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never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today


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Plant Profiles

Fall-blooming Camellias



My first camellia flowers, ever!  Nothing that would impress you gardeners in milder climates, true.  But for a northern boy, this is a thrill.  Along with Southern magnolias and palm trees, camellias are one of the taunts that northern gardeners must make their peace with.  No matter how hard we work, few will ever thrive north of New York.  There can be so much heavy lifting involved—literally as well as conceptually—that our eyes bulge with the strain of the effort.  Can we establish just one, please?


'Survivor' is the camellia to plant, especially when, like me, you've already proved that other "hardy" camellias, such as 'Snow Flurry', aren't as tough as you thought.


Yes, the flowers aren't very big.  Yes, the petals can have patches of pink on the outside—see the top flower below—that look like mistakes not inspirations. 


But the "yoke" of stamens couldn't be cheerier, and the season of bloom—early November for me, at least—couldn't be more of a welcome surprise




And, hey: It's a camellia!  In bloom in New England.  Who cares if the flowers are only so-so?  As the tree matures, the show will be impressive.  Not just a few flowers on just one or two branches, as below.  Hundreds of flowers on a plant eight or ten feet tall.  Wow!




If only one camellia that could possiby be hardy for me, and the flowers were Pepto Bismol pink, I'd still grow it.  (You gardeners in mild climates have lots of options when it comes to camellias that are Pepto Bismol pink.  Lucky you.) 


Now that I've got at least one camellia established in Rhode Island, and two different Southern magnolias, I think I'm ready to climb the highest mountain of in Zone Denial range: palm trees.  Thriving in-ground, and glad to see me in May even after the worst weather of February.  Stay tuned. 




Here's how to grow this late-blooming tree:


Latin Name

Camellia x 'Survivor'

Common Name

'Survivor' camellia


Theaceae, the Tea family.

What kind of plant is it?

Broadleaved evergreen shrub.


Zones 6a - 9.


Upright and dense.

Rate of Growth

Fast when happy in Zones 7 - 9; slower in Zone 6.

Size in ten years

In Zones 7 - 9, where the plant can handle the worst of Winter with ease, eight to twelve feet high and three to five feet wide.  Ultimately to thirty feet, but probably not more than ten feet wide.  Shorter at the warm end of Zone 6—6b—and shorter still at the cold end, 6a.  Probably not more than ten feet tall and five feet wide in Zone 6.


'Survivor' grows so densely that it makes a great hedge, at least in Zone 7 and up.  There it can be grown in the comparatively exposed locations that would be typical for any hedge that would, by definition, be making a tall and wall-like landscape boundary.  Fall-blooming camellias have much smaller leaves than those that bloom in Spring, so when in leaf alone a closely-pruned bush can have a texture more like that of deciduous privet.  Spring-blooming camellia foliage is more on the scale and texture of that of evergreen "wax-leaf" privet, whose leaves are twice as long and wide as those of the deciduous varieties. 

Grown for

its toughness.  This cultivar isn't called 'Survivor' for nothing:  It was the sole bush that remained alive after a freak cold-snap to -9 degrees Fahrenheit. 


its upright and dense habit.  As in "Texture," 'Survivor' would make a great evergreen hedge in Zone 7 and above.  With a mature height of thirty feet, it would also be a towering vertical statement when used solo. 


its flowering season.  Fall-blooming camellias are much less common in gardens than the Spring bloomers, whose flowers are much larger and grander.  But Fall-blooming shrubs are much less common than Spring-bloomers, in general, so warrant inclusion in gardens for that reason alone.

Flowering season

Fall.  Early Fall in Zone 7 and up, where the plant doesn't get slowed down each year by Winter damage, and where the growing season is longer, anyway, and so provides that much more time to recover from it.  In Zone 6, later in Fall, partly because the bush gets a later start in Spring, which means Summer isn't as long either.  Because Fall arrives earlier, too, flowering can barely sneak in before the arrival of weather that's too cold for both the buds and flowers.


Camellias prefer rich acid soil that's moisture-retentive but also well-draining.  And while camellias won't tolerate soil that remains wet, they can't handle drought, either.  They thrive in dappled shade all day, or full shade from mid-day to dusk with full sun in the morning.  (See "How to handle it" for more details on sun and shade in Winter versus Summer.)  To bloom they need a definite change in temperature during the Winter.  They don't mind frost and occasional snow, and won't bloom or thrive if the Winter temperatures aren't at least of Spring-like coolness, especially during the night.  See "How to Handle it" below for additional details.

How to handle it

'Survivor' can be grown in several different ways, and needs thoughtful handling in each:  Growing it in a container that can, if needed, get the shelter 'Survivor' would need to get through the Winter.  Helping it survive in-ground at the cold end of its hardiness range, Zone 6.  Growing it where hardiness itself isn't a problem, in Zones 7 - 9.  And, in any Zone, siting it where its habit, evergreen foliage, late-season flowering, and coloring all synergize best with its neighboring plants and garden structure. 


