Taming overgrown camellia is a gradual process
Published: Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 6:55 p.m.
Q: We have a 60-year-old Professor Sargent camellia. It has grown so tall that we can no longer reach the blooms. The lower part is branches without leaves. Would pruning bring new growth low enough to pick and enjoy the blossoms? We would appreciate your sugges tions on how to prune our camellia.
A: Camellias are a beautiful blooming shrub that should be welcomed in anyone’s landscape that has some filtered shade and well-drained soil. They are an evergreen and require little maintenance once established. One of my favorite features about camellias is that they grow slowly and have a great natural shape, so they do not need to be pruned on a regular basis. Usually, you would only prune once every couple of years to help maintain a good form and to prevent them from becoming rangy. As with most shrubs, you can remove the dead or dying wood at any time, but I prune camellias soon after they finish blooming. If you prune them after the fall months, you will prune off the spring blooms.
Your 60-year-old Professor Sargent camellia must be quite a specimen. The variety is more formally known as a heritage camellia, and it is a real Southern favorite. Its peony-type flowers are very dense and have a deep red color. Since the plant is becoming too tall, you can prune to reduce the height and to create a plant that has its foliage more evenly distributed. This problem didn’t happen overnight, and I suggest you don’t try to correct it in one day. It will be a process. Over the next few seasons, reduce the height of the branches by one-third. Prune about one-half to one-third of the branches over the next two to three years. By allowing more light to reach the lower portion of the plant, more leaves will grow on the bare lower stems. You will get the bush to where it needs to be so you can pick the lovely blooms. For more information on camellias, go to the UF/IFAS website and search “camellias.”
Q: I have a great crop of Florida betony, also called rattle snake weed, in my flower garden areas. For the most part, it is the only thing that is green and seems to be growing strong. Is it possible to spray it with an herbicide this time of year with the result of killing the betony but not the dormant plants surrounding it? Any advice you might have regarding getting rid of this most hated weed would be most appreciated.
A: Florida betony is a trouble some weed that gardeners battle here in North Central Florida. It is called rattlesnake weed because it has white segmented tubers that resemble the rattle of our local rattle snakes. This native plant grows wild in our natural areas, but it has been spread by the nursery trade to our landscapes. One gardener who I know has consid ered selling her house to get away from this pesky weed. Rattle snake weed does well during the winter, and it sometimes can be the only thing green and growing in your flower garden areas. If this is the case, you can spray with a non-selective herbicide like Roundup. Do this only if the surrounding dormant plants are woody in nature. Carefully apply the spray just to the betony and make sure you do not get it on any other plants. Do not spray on a windy day. Because the tubers give the plant renewed strength, more than one spray may be required. Once you have some control over the betony, put down a weed barrier and apply 3 to 4 inches of mulch like shredded leaves, pine bark or pine straw. This should keep the weed at bay for a season or two.
Wendy Wilber is an extension agent with UF/IFAS. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.