Adding Hardy Camellias To Kentucky Shade Gardens

By Tonya Barnett | August 26, 2020
Image by Vronja_Photon
by Tonya Barnett
August 26, 2020

Like many gardeners, I frequently struggled to find plants that would thrive in the shadier parts of my yard. While various types of ferns had done reasonably well, I couldn’t help but feel they lacked the visual statement I was looking – specifically color. It was for this reason I started searching for something that would be appealing throughout the entirety of the growing season. And it was then that I began exploring the idea of planting camellias.

Growing Camellias in Kentucky Shade Gardens

Throughout the southern United States, camellia plants can be found growing in home landscapes and along roadsides. Bloom season and flower shape can vary greatly, depending upon the cultivar. However, all are beloved for their large colorful blooms and lush, glossy foliage. Camellia hardiness to cold can also vary, but new plant introductions have produced plants with greater tolerance than ever before, with many blooming in late winter.

As a gardener, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the large blooms. Ranging in color from white to pink and red, I was absolutely captivated by their beauty. Unfortunately, the majority of camellia plants are hardy to USDA zone 7. Since my garden is located in Kentucky (USDA zone 6b), I had always been hesitant to attempt growing camellia plants. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a camellia offered at my local garden center that I decided to take that big step.

As it would turn out, there are now several camellia cultivars able to withstand conditions in my zone 6 garden. After taking my ‘April Blush’ camellia plant home, I began to research it more thoroughly. The ‘April Blush’ camellia was created by Dr. Clifford Parks. Compared to other camellias, its growth habit is considered compact. More than anything, I was eager to see my first bright pink flowers sometime in very early spring.

Growing camellias in zone 6 requires some planning. First, I would need to select a planting location. Since camellias thrive in part sun locations, I selected a site which received dappled shade throughout the entire day. Upon further reading, I found that I would also need to test the soil. Since camellias prefer to grow in soil which is acidic, I obtained a soil test from my local agriculture extension.

After amending the soil, it was then that I decided to also add rhododendron to my planting space – another plant which loves acidity. Next, I erected a small screen near the plants. Though these camellias demonstrate exceptional cold tolerance, they still need to be protected from strong winter winds which could damage the plants and/or potential flower blooms. With consistent watering throughout the spring and summer, they quickly started to produce new growth and became established in their new home. Now, I eagerly await my first blooms.

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  • Heather
    Comment added June 26, 2022Reply

    I’ve been using this site for reference for the last 2 years. I had no idea you were a Kentucky girl too, I’m a NKY girl myself. I’ve been trying to find a Camellia plant local to me, can you tell me if you found yours at a local nursery or a commercial hardware store? What did you use as a screen? I’m also trying to find and elf mountain laurel, local nurseries only carry cherry and chestnut laurels.

  • Ho Nam Jeong
    Comment added March 13, 2022Reply

    I came from the South Korea, the hometown of Camellia.
    I have been interested in growing and adaptation of Camellia in North American climate.
    It's my great honor to find you because
    you tried and succeeded in growing a cultivar of Camellia in Kentucky.
    As an immigrant from Camellia's homeland I give you congratulation and admiration for your Frontiership and aesthetic insight.

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