Before moving to Florida, I spent most of my life in the Mid-Atlantic. For more than thirty years, the bleak brown grass or glaring white snow-covered landscape of winter was disappointing to me because I love color.
It felt as though the winter would never end, and the dormant plants would never come back to life.
If only I had learned sooner that some plants could add much needed greenery and colorful blooms through this seemingly dead season.
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The camellia is one of those plants. Sometimes referred to as the “rose of winter,” most varieties form buds in the fall and bloom between autumn and spring, brightening the landscape and providing important sources of forage for the animals and insects that need it.
A splash of daring red or a blush of cheerful pink petals might have been just what I needed to see outside my window to cheer me up when temperatures dropped and the snow was falling.
While they have a reputation for being a bit finicky, camellias can thrive for decades if given proper care. Learn more about keeping them happy and healthy in our camellia growing guide.
Once you’ve mastered the basics of care, the rest is easy – that is, after you decide which cultivar to grow. How hard could that be though, right?
Well… potentially harder than you may think. There are more than three hundred species and three thousand cultivars to choose from, and in this guide we’ll focus on 11 popular cultivars, and consider what they’ll add to your garden.
But before we dive into the roundup, let’s quickly talk about the various types of blooms that are available to choose from first. Here’s what’s ahead:
Camellia Bloom Formations
Bloom form refers to the appearance of the blossom, such as the number and arrangement of petals, and whether the stamens are visible.
There are six different bloom forms in the Camellia genus, and this is something to consider when selecting a species that you prefer or a certain cultivar, particularly if your motivation for planting is to provide pollinator forage sources.
Single form blooms have five to eight petals and conspicuous stamens.
These are the best type for foraging pollinators as they are uncomplicated, making nectar and pollen more accessible.
Semi-double blooms have more than eight petals and semi-conspicuous stamens.
Anemone form blooms have one or more rows of outer petals with a center cluster of petaloids, or smaller petals, and semi-conspicuous stamens.
Peony form flowers are fuller, have more than one row of petals with a mix of petals and petaloids, and may or may not have conspicuous stamens.
Formal double forms are full, with several rows of petals and petaloids that are typically imbricated, or overlapping in a distinct pattern, and have hidden stamens.
Rose double form blooms have several rows of petals and petaloids, and hidden stamens that become visible when blossoms fully mature and open.
Finally, we’re at the best part! Let’s see those flowers!
Camellia Varieties for Your Landscape
Because camellias have been cultivated so widely for such a long time, and for so many purposes, there is an expansive list of varieties in existence.
While some put on a show in fall and early winter, others make gorgeous additions to the garden with blooms that are more likely to appear a bit later, in winter and spring. Long blooming types may produce blossoms beginning in fall and continuing until spring.
Although hundreds of species exist, the two most favored by home gardeners are C. sasanqua and C. japonica. These are the two we’ll focus on, with some hybrids and series included in our list of recommended cultivars.
Plants of the C. sasanqua species typically begin blooming between October and December. They’re generally more tolerant of sun exposure and tend to have larger blooms. They’re also more cold tolerant.
C. japonica typically begins blooming between January and March. These generally prefer shade and warmer temperatures.
It’s important to note that most varieties do not have a strong – or even noticeable – fragrance. Some cultivars have been bred to improve fragrance or to produce blooms as large as five inches in diameter. Others are more modest, but offer much-needed color during winter months.
1. April Dawn
If your motto is “the showier, the better,” then C. japonica ‘April Dawn’ may be the perfect choice for you.
A cultivar from the April series bred by Dr. Clifford Parks, ‘April Dawn’ is a hybrid of ‘Berenice Boddy’ and ‘Herme,’ aka ‘Jordan’s Pride.’
The result is an evergreen shrub six to eight feet tall, with stunning creamy white blossoms shot through with tones of pale to deep pink, in a pattern often referred to as “candy striping.”
The double form blooms are typically three to four inches wide, appearing in mid to late winter and continuing to open through spring.
