is recommended to remove approximately 25 percent of the root mass.
In the new pot, a screen should be placed right above the drainage holes. On top of this screen, a thin layer of gravel is placed, followed by fresh soil. While reporting the plant, no air pockets should be left. Once repotted, the tree should be abundantly watered. The surface of the soil can be decorated with moss, quartz or granite.
While repotting, it is recommended to use acidic compost that consists of loam, peat and sharp sand in the ratio 2:1:1. Alkaline compost should not be used, since this will cause the Camellia leaves to turn yellow, and the tree can eventually die.
Pests and Diseases
Camellia bonsai trees, when well maintained and nourished, are quite resilient. The most common infestations among Camellias are caused by vine weevils (Otiorhynchus sulcatus) and moths. While repotting, it is recommended to thoroughly check the compost. In late spring, beneficial roundworms (nematodes) need to be watered into the compost. Another commonly occurring problem is sooty mould which can develop in the honeydew secreted by aphids. To avoid it, the leaves of Camellia trees should be regularly misted. Systemic insecticide must also be applied.