Winter's Series camellias are hardy against the cold

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceNovember 8, 2013 

If you have longed to grow camellias but fret because of cold weather, take heart: the Winter's Series just might be your solution.

These camellias hybridized by William Ackerman, a former research geneticist with the U.S. National Arboretum, have been in the marketplace for just over two decades, opening the door to passionate gardeners in zones 6b and 7, where camellia-growing had been a little riskier. Except for higher elevations, Lexington and much of the eastern half of Kentucky are in zone 6b.

Varieties like Winter's Star and Winter's Joy are in full bloom now, in the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah along the Judge Arthur Solomon Camellia Trail. These and other camellias are proving once again that October and November can be an incredible season of blooming shrubs in the landscape if you have done your planning.

We think of the Camellia sasanqua to be the first ones to really show out, but these two, which are hybrids, have been blooming since Oct. 11. There are several in the Winter's series each offering exquisite beauty and exceptional cold-hardiness. And if I am touting them in Savannah, Ga., they do wonderfully well in the greater South, too.

Whether it is radio, TV, newspaper or in person, I am always preaching the placement of the needed bones of the landscape. This structure is only accomplished by having an adequate portion of evergreen plant material. Camellias like the Winter's Star and Winter's Joy are prime examples. They have deep green, glossy leaves and yet also offer us weeks of terrific blooms.

The shrubs reach about 4 to 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, a little larger in the South. Winter's Star and Winter's Joy are recommended for zones 6b to 10 and cold hardy to minus-15 degrees. Like all other camellias they require fertile well-drained acid soil. This is one of the best times for planting woody shrubs and trees and by all means camellias. Garden centers have their best inventory.

By planting now, we open the door for root growth to increase dramatically before next spring. Even though top growth might have ceased, roots will continue to develop in the cooler 40 to 50 degree days. When new leaf growth resumes in the spring, the root system will already be established and able to supply the plant's requirements. In fact research indicates that planting now will give your plants almost a full growing season's advantage over those planted next spring.

The camellias along our Judge Arthur Solomon Camellia Trail are all placed in a series of beds. The canopy of trees high overhead allows just the right amount of light for vigorous healthy growth. It only make sense that if we are going to make investment in the landscape, we need to do it right by putting our shrubs to bed. It is so sad to see a fine camellia placed in a location where it will be surrounded by turf.

Glossy leaves, hundreds of buds and blooms that attract pollinators of all sorts, including the long-tailed skipper butterfly, place these plants high on my list. I hope you will add the camellias to your garden this weekend.

Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South and Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden.

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