Native to Japan and slightly lesser-known than Camellia japonica, Sasanqua Camellias are fall and winter-blooming (October through January, depending on the cultivar), broadleaf evergreen shrubs that are generally hardy to USDA Zones 7–9. Although each flower only lasts a few days, bloom time spans 6 weeks or more with flowers that are often fragrant and usually in single or semi-double form.
How to Use Winter Camellias in the Garden
Young Camellia plants can be used for a few seasons as container specimens before being planted into the landscape. With such year-round interest, they make excellent accent plants or even privacy screens. Easily pruned after flowers fade, they are frequently formed into espaliers or shaped to look like small trees.
Most cultivars have an upright growth habit, but a few low-spreading or dwarf varieties exist, such as ‘Chansonette’, ‘Shishigashira’, and ‘Showa-no-sakae’. On average, most varieties grow to be large shrubs at 8–10 feet or more (tall and wide).
Unfortunately, most flowers don’t last well once cut, but the glossy green foliage is a lovely addition to any floral arrangement. The Winter Series of Camellias (Winter’s Snowman, Winter’s Joy, etc.) have flowers that last longer after cutting.
The flowers are popular with overwintering Anna’s hummingbirds, regardless of their color. With a blooming camellia in your garden, there is almost always a hummingbird nearby! Bright yellow, pollen-dusted stamens in the center of each bloom also provide protein for hardy pollinators out foraging on mild, sunny winter days.
Our Favorite Winter Camellia Varieties
Many cultivars and hybrids of Camellias offer a range of flower forms and colors, fragrance, bloom time, plant size, and other distinguishing features. Here are a few of our favorites:
‘Setsugekka’: in Japanese, translates to “Show, the moon, the flowers” and refers to the simple beauty of nature; vigorous, slightly weeping, upright growth habit with large (4-inch), crisp, white, semi-double flowers in early-mid season (November to December); fairly sun-tolerant, it prefers partial sun and grows to 8–10 feet tall and wide
‘Yuletide’ (Camellia X vernalis ‘Yuletide’): upright habit with 3-inch wide, bright red, single flowers in early-mid season (November to December or later); best in partial sun; grows to 8–10 feet tall and wide
‘Pink-a-Boo’: fairly new to the scene, this relative (sport) of ‘Yuletide’ has large, pink, single flowers with a mild fragrance; upright habit to 8–10 feet tall and wide; best in partial sun
‘Buttermint’: medium-sized shrub with formal double flowers that are creamy-white with butter-yellow centers and a light fragrance (mint scented?!?); best in partial sun, blooms late winter to early spring; 6 feet tall by 4–5 feet wide
‘Chansonette’: spreading, slightly pendulous growth habit with hot pink, semi-double to double flowers in early to mid-season; great in partial sun, 2–3 feet tall by 8 feet wide.
‘Shishi Gashira’: blooms with rosy-pink, semi-double flowers in early to mid-season; upright, slightly spreading habit 4–5 feet tall by 6–8 feet wide (best in partial sun)
‘Showa-no-sakae’: soft pink, semi-double flowers in early to mid-season; upright, slightly spreading habit 4-5’ tall by 6-8’ wide; best in partial sun
‘Winter’s Snowman’ of the “Winter Series” (Ackerman hybrids): upright, compact habit and burgundy-colored new growth in spring; early to mid-season flower has a pink bud which opens to a ruffled, semi-double, white flower; grows up to 10–12 feet tall and wide; best in partial sun
Best companion plants for Sasanqua Camellias: Magnolias, Japanese Maples, Rhododendrons and Azaleas, Hydrangeas, Hosta, Hellebores, Ferns, Heuchera, Carex (Sedge), Japanese Forest Grass, Spring-flowering bulbs
Caring for Sasanqua Camellias
Winter camellias grow slightly faster than the japonica species and have smaller leaves. They prefer filtered sunlight or protection from hot morning or afternoon sun, though mature plants may be tolerant of more sun.
They are best grown in areas with some shelter or protection from cold, drying winds in well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Mulching the root zone can help retain soil moisture and winter hardiness, and supplemental watering from July to September during flower bud formation may increase flower size and quantity.
Camellia plants are considered somewhat deer resistant—flower buds and petals may be browsed occasionally.
Camellia Pests, Diseases & Hardiness
Camellias are susceptible to several fungal diseases and do not survive in areas with poor drainage. Potential pests include scale, aphids, and spider mites—stressed plants are more likely to be troubled by pests and diseases. Extreme winter cold may cause damage to flower buds and/or foliage; plants benefit from light protection during severe conditions.
After a particularly cold winter killed several specimens at the U.S. National Arboretum, Dr. William Ackerman hybridized crosses between several different camellia species (C. oleifera, sasanqua, hiemalis, and vernalis) to produce the Winter Series of Camellias with improved winter hardiness to USDA Zone 6 (-10 degrees F). In addition to increased cold resistance, the flowers tend to hold longer after being cut, making them great for bouquets and floral arrangements.