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Cold-hardy Camellias

Some camellias are proving to be winter-hardy and can be grown throughout Kentucky. Camellia japonica varieties have the largest flowers—often double—and bloom from winter to spring. Camellia sasanqua varieties are more cold-hardy than japonica, but have smaller, mostly single flowers and bloom from fall to early winter. Many plants are hybrids of these two most popular camellias.

CAMELLIAS LIKE TO GROW IN LIGHT SHADE and need protection from the afternoon sun during the growing season. They are evergreen, but in our area they benefit from protection from winter sun and winter winds to reduce cold damage.

Grown much like azaleas, they prefer rich, well-drained, and slightly acidic soil. Regular watering throughout their first season is critical to establishing camellias. They should always be planted in the spring in their northern range, which includes Kentucky, but can be planted in the fall throughout the South.

CAMELLIAS ARE LOW-MAINTENANCE and require very little care in the way of pruning or fertilization once they are established. They often bloom for months throughout the winter. The flower color palette for camellias that will grow in our area is limited to white, pink, and dark pink, with only slight variations.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT HYBRID FOR YOUR GARDEN, with an eye toward hardiness. Some of the most robust are the April series, such as April Remembered and Spring’s Promise. The U.S. National Arboretum recommends Winter’s Charm, Snow Flurry, and Polar Ice. Two other hardy camellias are Professor Sargent and High Fragrance. These are only a few of the hardy camellia choices, so consider adding some classic Southern beauty to your garden this spring.

by Angie McManus

Q: Can you help me with my banana trees? They are not hardy plants, so I have dug them out and cut them back to about 6 feet tall. I have no basement or heated garage; I have put them under my mother’s house, which is underpinned with blocks.

A: Banana plants are considered tropical for us here in Kentucky. However, they can be dug and saved from year to year. Storing them under the house will certainly give them protection, but it will all depend on how cold it gets in terms of survival. Trying a few different methods may be to your advantage. You can separate the smaller plants (pups) from the main plant to help when storage space is limited.

Keep a few under the house and give them some added protection by wrapping the root ball in a black plastic bag or covering them with mulch. Do the same with another group and keep them in the unheated garage. The foliage is not the concern, since it is the roots we are trying to keep alive. Ideally, they should be overwintered in a dark space where the temperature range is around 40 degrees.

Next spring after the frost-free date has passed, take them out of storage and cut back the foliage. New growth should emerge, and keeping them well-watered and fertilized will help keep them happy.

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