When And How To Prune Camellias

The age-old question we get as a camellia grower is ‘when do I prune my Camellias?’.  The most common answer we have seen from others is ‘when they finish blooming’.

We are a grower with over 30 years of experience, and that answer is not always the correct one.  Some Camellias bloom in late summer to early Fall and can bloom out by Thanksgiving or Christmas, which if going by the advice, it’s not the ideal time to prune.

So first, let’s talk about WHY you should prune a Camellia.  In our opinion, Camellias should be planted and left to grow as they would in nature.  They don’t really need to be pruned for them to grow beautifully – in most cases.  Often Camellias are planted in locations that will require pruning to keep them limited to a certain size.  We see a lot of this with inexperienced landscapers or homeowners who have not taken plant growth habits into consideration when planting.  For example, A large growing Camellia is planted in front of a window that is only 4′ tall and will require the camellia to be constantly pruned to maintain this requirement to not block the window.

Pruning To Reduce Height

Severely cutting back a camellia will certainly encourage it to put on a lot of growth, and it will if it has a healthy root system.  How and where you cut is determined by your individual needs.  We have seen Camellias cut back to the ground and they regenerate with multiple branches.  Think long and hard before you take that drastic step because sometimes disease can set in when you prune and you could endanger the entire plant.

When a large and vigorous-growing Camellia is severely pruned several things can happen.  For one, the plant will put on a large amount of growth and since Camellias bloom on 2nd-year growth, flowers can be severely impaired or blooming will be limited.   The 2nd problem can occur with excessive harsh pruning as airflow can be limited and the plant can be more susceptible to disease and insects – especially Tea Scale and Mites.

Pruning to Enhance Health.

Growth limitation is one reason for pruning Camellias.  Enhancing plant health is another.  Camellias can have problems with certain diseases or pathogens that can cause limbs to be spindly, unhealthy or die.  They can also have cold damage, insect damage, and disease.  Pruning to remove dead or dying branches can improve plant health.

As we said above, heavy pruning can cause a very thick plant.  You can improve this by selectively trimming out some of the inside limbs to give it more airflow.

When To Prune

The best time to do any pruning on Camellias is just before the onset of new growth while the plants are still dormant.  For us in South Georgia, that’s in February or early March.   Pruning earlier than this could encourage the plant to start growing, especially if it’s warm, and that can be a problem if you have a late-season freeze on new growth.    Some folks shy away from pruning during this time because the plants can have flowers and they want to experience every drop.  And that’s ok.  Prune as soon as you feel comfortable.  We feel that sometimes a little bloom sacrifice will be worth a beautiful plant next season that is healthy and happy.

Pruning Tools

We have spent over 30 years growing Camellias both in the nursery and taking care of Camellias in the landscape for customers.  In that time we have NEVER EVER used electric shears on Camellias.  That is a practice we would never recommend.  The reason for this is that as nice as they are, they don’t always make clean cuts.  Uneven, jagged cuts will definitely lead to problems with disease.

Always use well-sharpened tools when you are trimming camellias.  Tools need to be disinfected when trimming diseased plants and moving on to healthy ones.   Make sure you make clean, smooth cuts.   Cutting at an angle will also help speed healing and will allow for any sap or humidity to run off.

Sometimes hand saws can be used to cut larger limbs where loppers are not suitable.  If you do use a saw, smooth and the edges are rough, you can use a light sandpaper to smooth them out or a pruning knife to remove uneven edges.

Camellias are an investment.  You may not have paid a lot of money for them, but you have invested time and they are something that you and future generations can treasure for years.  Making sure to give them the proper care they need is vital to their survival and to your enjoyment!

If you have further questions about this or any other topic, please contact us!