Riding a wave of winter warmth, camellia time in Sacramento arrived extra early. That’s both good and bad news for local flower lovers.
“We’re excited and anxious in the same breath,” said Carol Schanz, president of the Camellia Society of Sacramento. “The flowers are absolutely gorgeous – and uniquely early. Normally, they don’t bloom anywhere near this early.”
While enjoying nature’s bountiful display, Schanz has cause for concern: Will there be enough camellias left for the 91st Sacramento Camellia Show?
“That’s the issue most growers are dealing with right now,” Schanz said as she prepared for next weekend’s camellia celebration. “So many blooms came out early, we’re worried if there will still be blooms for our show.”
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Sensitive to early heat, japonica camellias – usually late-winter bloomers – opened their flowers about four weeks ahead of normal, thanks to a dry and warm January and record temperatures in February.
“It’s a very, very early blooming year,” she added. “We just hope some last for another week.”
This predicament is just the opposite of last year’s camellia show when Sacramento growers fretted over too much cold. Many camellias had barely opened when March rolled around. But not this time.
“Most of my bushes have already finished blooming,” said West Sacramento’s Julie Vierra, a longtime camellia grower and competitor. “This is going to be a real test. I don’t think we’ve ever had such warm weather in February. I’m hoping the late bloomers will hold off just a little bit longer. Fog helps; so do cloudy days. But at this rate, we may have 3,000 blooms, or we may have a lot less.”
As the nation’s largest and oldest camellia show, the Sacramento event annually fills Memorial Auditorium with color and tradition. About 5,000 patrons are expected to turn out to see the flowers next weekend.
“We love people to come and see the auditorium full of flowers,” Schanz said. “It’s such a beautiful part of Sacramento history.”
Sacramento earned its nickname as the Camellia Capital thanks to its early love of this hardy shrub. Many bushes in midtown Sacramento date back to the 1800s.
Two popular varieties still grown today were introduced to the United States in 1875 in Sacramento: Pink Perfection and Herme. Another oldie, Alba Plena, dates to the late 1700s with several centurion bushes still thriving around town. Professor Sargent, a ruffled red camellia, and Purity, a formal double white camellia with golden stamens, are two other common camellias in Sacramento’s oldest neighborhoods.
Anyone with home-grown camellias can enter their flowers in the show, Schanz noted. Entries will be taken Saturday morning.
“With this mild weather, we’ll draw more people off the street to visit us,” Schanz said. “We’re hoping people bring their blooms in, too. You don’t even need to know the variety’s name.”
Besides its (hopefully) massive displays of flowers, the show continues other traditions. For the fourth consecutive year, Sacramento artist Joanne Tsukamoto designed the show’s commemorative button, celebrating the Camellia Capital. Flower arrangers will demonstrate their skills, using fresh camellias. On March 8, local artists will capture the camellias’ beauty in watercolor.
For folks who want to grow their own, 200 choice plants will be offered for sale. All hard-to-find varieties, these bushes were supplied by rare-camellia specialists Nuccio’s Nurseries of Altadena.
Meanwhile, local growers are trying to slow down Mother Nature and keep their camellias cool. Some will pick flowers a few days early and put them in the refrigerator, hoping to put the brakes on their blooms.
Said Vierra, “I’ve enjoyed the beautiful weather, but I hope we have a lot of foggy days this week.”
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.
91st ANNUAL SACRAMENTO CAMELLIA SHOW
Where: Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, 1515 J St., Sacramento
When: 3-6 p.m. March 7, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. March 8
How to enter flowers: Entries are open 7-10 a.m. Saturday to anyone who grows camellias; you need not be a member of the Camellia Society. First-time entrants should be there by 8 a.m. Flowers should come from your own private garden and picked with about 1 inch of stem. Don’t know the variety of your flowers? That’s OK; experts on site will help. The “Unknown Flowers” category was specifically created for the public to enter mystery blooms. Once identified, each entry will receive a permanent metal name tag for its bush.
Camellias obviously love Sacramento. But how do you keep them looking their best? Here are some tips:
▪ Shade lovers: In Sacramento, camellias like some shade, especially in the afternoon. They prefer eastern or northern exposures or a partially shaded spot under a tree. They also like slightly acidic soil (such as under a pine tree).
▪ Water with care: Camellias need only moderate water. Irrigate deeply once a week in winter; twice a week in summer. To maintain even moisture, mulch – but not too much. Use a 1-inch layer of mulch (bark or wood chips preferred); make sure mulch doesn’t mound around the trunk or it may cause crown rot. Drought stress shows in brown or yellowed leaves.
▪ Watch the roots: Camellias have very shallow roots (most of them are concentrated in the top inch of soil), so be careful when laying down mulch or working around the bush. When transplanting, place the bush slightly higher than the surrounding soil to promote good drainage. Camellias can’t stand “wet feet.”
▪ Container candidates: Camellias do very well planted in pots or containers; crowded roots prompt more blooms. Use a potting mix designed specifically for camellias and azaleas (it will be more acidic, which these shrubs love). Water potted camellias twice a week.
▪ Don’t baby them: Camellias do very well with little care. Fertilize sparingly with plant food designated for acid-loving plants.
▪ Stop the blight: Camellia flowers may turn prematurely brown due to petal blight. This fungus fosters in fallen flowers. Pick up and discard (don’t compost) dropped flowers promptly; this can help keep the blight from spreading. This fungus can overwinter on the ground around a bush. Before bloom season starts, remove old mulch and replace with fresh mulch.
▪ Prune after bloom: Camellias grow very slowly and require little pruning. But bushes can benefit from judicious pruning in March or April after they bloom. Remove dead wood and crossing branches. Allow some space between branches for good air flow; that helps cut down on blight, too.
▪ Resources: The American Camellia Society offers information on camellia care as well as a “Camellia Encyclopedia” featuring more than 800 varieties. Find it at www.americancamellias.org.
▪ Video: To see some of the variety of camellias at home in Sacramento’s Capital Park, go to sacbee.com/home-garden.