This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Some extracts from an article on this subject by the Comte de Nancy, in the " Flare des Serren,n may prove useful, more especially to beginners, in the cultivation of these plants. The choice of soil, the Comte observes, is of the first importance. Good peat, and peat only, should be used. The best is of a chestnut-brown colour, moderately sandy, and soft to the touch; that which is of a black muddy color, without sand, or containing but very little, is bad.
The Camellia generally likes moisture, but the degree of humidity varies according to the season. At the time of flowering, the waterings ought to be more abundant than in winter; and still more "abundant when the plants begin to push, and during the whole period of their growth. Water should be supplied towards night rather than the morning, and never in the middle of the day. In hot weather it is advisable to throw water on the floor and footpaths, in order to cool and moisten the atmosphere of the house; but when the shoots have made their growth, when their elongation naturally stop*, in order that the wood may become mature and firm towards the end of June, syringing must be sparingly performed; for too much moisture, together with the heat at that time, would overexcite the flow of sap, and induce a second push, thereby preventing the formation of flower-buds. Duriog winter the waterings should take place at considerable intervals; but at all times, even when the Camellia is most at rest, it is necessary to keep the soil moist, for dryness is injurious to tbe health of the plant, and occasions the flower-buds to drop. The water should be as nearly as possible of the same temperature as that of the house.
Rain or river water is to be preferred to spring water.
The Camellia requires plenty of air, and in order that it may circulate freely, the plants should not be too near each other, otherwise the lower leaves are apt to drop off.
It also requires abundance of light, and therefore low houses or pits are more suitable for it than those old constructions commonly called Orangeries; but it cannot bear the ardent rays of the sun, and must be protected from them by nets or other screens, or the glass may be thinly painted over with white paint (Spanish white,) or with lime and milk, or with a thin solution of glue.
Repotting or shifting is not absolutely necessary until the roots completely fill the pot The operation is usually performed immediately after the flowering; but in my opinion it is best done after the plants have made their first shoots, that is to say, about the end of June or beginning of July. I prefer this period, because the shifting affords the plant a more abundant supply of nourishment, and consequently disposes it to push vigorous shoots rather than to form flower-buds. Varieties not naturally inclined to flower readily must have less pot-room than those that flower profusely.
No shrub bears the operation of pruning better than the Camellia does; none submits with more docility to all the forms of training which the fancy of the amateur may impose upon it; espalier, bush, pyramid, all are suitable to it; but of all forms the most graceful, the most elegant, and at the same time the most advantageous, considering the small place to which greenhouse plants are necessarily limited, and the facility of regular arrangement according to height, is, in my opinion, the pyramidal form. I have myself adopted it.
Certain varieties, generally those of moderate vigor, naturally take this form. Strong-growing sorts can only be brought to it by pruning. In order to do this, we must commence with the first year's shoots. The Camellia usually pushes twice in the first year of its growth; first in the spring, and again in the end of July or the beginning of August It should be allowed to perfect these shoots; then, in the end of November or beginning of December, when the plant is in a state of rest, and not before, it is cut back to the first or second eye of the second push, taking care, however, that the eye to which we prune is not so forward, nor 90 prominent, as those below it This being attended to, all the buds will start in spring simultaneously. But, on the contrary, if we leave the shoot too long, or prune it to an eye that is more prominent or more forward than those below it, that eye will start away, whilst those below will remain dormant.
In the second year the plant, treated as above directed, will produce three or four branches, the uppermost of which should form the continuation of the upright stem; and when the growth is completed, in November or December, this upright shoot is cut back to two or three eyes, unless it be furnished with flower buds, and in this case the shoot is not cut back till after flowering. If the shoot be in such condition as that all its eyes appear likely to break in spring, it need not be shortened at all The same rules are applicable as regards the pruning and training of the plant in the next and following years. It must be borne in mind, that under no circumstances should the Camellia be pruned when its sap is in active circulation; for by so doing, the sap rushes to one, or two, at most, of the upper buds, and leaves the other inactive. For the same reason, the herbaceous extremities, of growing shoots should not be pinched.
Excepting in frosty weather the Camellia requires no heat during winter; it will even bear, without injury, two or three degrees of frost, so that, unless the winter is very severe, heating may be dispensed with, provided warm coverings are employed. But when fire is necessary it must be so managed as to maintain uniformity of temperature; for great variations in this occasion the dropping of flower buds. The hot-water mode of heating is doubtless the best: but notwithstanding its advantages under certain circumstance?, I have been obliged to-give it up, because, in the country, it is very difficult to get workmen to fit up the apparatus properly. I originally adopted the system for heating my house; but although I paid dearly for the apparatus, it worked badly; and while it cost me much for fuel, it afforded but little heat, and I therefore had it taken away. For several years I have used small cast-iron stoves, from 15 to 18 inches in height, and about 1 foot in diameter. One or two of these, as may be necessary, I placed inside the house, on the footpath. A tube of sheet-iron is fitted to the stove and made to pass through a square of tin plate adapted to the sash.
A very small quanity of wood, and some dry tan peats or some grape pressings, are sufficient to heat these stoves so as to give as much heat as I require. I take care to remove any plants that may be too near the stoves; and I moderate the draught of the furnace by a damper in the sheet-iron tube, which is completely shut when the fuel has given off its smoke. A pan of water is placed on the furnace, in order to give moisture to the air. The stoves can be removed in a few minutes, and can be as quickly replaced.
In forcing the Camellia, the temperature must be very gradually raised. In commencing, towards the end of September, the house should be kept warmer, by shutting up early, and by covering at nights when these are cold. About the begining of December a little fire heat should be given at' night, so as to raise the temperature only 4° or 5°; then it may be progressively raised to 508° Fahr. by the middle of December. Occasionally, and more especially when the sun is bright, it is advisable to sprinkle water on the footpaths; the moisture thus produced settles on the glass, moderates the intensity of the solar rays, swells the flower-buds, and facilitates their expansion. Thus treated, Camellias will show their first flowers in the beginning of January.
The leaves of the Camellia should, at all times, be kept as clean as possible. I would advise amateurs to do as I do myself every autumn, and that is to wash every leaf, one by one, successively. I attach much importance to this operation, which I call the toilette of the Camellia. It has not only a great influence upon the health of the plants, but it also gives a brilliancy and freshness to the foliage, which en chances the beauty of the flowers.
Notwithstanding all our care, some plants will become less healthly than others. Robust as the Camellia is, like all created beings it is subject to maladies, which neither science nor human foresight can prevent. An amature, therefore, need not be astonished nor discouraged if, among a number of plants, he should find some unhealthy. The indications are yellowness of the foliage, weak and stunted growth, and dropping of the flower-buds. When such is the case, the plants must be taken out of the pot; the roots must be closely examined, and all that are damaged or decayed must be cut in to the quick; and after shaking away as much as possible of the ball of the old soil, the plant must be repotted in a smaller pot than that from which it was taken; all unhealthy naked branches must be cut out; the plant should then be placed in a pit near the glass, but shaded from the sun. - Lond Gard Chronicle.