Thanks to retailers the Christmas season started sooner than ever, and as if wanting to join in the festivities, Georgia's Yuletide camellias started blooming earlier than ever as well — giving a clear signal of the holiday season.
I am most certainly not a Yuletide camellia expert. I have, however, been watching them for years, and this is the earliest I have seen them bloom.
Yuletide is an award-winning favorite, bearing loads of red flowers coupled with bright yellow stamens. It is considered compact in form. Oddly, many that I see in landscapes want to develop naturally into a conical or Christmas tree shape. With a little selective hand pruning, this would not be hard to accomplish. However, if you prune harder, they develop a nice mounding shape.
Most suppliers, even those nationally recognized, tag them as Camellia sasanquas, but according to the International Camellia Society Registry, it is a chance seedling of Hiryu — a Camellia vernalis hybrid. This is really a no brainer as Yuletide is an award-winning camellia that is perfect for the landscape or containers.
Think about this as a Christmas plant that gives season after season. It is not like the poinsettia that we love and treasure for a month and then toss. Yuletide is a plant that will bloom every year just in time for the holidays.
Shrubs like the Yuletide camellia can be the real bones or foundation of the landscape much like you would use a holly, viburnum or a ligustrum. They can lead us down a path or serve as the perfect backdrop for seasonal flowers.
While we think of camellias for its high shade or filtered light garden, the Yuletide can tolerate quite a bit more sun. At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden we have ours with a high canopy of pine and the picturesque castanopsis trees with almost white bark. It is a most magical setting.
Like all camellias they require fertile well-drained acidic soil. Yuletide is cold tolerant to zone 7, but is also great in containers that can be moved as needed for cold protection.
Fall is a great time to plant, and supplies of Yuletide and other camellias are normally at their highest now. Roots increase dramatically during the cool season allowing the plant to really get acclimated and take off once growth resumes in the spring.
In the landscape put them in a bed rather than surrounding them with turf. Try clustering three together in front of Nelly R. Stevens or Fosters holly. For a truly exquisite look, use in combination with the smaller Red Holly hybrids like Festive, Robin or Little Red. A word of warning: This one is sure to cause neighbor envy.
It won’t be long until you are going to the garden center to get a Christmas tree, poinsettia or some other holiday plant, why not pick up a couple of camellias? Better yet, just do it this weekend. Yuletide is an award-winning favorite, and I am sure you'll love it, as much as I do.
(Norman Winter is the director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, Georgia.)