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Camellia with red flowers
6 MIN 18 Feb
Last update: 08 Mar 2024

Pruning Camellias: When, Why & How

Camellias are incredibly forgiving plants and cope well with pruning any time of the year. However, there are some techniques to consider, if you want to encourage flowering or shape the shrubs to your liking.

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Under the right care, camellias develop gorgeously, producing an abundance of beautiful blooms that will brighten up your garden. Pruning camellias is essential for maintaining their vibrancy. For maximum effect, you need to pick the appropriate time and technique for your plans. 

Table of contents:
Show all
  • Camellias are basically tea
  • Why pruning camellias is worth the effort
  • When to prune a camellia
  • Tools and equipment needed for pruning camellias
  • How to prune a camellia bush step-by-step
  • Camellia FAQ’s
  • Ready to go?

Camellias are basically tea

Did you know that camellias belong to the tea family, Theacea? Maybe that is part of the reason why they are so popular. After all, a nation with a love for tea should adore the whole genus of plants that produce it.

The classical tea plant is Camellia sinensis and its blossoms are typically white. But not many plants of this particular variety grow here in the UK. The prevalent species are Camellia japonica, williamsii and sasanqua. These are easier to care for and produce more flowers. 

Camellia profile

  • Origin: Camellias are native to eastern and southern Asia, including China and Japan.
  • Natural habitat: They thrive in rather humid environments with well-drained soil.
  • Substrate : Well-drained, acidic soil with plenty of organic matter.
  • Water requirements: Regular watering, especially during dry periods, while avoiding waterlogging.
  • Colours: Camellias bloom in various colours including white, pink, red, and sometimes yellow.
  • Flowering time: Depending on the variety, camellias typically bloom from late winter to early spring. Some varieties may also bloom in the fall.
  • Size: Under ideal conditions, camellias can grow more than 25 feet tall.
Pruning camellias leads to pretty flowers

Why pruning camellias is worth the effort

Camellias are easy going, but truly thrive with a regular trim.

By pruning your camellia, you remove old growth, upgrade the looks of your flower and stimulate growth as well as flowering. With an annual trim, you also keep the plant in the desired shape. 

When to prune a camellia

You may prune your camellia whenever you see a branch that doesn’t meet your beauty standards or looks diseased, except during frost. Prune your camellia right after they finished blooming to encourage new flowers to grow.

Moreover, pruning immediately after flowering can help the plant set buds for the next season. The fresh blossoms of some camellia species, including Camellia japonica are edible and used as an ingredient for skincare products.

The Garden Doctor:
Typically the best time to prune camellias in the UK is in March, especially if you are set for a hard pruning. Cutting them at this time allows the camellia to recover and produce new growth before the next flowering season.

Tools and equipment needed for pruning camellias

To effectively prune camellias, you will need a few essential tools and equipment. These include:

  • Pruning shears: Choose a pair of sharp pruning shears with bypass blades to make clean cuts without crushing the branches.
  • Loppers: Especially useful for cutting thicker branches that pruning shears cannot handle.
  • Pruning saw: A pruning saw is necessary for removing larger branches or when shaping a mature camellia tree.
  • Gloves: Protect your hands with a pair of sturdy gardening gloves to avoid cuts and scratches.
  • Disinfectant: Keep a disinfectant spray or solution on hand to clean your tools after each use, preventing the spread of diseases.
Sharpening pruning shears for camellias

How to prune a camellia bush step-by-step

Pick a cloudy day to prune your camellia, too much sunlight may dry up the freshly cut wounds. Are your tools at the ready? Then let’s get started!

  1. Assess the plant

    Start by evaluating the shape and size of the camellia. Identify any dead, diseased, or crossing branches that need to be removed.

  2. Remove branches

    Use your pruning shears or loppers to remove any dead or diseased branches, cutting them back to healthy wood.
    Pruning a bush

  3. Thin out crowded branches

    Identify branches that are crossing or rubbing against each other. Remove the weaker or less desirable branch, leaving the stronger one to grow.

  4. Shape the plant

    Determine the desired shape of your camellia. Make precise cuts just above a bud or lateral branch to encourage outward growth.

  5. Take a look

    Do you like what you see? Create some distance between you and your work/plant, to get a better view. It’s difficult to see the results from up close. 

  6. Tidy up

    Gather the cuttings and dispose of them according to your liking. Diseased branches should end up in the bin and not on the compost.

Tips and techniques for trimming camellia shrubs

  • Regular pruning: Prune your camellias annually to maintain their shape and size. This will also help remove dead or diseased branches and promote new growth.
  • Clean cuts: Make clean cuts just above a bud or lateral branch to encourage healthy growth. Avoid leaving stubs or cutting too close to the bud, as this can damage the plant. The cuts should always be angled to allow rain water to flow downwards.
  • Pinching back: Pinch back the tips of branches to encourage bushier growth. This is especially useful for shaping camellia shrubs.
  • Fertilising: Apply a balanced slow-release fertiliser in the early spring to provide nutrients for healthy growth and vibrant blooms.
Fertilise your camellias
Fertilise your camellias
Universal organic garden fertiliser
  • Ensures abundant flowering
  • Suitable for organic farming
  • Balanced formula that benefits all greenery
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of your camellias to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. This is especially helpful during the cold and hot seasons.
  • Watering: Camellias prefer moist, well-drained soil. Water deeply and regularly, especially during dry periods, to keep the plants hydrated.
Watering camellias after pruning
The Garden Doctor:
Always make sure your tools are clean! Have I mentioned this before? Good, because it is super important.

Pruning camellias for different growth habits

Pruning techniques may vary depending on the growth habit of your camellias. Here are some guidelines for pruning camellias in different shapes and sizes.

Trimming a camellia shrub

For camellia shrubs, regular pruning is essential to maintain their shape. Do you want your shrub to expand and take up more space? Then go easy on the pruning.

Pruning camellia trees

Camellia trees require a different approach to pruning. To create a camellia tree, cut off the branches from the lower end of the camellia shrub. Shape the crown in the following year. Make sure to cut the branches back flush with the trunk to avoid stumps.

Camellia FAQ’s

What month do you prune camellias?

Camellias are typically pruned just after they finish flowering, which is usually in late spring or early summer. You can tell by looking at them. They are ready for a cut, when the blooms wither.

How do I prune an overgrown camellia?

To prune an overgrown camellia, start by removing any dead or diseased branches, then selectively prune back long shoots to shape the plant. Avoid cutting into old wood as much as possible.

Do camellias like pruning?

Camellias tolerate pruning well, but they don’t necessarily “like” it. However, proper pruning can rejuvenate the plant and encourage healthy growth and abundant flowering.

Ready to go?

Their forgiving nature makes camellias easy to prune. If you make a mistake, it will be grown over in no time. So don’t hesitate when you feel like trimming a camellia.

In case some other plants in your garden would like an appointment with your shears, we can offer you some practical guides on pruning your catalpa tree or pruning conifers. Did you prune your camellia already, or do you have questions? Then please leave a comment to share your experience or ask away. 

Happy pruning!

Louis Hooft
Founder & Lawn expert
Introducing Louis Hooft, the founder of MOOWY and your reliable expert. With a profound love for stunning lawns and extensive experience in garden maintenance, Louis is here to assist garden enthusiasts in achieving a greener and livelier outdoors than ever before. Count on Louis for invaluable tips, clever tricks, and top-notch products to make your garden flourish!
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