When and How to Prune Camellias

Raise your hand if you’ve neglected to prune your plants before.

My hand’s raised, in case you were wondering. It’s one of those things that can easily get away from you.

If you forget to water, your plants tell you pretty quickly that they’re upset. But pruning can be neglected for a long time before gardeners notice, at least in some cases.

A close up vertical image of a camellia shrub with hot pink flowers growing in the garden. To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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That’s especially true of camellias, which can go for years and years without trimming and they might still look totally fine.

Many cultivars maintain a fairly dense, clean look without any input from us.

But pruning is essential for maintaining healthy camellias and encouraging prolific blooming.

The difference between a plant smothered in colorful flowers and one that is just ho-hum is often the result of pruning.

Coming up, we’re going to talk about when, why, and how to trim your camellias. Here’s what to watch for:

Some people love to get out there and trim down their plants and some hate it.

I fall into the former camp simply because I like the gardening tasks that give me instant results.

But if you don’t adore the process, just remind yourself that you’ll be rewarded with a healthier plant and a prettier display next year.

Got those tools ready? Here we go!

When to Prune Camellias

Pruning is more about when not to do it rather than when to do it when it comes to camellias.

What you don’t want to do is start making cuts while the buds are forming or you won’t have any flowers that year.

A close up horizontal image of flower buds on a camellia shrub, growing in the garden pictured on a soft focus background.
Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

Depending on the type, most camellias start budding in late summer and early fall.

The safest time to prune is right after all of the flowers have faded.

Keep in mind that if you have to cut the plant back severely, you might not have many flowers in the following year, but it’s necessary for its long-term health.

You’ll be rewarded with more blossoms than ever in the coming years after that.

A close up horizontal image of a gardener on the left of the frame trimming branches from a shrub in the garden.
Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

If you see a branch that looks diseased, is broken, or is heavily infested with pests, feel free to remove that at any time of year.

Beyond that, you only need to prune every few years rather than doing so annually.

Reasons to Prune

Pruning isn’t just about making your plant look good, though that’s part of it. You should also prune to remove diseased or infested branches, or branches that are dead or dying.

A close up horizontal image of two hands from the left of the frame using a pair of pruners to trim off diseased branches from a camellia shrub.
Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

What’s more, you want to prune to re-invigorate growth and to contain any shrubs that have become overgrown. Plus, trimming allows more light to enter the interior of the bush.

With each cut you make, you encourage branching and new growth, and that means more flowers and foliage to come.

How to Prune Your Plants

The first step is to make sure you’re starting with clean and sharp tools. You might need to use secateurs, loppers, shears, and saws, depending on how overgrown your plant is.

Now, start cutting. Remove any branches that stick out from the rest of the plant.

You can either cut them back in line with the rest of the growth or remove them entirely. Remove any scraggly or ugly growth. Any rubbing or crossing branches should be removed, too.

If you have a part of the plant that looks thin, cut a few branches back by a third or so to a point just in front of a leaf to encourage branching.

Alternatively, you can prune the newest growth back to the point where the previous year’s growth stops to encourage branching.

A close up horizontal image of a hand from the right of the frame using a pair of pruners to trim new growth from a camellia shrub.
Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

To reduce the size of a bush, go slowly and do it over several years. In the first year, cut the bush down to the height you want.

Next year, cut back any new growth to that height to produce branching. In the third year, shape the bush so it’s more aesthetically pleasing overall.

To create a tree, cut off all of the branches from the lower third but leave the rest of the plant untouched. In the second year, shape the crown.

Always cut branches back flush with the trunk when you remove them entirely. You don’t want to leave a stump.

A close up horizontal image of two hands from the bottom left of the frame pruning a camellia shrub in bright sunshine.
Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

Cut branches that you’re partially trimming back to just in front of a leaf bud. That’s where new growth will emerge.

Pruning Keeps Your Camellias in Good Shape

Despite the fact that camellias aren’t super high-maintenance plants, they do need some care to look their absolute best.

A close up horizontal image of a gardener on the right of the frame holding a pair of pruners trimming a camellia shrub pictured in light sunshine.
Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

It’s not uncommon for plants to be infested with pests, scale in particular, if you neglect the pruning.

And those plants you’ve admired with the big, full displays? You can bet that they’ve been carefully trimmed every few years.

So what’s going on with your plants? What brought you to this guide? Did you inherit a few in the yard of a new home you purchased, like I did?

Maybe you planted a few new bushes and want to know how to keep them in shape? Share your experience in the comments section below.

Ready to continue your camellia journey? You can have a lot of fun with these plants! Here are a few more guides to get you started:

Photo of author
Kristine Lofgren is a writer, photographer, reader, and gardening lover from outside Portland, Oregon. She was raised in the Utah desert, and made her way to the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two dogs in 2018. Her passion is focused these days on growing ornamental edibles, and foraging for food in the urban and suburban landscape.

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