Camellias are notoriously hardy plants that are relatively easy to take care of. They just need biannual fertilization, frequent watering, and annual pruning. People often cut out pruning from their camellia care plan, not deeming it “necessary.” Which is technically fair. If you want to grow camellias, you don’t have to prune them.
However, if you want to grow healthy, long-lasting camellias that are disease and pest-free, you do need to prune them. It’s that simple.
This camellia pruning guide will teach you everything you need to know to successfully prune camellias so your plants can thrive.
What You Will Need
- Camellia Plant
- Pruning Shears
- Pruning Saw
- Gloves (optional)
Should You Prune Camellias?
Perhaps you think you don’t have to prune because you already love how your camellia plant looks. This may blow your mind, but loving how your camellia looks isn’t a reason not to prune, it’s a reason why you should.
If you want it to stay looking good, and more importantly, stay alive, you need to prune. Not pruning for a few years can lead to huge build-ups of dead and degenerative twigs within your camellias, which block light from the interior of the plant, and hinder airflow, causing pests and diseases to take root.
This can take down your camellia from the inside, negatively impacting its longevity. Camellia pruning, while not totally essential, is necessary if you want to set your camellias up for long-term success.
Decision Time: Camellia Bush, Shrub or Tree?
Before pruning you should evaluate how you want your camellia to function in your landscape. Shrubs will be pruned differently than trees which will be pruned differently than hedges.
Trim bushes regularly to help them maintain their bush-like shape, reducing their height and creating new branch growth.
It can take a few years to turn your camellia into a compact shrub. In the first year, you will have to cut the plant to its preferred height. In the second year, you have to cut back new shoots to your desired height. In the third year, you have to trim the plant’s crown.
On the other hand, you can more easily make an enormous camellia a tree-like shrub by removing all of the branches from its lower trunk and trimming the camellia to your desired height.
How Far Can You Cut Back Camellias?
How far you cut back your camellias will depend on which variety you are growing. Some varieties, like “Seafoam” are vigorous growers and therefore can afford to be cut back more. If you don’t know what your variety is, take note of your camellia’s growth pattern.
Camellias can withstand severe pruning that significantly reduce their size. Severe pruning should occur only after the plant has finished blooming. If you are looking to drastically prune your camellias, you can prune earlier, before the flowers quite finish blooming. Extreme pruning can remove as much as half the plant. Your plant should have no recovery problems as long as you prune correctly.
After severe pruning, the plant will direct its energies into growing, limiting the number of flowers that bloom the next spring. However, by the second season, flowers should bloom on it again.
Can Camellias Be Cut Back Hard?
Camellias can live to be over 50 years old, so sometimes they do need to be cut back hard to rejuvenate them. If your old camellia begins to look scraggly and is producing fewer blooms, cut it back to 3 feet tall. Don’t worry, this won’t kill the plant because camellias are hardy. It will grow back with glossy leaves and colorful flowers in no time.
Keep in mind that hard pruning should be done in the spring if you want it to bloom at all the next year.
Should You Deadhead Camellias?
If dead blooms plaguing your camellia, feel free to be ruthless in your removal of them. You can and should deadhead camellias. Deadheading will improve your plant’s looks and health. Not to mention, it will encourage new, beautiful flower growth to replace the deadbeat blooms. Deadhead by hand, not with tools, twisting the old blooms off gently while holding their stems.
When Should You Prune Your Camellia?
The best time to prune your camellias is after they stop blooming. This will likely be in May or June, but it depends on which USDA Grow Zone you live in and what camellia varieties you are growing. Southeastern gardeners may prune in February while colder climate gardeners may prune in May.
Eager and lazy gardeners alike beware, pruning too early or late can limit the number of flowers that bloom the next year.
Can You Prune Camellias in the Winter?
You can prune camellias in the winter, but it isn’t an ideal time to do it. Pruning camellias at random times throughout the year runs the risk of removing blossom bud, limiting how many flowers bloom during the next season.
How to Prune Camellias
Step One: Prepare for Pruning
You should prune your camellias immediately after their flowers stop blooming, before new growth starts. Have pruning shears and a pruning saw on hand. The pruning saw will work better for thick branches while the shears will work better for smaller branches.
Before pruning you must make sure that your pruning equipment is clean. Tools that are not clean, and have past soil, debris, and dirt clinging to them, run the risk of transmitting diseases from one plant to another.
You can spray the tools with household disinfectants or, if you are feeling like being thorough in your cleaning, soak them.
To soak your tools, create a mixture that is 1 part bleach and 9 parts water in a bucket. Leave the tools in the bucket for 30 minutes. Then rinse thoroughly and air dry before use.
Whether you soak or spray your tools, it’s a good idea to wear gloves while disinfecting so that harmful chemicals do not touch your skin.
Your tools should be clean and sharp. Sharp cuts will heal quickly while ragged cuts will not, allowing more disease-causing organisms to enter them.
Step Two: Prune for Your Plant’s Health
If your camellias are already beautiful, but you want to keep them healthy, there are some effective ways to prune to promote plant health. Your first goal should be creating more airflow through the plant and enabling light to reach deeper into the plant.
This involves thinning out interior branches. You should target weak and small branches that are offshoots of the main branch, keeping in mind that you should not cut the main branches. Cut the branches off close to where they join main branches, taking care not to damage the bark or leave nubs behind.
You should also cut off all dead branches. To test if branches are dead, scratch them with a knife. If they are green underneath, then they are alive. If not, then they should be removed. Remove them by pruning an inch or two below the dead or damaged wood.
Pro Tip: You can apply paint or a pruning sealant to cut branches to prevent diseases from entering them.
Step Three: Prune to Improve Your Plant’s Shape
Camellias are a beautiful plant. Pruning can make them more beautiful, encouraging more, bushier growth, and an increased number of camellia blooms. You can change your plant’s shape, snipping off the ends of branches to get them to grow to the size you desire.
To make your camellia plant grow larger, prune back only an inch. If you want it to stay its current size, prune back a few inches. If you want to make it smaller, prune back a few inches less than your desired size.
Pro Tip: You can use the pruned branches as mulch for your camellias!
Don’t worry if pruning sounds like a lot of work to you, you only have to prune camellias once every year. If you don’t yet have a camellia plant, and were just researching care tips because you are considering getting one, you absolutely should. These fragrant, eye-catching flowers are an incredible plant to have in your yard. Their gorgeous, colorful flowers, evergreen leaves, and long-lasting winter blooms will make camellias the crown-jewel of your garden.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! If you did, be sure to share, and comment below with your thoughts and questions.