Most gardeners associate camellias with only the winter months. Actually, much camellia bud drop and bloom failure can be traced to neglect in early fall. Since little can be done once flower buds begin to drop during the bloom season, fall is definitely the time to take preventive action.
Adverse weather--particularly hot and dry autumns--are responsible for much bud dropping. Although these conditions may be uncontrollable, you can counteract them by proper watering and feeding. Using a mulch to keep shallow roots cool and keeping the surrounding atmosphere as moist as possible helps prevent the drying of flower buds. During warm weather, you can maintain humidity by sprinkling the tops of camellia shrubs each day. Since hot sunlight beating down on moist foliage may result in sunscalding of leaves, sprinkle in early morning and in the evening.
Some camellia varieties set an unusually large number of flower buds, and considerable bud drop can--and should--occur naturally. With these varietal types, remove buds by hand whenever natural thinning is inadequate. Bud removal also helps with some of the fully double varieties that tend to develop "bull heads"--a condition in which flower buds swell into a normal fall bud but do not open completely or fail to open at all.
Occasionally, worms will feed on the tips of camellia flower buds and prevent them from opening. Such pests should be controlled with Sevin as soon as they are detected. Weevil feeding on the plant crown and surface roots can weaken the plant to the point that it will drop all its buds.
Too much fertilizer can force new growth at the expense of the flower buds and will cause bud drop. For that reason, fertilizing should be scheduled for the spring and summer and discontinued before early fall.
Camellias can be thinned and pruned to help bloom development anytime before flowering--even as late as September. Most pruning, however, serves primarily to provide home gardeners with plants of particular forms and shapes, not to promote flowering. If a plant spreads over too large an area, shorten only the lower branches.
get the answers Q: I think that one of the most beautiful sights in the world is a wall or fence covered with the mass bloom of bougainvillea. Why is it that we don't have such a mass of flowers on ours? --T.M., Pasadena A: Bougainvillea is temperamental in that regard. Its roots must be confined to encourage profuse bloom. Many landscapers plant the vine in its container with the bottom cut to allow a little root growth. Also, mature plants tend to bloom more profusely.
Q: Several shrubs that I bought in cans failed to grow when they were planted out. Later I was told that they were root-bound. What does that mean? --R.G., Montebello A: Plants that have been in their containers too long do get root-bound and stop growing because of space limitations that impede normal root development. When planting out, check for thick root masses along the sides of the root ball. Thin them out and cut girdling roots when you plant. When the condition is severe, ask the nursery for an exchange.