It has become more popular and acceptable in recent years to want to create landscapes and gardens that attract and benefit pollinators, birds, and wildlife, while also pleasing us and our neighbors. This worthy pursuit is supported by countless how-to articles and plant lists aimed at getting the right combination of food, water, shelter, and breeding/nesting areas year-round for various creatures. Often, this goal is best achieved by planting native plants when and where appropriate, and to have something always in bloom throughout the year, though this can present a challenge, especially during winter months.
One magnificent shrub that offers delicate flowers to brighten up our fall and winter days is the Sasanqua Camellia (Camellia sasanqua). With many varieties to select from—flower color, shape, and overall plant size depends on the cultivar—they tend to be slightly smaller-growing than their spring-flowering relatives (Camellia japonica) and bloom in shades of pink or white and sometimes red. These plants are native to Japan where their leaves are often used to make tea; they are prized landscape plants due to their elegant, open habit and profuse flowering during fall and winter months.
On a recent afternoon at one of our garden centers, the high-pitched call of nearby Anna’s hummingbirds reminded me that I’m not the only one drawn to these lovely flowering shrubs. Although hummingbirds usually prefer flowers in red hues with tubular shapes, they become much less selective when there are fewer choices and even prefer the more open-shaped camellia bloom in white to no flowers at all. It is the protein-rich pollen that they are after. which covers the bright yellow stamens in the camellia flower’s center. With many different cultivars to choose from, some hummingbird favorites are ‘Yuletide’ with a single, bright red flower and ‘Pink-A-Boo’ which is a relative of ‘Yuletide’ and has a single, clear pink flower and bright yellow center; it is also lightly fragrant!
In addition to planting your camellia near a window so you can watch the hummingbirds, try to find an area that gets full or part sun, but not reflective heat. Unlike Camellia japonica, Sasanqua Camellias require a more sunny location to bloom well; they also prefer well-drained, acidic soil conditions. If planting a new one this season, be sure to mulch and protect young plants from cold/drying winds and water well during dry summer months (July to September) when buds are setting.
If you love watching hummingbirds dart through your spring and summer garden, plant Sasanqua Camellias to keep them happy during the winter months. Stop by one of our garden centers to see these beautiful plants while they are blooming, and take one home to be enjoyed by all! We will talk more about how to provide winter food and shelter to our feathered friends as it gets colder—until then, keep warm!