Monday, 5 March 2012

Camellias: do they really need acid soil?

I've always understood that Camellias, along with Rhododendrons and heathers,  need acid soil: the standard advice is that if you don't have acid soil, they can be grown successfully in large pots or tubs filled with specially-bought ericaceous soil, and fed with specially-bought ericaceous feed.

Last year, one of my clients presented me with a tiny thing in a pot, along with the rather grumpy information that an unloved relative had given them this plant, and could I "plonk it in" somewhere.

Ignoring the slur to my horticultural expertise, I took it away and read its label.  "Camellia"  it said. Well, that's nice and vague. Clearly it wasn't valued by the client, but was being planted in deference to some strange need to be nice to the unloved relative.

So I found it a spot beside the house - north facing, but moderately sheltered, partially under a group of small Japanese Acers, and sufficiently far back from the path that its death would go un-noticed.

That was last spring.

Here it is now: not only has it survived the summer and the winter in perfectly normal soil, but it is now budding fatly.

Who knows, it might even flower!

Of course, it might not survive another summer: I doubt that it will achieve full growth, or will live as long as a Camellia would when in the "proper" soil, but for now it seems to be surviving, and it at least three times as big as when I planted it.

So there you are - the question of the day is "Do Camellias really need acid soil?" and the answer would appear to be "not necessarily, if you don't mind them staying small, and possibly dying off earlier than expected."

I'll keep you posted of its progress!

*Update Sept 2013* whoops, I forgot to take a photo of it this year, and now that client has moved away, so I can't go back and do it. It was growing nicely, last time I saw it...

 *Updated again*  I have another Camellia, in a different garden, which needed to be repotted a couple of years back, when it's pot was accidentally broken. The Client didn't have any ericaceous compost, and didn't care enough for the plant to go out and buy some, so I had to repot it using normal multi-purpose compost. That was in 2018, and it's still flourishing, and flowering, three years later: and I don't even give it any ericaceous feed, because - surprise surprise - they don't have any of that, either! So on balance, I would say that although Camellias would prefer ericaceous soil, it's not absolutely 100% necessary....


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