Camellias can be grown in containers for the long-term, not least because they prefer a root environment that doesn't stay wet for long after watering, and being somewhat pot-bound creates just that condition.  Because camellias also don't tolerate drought, though, and a pot-bound plant would be particularly prone to drying out, potted plants should be summered outdoors only in the shade.  They need very bright light when brought indoors for the Winter, and also night-time temperatures much cooler than those in a normal house: Below 60?  Definitely.  Below 50?  Ideally.  Below 40?  Fine, too.  Below freezing?  Not fine at all:  The foliage could tolerate it, but not the roots.  Camellias, then, are plants for cool-night conservatories, not houses.


In-ground in Zone 6, 'Survivor' needs Spring planting as well as protection its first Winter or two, and possibly thereafter.  I built a teepee of burlap over mine; you might also consider spraying with anti-dessicant.  The more shade you can provide in the Winter, the better.  If you can plant close to the north side of your house, where it would be in full shade the entire Winter, that would be ideal.  When the foliage gets too much sun during sub-freezing weather, the leaves are liable to start transpiring even though the roots, still cold or even frozen, can't resupply the moisture the leaves lose.  Add in Winter's usual blustery winds, and you've got the strong potential for wind-burn and scorch.


Help reduce wind damage by planting near evergreen shrubs or fences or buildings.  Camellias have flexible growth, so another strategy would be to espalier against a wall—ideally one that faces Northwest, so the bush gets no morning sun in the Winter (which is especially good at creating wind-burn) but still gets some sun in the Summer.  A panel of wind-baffle fabric can be attached to the entire espalier before the most severe Winter weather arrives. 


In-ground in Zone 7 and up, 'Survivor' should be easy as long as it gets the conditions that camellias prefer: good moisture, good drainage, rich soil, shade from the hottest sun.  Then it could be planted as a hedge (pruned only in early Spring, so it can still set buds to bloom that Fall) or grown as an unusually tall and impressive individual.  Ah, the triumph of a quartet of 'Survivor' marking the crossing of two wide pathways, or at the corners of a terrace or courtyard.


Even though the interior of the petals is white, the buds can be blushed a bit with pink, so 'Survivor' isn't the flowering bush to grow by anything red or orange.  This is a particular challenge because the plant blooms in the Fall, the time of year when seasonal foliage makes red and orange uniquely prominent or even predominant.  If you can, partner 'Survivor' with evergreens that are small- or needled-leaved, with foliage that's deep green or white-variegated.  Add in evergreen and deciduous plants whose Fall coloring is reliably yellow, which will go with the camellia's prominent yellow stamens.  If your gardens are extensive enough that you've got pink-friendly areas that are still going strong in Fall—my Pink Borders need to peak in August and September and by the first frost look inebriated at best—'Survivor' would be a natural addition.  


For gardeners in Zone 7 and up, where camellias with larger and better-formed flowers are easy, 'Survivor' might not be worth growing for more than its tall and upright habit.  For gardeners in Zone 6, though, the hunger to have any camellia at all growing lustily and blooming heavily in the garden trumps any questions of the finer details of the flowers.  Camellias need specific as well as diligently-administered care to prosper in-ground at the cold end of their hardiness range, but are also not at home in a generically-warm Winter greenhouse, either.


Camellia foliage is shiny but also featureless; even thriving plants can look artificial.  The profuse flowers are often so perfect in form, numerous, and lush that the impression of too-good-to-be-real artifice is only strengthened. 


As with roses, dahlias, and iris, camellias don't look good grown in large groups of diverse cultivars.  There's just too much variety in play, and the planting can look like so much confetti.  And camellias need such specific conditions, and have such an extraordinary range of cultivars, that it can be impossible to resist temptation and grow just one variety, or a group of just that one variety, after you've gone to all the trouble and taken up all the space to provide the overhead shade, rich soil, and good drainage that all of them prefer.  


So many of the camellias that are otherwise desirable have flowers that are lightly or even stridently pink, which can make the Fall-blooming varieties difficult to coordinate with landscapes that at that time of year are replete with red and orange foliage.  Spring-blooming camellias avoid this challenge, but aren't hardy below Zone 7.   


Many, into the hundreds and thousands:  There are nearly 250 species of Camellia alone.  There are over 2,000 cultivars just of Camellia japonica, over 400 of C. reticulata, and over 300 of C. sasanqua


Flowers range from white to pink to rose to red to burgundy.  A few cultivars veer toward brick-red but, so far, none could be called "frank" orange.  Only a few species native to Southern China and North Vietnam have flowers that are truly yellow.  Both single and double forms are plentiful, as well as forms with striped petals.  Flowers can range from a scant two inches across to a Rubenesque five inches, more or less.


Although camellias vary in overall habit, most are broad and upright. Camellias are typically taller than wide (unlike, say, rhododendrons, which are typically wider than tall), and are not usually full to the ground.    


Only Spring-blooming camellias bear the large double and gardenia-like flowers that are what every man-in-the-street thinks of as being what all camellias are like.    




By cuttings.

Native habitat

Camellia 'Survivor' is hybrid of C. sasanqua 'Narumi-gata', native to Japan, and C. oleifera, also native to Japan.

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