This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
The beautiful glossy foliage of the Camellia, when in health, as well as its glorious flowers, deservedly gain for it a conspicuous place in every greenhouse; yet, notwithstanding this, I am afraid that, even in these enlightened times, amateurs are not so well acquainted with its management as they should be, and as, from the inquiries often put to me by them, I am sure they wish to be. To have our Camellias flourish, something more is necessary than to put them into pots in finely sifted soil, to place them in our greenhouse stage, to water them when they are dry, and to allow them to remain in this condition otherwise undisturbed for years. True, if we give them air, the atmosphere - one of the sources from which plants derive nourishment - will perform its part; but does the soil, under the conditions mentioned, rightly effect its portion of the work? I fear not; and out of this arises all, or nearly all, the mischief of which amateurs complain.
The compost I have found best adapted to the growth of the Camellia is, a mixture of peat and loam in nearly equal proportions, together with a sprinkling of sharp sand. When the loam is light and sandy, less peat is necessary. These should be broken up, not sifted, intimately mixed, and the roughest pieces laid at the bottom of the pot over the drainage, which must be complete, or little success will attend your labours, even though all other conditions should be favourable. By complete drainage, I do not mean that this should be effected so much by crocks, as by the way in which the soil is arranged in the pots; for experience has taught me that the roots of the Camellia are apt to die among crocks alone when many are used; at least, I have found such to be the case. I put one large concave crock or oyster-shell over the opening in the bottom of the pot, with three or four smaller pieces round it, and over these the most turfy portions of the compost, in which the roots of the Camellia appear to delight.
Camellias will grow, and even flourish, in either peat or loam separately; they generally grow most luxuriantly in peat, and the foliage of plants in this kind of soil is of the deepest green; but I have not found them to flower so well. In loam alone the leaves are paler, and the plants are more liable to get into ill health. The utility of mixing the two soils, therefore, will be at once apparent.
The question, "How am I to restore my sickly plants to health?" is one often asked. When Camellias get into ill health, from whatever cause, the best plan is, to turn the plants out of their pots in spring, to examine their roots; and if these are found to be dead or dying, to shake the soil entirely away from them, removing at the same time all pieces that are dead. The top must also be well shortened-in, in order to preserve a sort of balance between that and the root. These things being done, place the plant in a pot just large enough comfortably to admit the roots, in a compost consisting of two parts peat to one of loam, using a little more sand than for plants in health. When potted, water, to settle the soil; place them in a gentle bottom heat, and keep them close; watering at the root but sparingly till the plants begin to grow, but frequently syringing their tops with tepid water. If they have made good roots by autumn, they may be either shifted into larger pots then, or in the following spring, when they may receive the same treatment as the general collection.
In regard to the best season for shifting Camellias, some diversity of opinion exists; some recommending that it should be done in spring, others that it should be performed in autumn. I have tried both seasons, and with nearly equal success; but, as a general rule, I prefer spring-shifting.
The editor of the Gardeners' Chronicle has correctly stated that the Camellia is not a greenhouse plant; nevertheless, although this is strictly true, it succeeds best when treated as a hardy greenhouse shrub. If it be kept in a temperature above freezing, it will thrive better than if grown in a warmer atmosphere. Camellias, however, like an increase of warmth and plenty of moisture when they are making their new wood; and to ensure a good display of bloom, this latter must be thoroughly ripened. After they have ripened their wood and set their flower-buds, they may be placed in the open air, or retained in the greenhouse, according to circumstances. If kept in the greenhouse, as much air as possible should be admitted, and the foliage may be occasionally sprinkled with water, which will keep it clean and healthy. On this latter point much depends; for it is in the leaves that the sap, under the influence of light, undergoes those changes in its composition by which it becomes capable of forming the various compounds required in the plant's economy.
The roots, too, must be kept in a proper state as to moisture.
In cases in which it is not convenient to use large pots, Camellias may be kept in health by watering them occasionally, during their growing season, with weak liquid manure, which will in some measure restore to the soil the fertilising qualities of which it has become deficient.
It now remains for me to speak of propagation, which is, however, more the province of the nurseryman than of the amateur; and yet so much interest attaches to the offspring of one's own handiwork, that, for the benefit of those who like to amuse themselves in this kind of employment, which is as instructive as it is pleasant, I will add, that Camellias are increased by inarching, grafting, and budding on the single red and Middlemas red, cuttings of both of which strike readily. These latter should be taken off in August or September, as soon as the young shoots are ripe. They are prepared by being cut through horizontally at a joint, or better taken off with a "heel," divesting them of a few leaves at the base, and potting them in sand. They should then be well watered, and the pots placed in a cold frame for a month or six weeks. They may then be introduced into a gentle bottom heat, and potted off into small pots next spring; still keeping them in heat until they have made their growths, then gradually hardening them off. In the succeeding season they will be ready to be inarched, budded, or grafted.
The best time for inarching is in spring, just before the plant begins to grow; and for grafting, in August or September.
Chelsea. George Macintosh.