This variety has been bred specifically for cold hardiness, and can generally withstand the low temperatures in Zones 6b through 9.
Bear in mind, however, that even though this plant is more tolerant of the cold, it will still need protection from extreme low temperatures under about 10°F.
Plants in three gallon pots are available from Pixies Garden Store via Amazon.
Gardeners with a goal of adding bright color to as much of the winter landscape as possible will want to consider planting C. japonica ‘Debutante.’ This cultivar has one of the longest blooming seasons, from about October through May.
The plant can withstand winter temperatures in Zone 7 with shelter and protection, and fares well unprotected in Zones 8 to 10.
‘Debutante’ features full peony form blooms that typically have semi-conspicuous stamens, in a large, three to four-inch size. The medium to deep pink flowers create a striking contrast to the glossy green foliage.
Plants have a naturally upright shrub-like habit, reaching heights of eight to 12 feet. This variety can also withstand more direct sunlight than some other cultivars.
You can find ‘Debutante’ in three-gallon containers available from Fast Growing Trees.
3. High Fragrance
While camellias can be gloriously lovely, they tend to lack fragrance, and are sometimes described as being pungent, which is obviously not complimentary! In response to these common protests from gardeners, ‘High Fragrance’ was developed.
This hybrid is a cross between C. japonica ‘Mrs. Bertha A. Harms’ and ‘Scentuous,’ bred by James R. Finlay in 1986.
The fragrance of the full double, peony form blossoms is reminiscent of jasmine and rose, and the pale to deep pink flowers have semi-conspicuous stamens, making them a great forage source.
The four- to six-foot size and open growth habit make ‘High Fragrance’ a good choice for training to grow in tree form, and with some pruning, it can become a specimen planting that not only looks beautiful, but smells fantastic.
This hybrid cultivar blooms from late winter to early spring, with four-inch blossoms continuously opening between February and April. ‘High Fragrance’ is hardy in Zones 7 to 10.
4. Jordan’s Pride
Petals with streaks of variegated deep and pale pink fade out to creamy white borders, contrasting beautifully against the deep green foliage of C. japonica ‘Jordan’s Pride,’ also known as ‘Herme.’
This tall shrub has a vigorous growth habit, and is a perfect candidate to be trained into small tree form, reaching heights of six to 12 feet at maturity.
The semi-double blooms make their appearance between January and March.
These grow up to four inches wide, with visible stamens when the blossoms open fully. ‘Jordan’s Pride’ is best suited for growing in Zones 7 to 9.
5. Kramer’s Supreme
Vibrant scarlet red blossoms are sure to chase away those winter blues. The dazzling full peony form jewels produced by C. japonica ‘Kramer’s Supreme’ are swoon-worthy.
Glossy dark green foliage contrasts with deep red blooms throughout the winter, beginning in November and continuing through February or March, offering not only beauty but a source of forage as well.
Perfect for a woodland border or specimen planting, this is one variety that will surely earn its place as an incredible focal point. This shrub reaches heights of six to eight feet or more, with a rounded habit.
‘Kramer’s Supreme’ is best suited for Zones 8 to 10.
You can find ‘Kramer’s Supreme’ in three-gallon containers available from Fast Growing Trees.
6. Mine No Yuki
A flower of many names, including ‘Mine No Yuki,’ ‘White Doves,’ or ‘Snow on the Mountain,’ this pure white, early season C. sasanqua cultivar will draw attention from fall through winter.
Capable of producing hundreds of blossoms every season, this evergreen shrub reaches a mature height of six to eight feet, and is perfect as a focal point in a shaded bed with other cold hardy plants.
One of the most popular fall-blooming varieties, ‘Mine No Yuki’ has double blooms with semi-conspicuous stamens, making them accessible for those late season bees on a mission before winter falls.
The blooms create a glorious contrast to the deep green, glossy foliage, which makes this variety an excellent candidate not only for specimen planting, but a truly incredible hedgerow option as well. It grows best in Zones 7 to 9.
‘Mine No Yuki’ is suitable for growing in large containers when pruned to keep its size in check.
