Thanks to retailers, the Christmas season started sooner than ever — and it’s happening in the garden, too! It’s incredible: The Yuletide camellias are blooming earlier, giving a clear signal the holiday season is here.
I am most certainly not a Yuletide camellia expert. (I even thought they were Camellia sasanquas; after all, that is what the tags say.) I have, however, been watching them for decades, 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. Yuletide is a plant that will bloom every year just in time for the holidays.
Shrubs such as 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.
Although we think of camellias for the 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.
A word of warning: This one is sure to cause neighbor envy.
Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden.”