Camellias in bloom are one of the most beautiful flowering shrubs you can grow. If you have partial shade they are ideal, and their lush evergreen foliage is always appealing. If you live in zone 6 it is especially frustrating, as just a little further south they bloom easily, but usually not in your zone. If that is what you think, we have a surprise for you. The April Rose Camellia is the result of dedicated breeding to create hardy camellias, and it blooms magnificently even in zone 6 – and of course in warmer zones too.
The April Rose Camellia is an evergreen bush with deep green, glossy, oval leaves. They are 3 to 4 inches long, and about 2 inches wide, with a leathery texture and smooth surface. The end is slightly pointed and the edges (margins) are finely toothed, but not sharp. Leaves are carried all along the branches, and plants remain dense and bushy to the ground, with little or not visible trunk. Plants will grow 6 inches a year, or more, and in time your camellia bush will be between 5 and 8 feet tall, and up to 5 feet wide, making a broad bush that will be smothered in hundreds of flowers during the blooming season.
Growing April Rose Camellias
The flowers of the April Rose Camellia are incredibly beautiful. There are many different shapes to camellia flowers, and this one is the type called ‘Formal Double’. The flower contains many petals, neatly arranged in concentric, overlapping circles, with a tight center. The flowers are large, fully 4 inches across, and they are a deep, rich pink and simply gorgeous. Not only are the flowers beautiful, they are also gently fragrant, a very rare and desirable trait in camellia blooms. Flowering usually begins in March, and continues for 6 or 8 weeks, particularly as the bush matures. That’s right, a full two months of blooming every year – no wonder camellia bushes are so popular. As the flowers mature they fall naturally to the ground, so your bush is always neat and beautiful. New buds continue to open as the old blooms fall.
Unlike most other Camellias, which are hardy only to zone 7, the April Rose Camellia is hardy in zone 6, passing through winter temperatures as low as minus 10 Fahrenheit without any bud or foliage damage. It is also hardy in zones 7 to 9, and with its gorgeous blooms you will certainly also want to grow it if you live in those warmer areas. The secret to success with camellia bushes is location, location. The ideal spot has some direct sun in the morning, and light shade for the rest of the day. Beneath deciduous trees is often perfect, as the extra light from spring to fall is ideal for them. You can also grow this bush in areas with light shade all day, but try to avoid the deep shade beneath large evergreen trees. It will also grow well against the north wall of your home, with blue sky overhead.
Suitable soil is the other requirement of the April Rose Camellia. The soil should be acidic, with a pH value between 5.5 and 6.5. If you can grow azaleas and rhododendrons in your garden, you can also grow camellias. You can easily test your soil with a kit from a garden center. The soil should have lots of organic material, like peat moss, in it, and it should be moist, but not wet. In clay soil plant on a low mound. If you don’t have suitable soil, don’t worry, just grow your bush in a large pot, using soil blended for acid-loving plants. It will grow happily in a pot for many years, and bloom profusely. Feed in spring and early summer with fertilizer for camellias and other acid-loving plants. Pruning is not usually needed, and your plant will normally be free of pests or diseases. If you do need to trim, do it immediately after flowering.
History and Origins of the April Rose Camellia
The Japanese camellia, Camellia japonica, has been grown in Asian gardens for centuries, and many varieties were developed. The first plants were grown in America by 1800, in Charleston, South Carolina, and it soon became a big favorite of southern gardeners. In the 1970’s and 80’s there were a series of harsh winters, and many camellia bushes in the South were killed by frost. This inspired experts and breeders to develop hardier varieties, and Dr. Clifford R. Parks of the North Carolina University was especially prominent in this. He is not only a highly-regarded scientist and camellia expert, but also a breeder and nursery owner. After those killing frosts, he shifted his work from breeding fragrant camellias to breeding cold hardy ones, and all his plants have ‘April’ in their name. To breed ‘April Rose’ he took pollen from a variety called ‘Kumasaka’, a plant already known for its cold tolerance, and used it to produce seed on a variety called ‘Berenice Boddy’. He tested the resulting seedlings, and chose one to be ‘April Rose’, one of the hardiest plants in his series.
Our plants are grown from stem pieces derived from that original plant, and they have all its superb properties. If you live in cooler zones, you should choose plants that will thrive, and this is the camellia for zone 6 – and warmer zones too, of course. Don’t hesitate to order right away, because plants of this special variety are hard to come by, and they will soon be gone.