Friday, February 28, 2014

Living on the edge

A ride through my daughter's Atlanta neighborhood yesterday reminded me of the perils of living on the edge of a hardiness zone.  Many of the camellias that had burst into bloom over last weekend were looking very sad. This well-loved plant is hardy here, but the flowers that open in January and February can turn to mush overnight with a hard freeze.

 Is it worth it, then, to grow these broadleaf evergreens?  Absolutely.

In January 1982, a camellia bush at the little house was killed to the ground by the eight-degree-below- zero reading on the thermometer.  That's when all the loquat trees around Atlanta were put out of business permanently.

But the camellia came back from its roots, and I had to prune it last year by some eight feet to get it down to roof level.

John Newsome of the North Georgia Camellia Society told me long ago that red flowers don't suffer as much bud damage as the light pinks and whites.  I've been watching my new plantings like a hawk.  Over last weekend, several varieties I put in last spring had flowers to open up.  Before the freeze, I picked all the blooms and have been enjoying them inside.

But, I have only small plants.  It would be impossible to pick every flower from large, well-established bushes.  One of the casualties I see most often is my neighbor's C. japonica 'Debutante', a light pink variety.  This is a very floriferous plant, so the long row of bushes will be covered with flowers.  Then, a freeze will come along, and overnight, the lovely blooms turn brown.

In recent years, we've been lucky in Atlanta.  The mild winters had made many of us forget that camellias are living on the edge here.  Still, there are many old shrubs that have survived for decades.  We're not like Savannah or Charleston when it comes to camellias, but we can still enjoy these beautiful  flowers on and off, depending on the weather.

Above:  Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Gem' - a very good white for this area.  I've seen blooms hanging on in late April.

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