Plants in quart-size containers are available from Home Depot.
Like a watercolor painting come to life, C. sasanqua ‘Moonshadow’ has creamy white double blooms that appear to be hand-painted with fuchsia, fading toward the center to pale pink.
The central petaloids are interspersed with semi-conspicuous yellow stamens, and surrounded in a fainter tracing of the fuchsia color. To call these three- to four-inch blooms stunning would be an understatement.
Along with adding gorgeous flowers to the landscape, the dense, glossy, evergreen foliage can work well as a privacy hedge or foundation planting, providing interest to an unsightly garage or basement wall.
This variety grows well in Zones 7 to 9, and will reach mature heights of eight to 10 feet. Plant ‘Moonshadow’ as part of a bed in partial or dappled sun, or train it to grow as in espalier or tree form.
8. October Magic White Shi Shi
If you’re committed to planting a camellia even though you have limited space, you can choose from quite a lot of the existing varieties and grow them in containers successfully with regular pruning, or you can go with October Magic® White Shi Shi™ (C. sasanqua ‘Green 02-004’).
Most camellias top out at between six to 12 feet in height, but as a dwarf variety, October Magic® White Shi Shi™ only grows to about three feet tall. This makes it a perfect specimen for smaller planting areas or containers.
The white, three-inch-wide double blooms rest against a compact mat of dense, glossy green foliage. Best of all, this small, elegant shrub won’t need much pruning to maintain its size.
October Magic® White Shi Shi™ prefers the temperate climate of Zones 7 to 9, and blooms between October and December, with evergreen foliage. This variety also tolerates full to partial sunlight.
October Magic® is a series developed by Bobby Green at Green Nurseries in Fairhope, Alabama, that includes varieties such as Dawn™, Bride™, and Inspiration™.
Plants in #3 containers are available from Nature Hills Nursery.
9. Pink Perfection
Formal double camellias like C. japonica ‘Pink Perfection’ are wonderful examples of what nature can do. The pale shell pink three-inch blossoms have been a favorite among gardeners since the early 19th century.
While the stunning imbricate pattern of the petals and their beautiful color are extremely attractive, these flowers are not the best choice for pollinators as their stamens are almost completely buried. However, they do attract hummingbirds.
Expect these eight- to ten-foot shrubs to bloom between December and May in Zones 7 to 9, with deep green foliage year round.
Plants are available from Amazon in three- or five-gallon containers.
10. Shishi Gashira
A very popular fall-blooming variety, C. sasanqua ‘Shishi Gashira’ offers dark pink, semi-double blossoms. Partially exposed stamens make it easy for bees to visit.
This cultivar tends to grow wider rather than taller, reaching a mature height of only five to six feet, with a semi-weeping shape and a compact growth habit.
‘Shishi Gashira’ also exhibits greater sun tolerance than other varieties, especially as plants mature, and it is suitable for container growing. This variety is hardy in Zones 7 to 9.
Plants are available from Nature Hills Nursery in #3 containers.
If breaking up the winter landscape with a dramatic combination of red, green, and yellow sounds appealing to you, C. sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ is the perfect choice.
This evergreen shrub can reach mature heights of eight to 10 feet, and when in full bloom is filled with bright red single blossoms, their conspicuous yellow stamens beckoning to pollinators.
‘Yuletide’ blooms from late fall through winter, and the foliage is a deep glossy green. This variety is suitable for cultivation in Zones 7 to 10.
This type can work well as a partition or hedge, or as a standalone focal point.
Plants are available from Nature Hills Nursery in #3 containers.
You May Need a Bigger Yard
After seeing just a few of the many wonderful types of camellias that you could bring home, you may suddenly notice that your garden seems to have shrunk. Where will you put all of these gorgeous specimens?
Perhaps the best option is to find some ground space for a few, then add some containers for others, and train a few to grow along a trellis – thankfully, they’re very versatile!
Are you growing camellias? What’s your favorite variety? Let us know in the comments section below.
And for even more information on growing camellia flowers in your garden, check out these guides next: