by John Hunt & Ray Garnett
Wholesale nurseries who supply retail outlets, must restrict the catalogue of plants they grow. They are governed by commercial considerations and need to produce reliable, rapidly growing plants that are in high demand. As a result it is often not possible to obtain a particular camellia
and only private propagation will fill the need. Membership of Camellias Victoria will enable you to obtain hard to get and rare camellias and expand your interest in propagation.
Many wonderful camellias have been raised by enthusiastic small growers to be latertaken up by commercial concerns and given widespread distribution.
Propagation whether from seed, cuttings or grafts is made much easier with the modern facilities of bottom heat, misting and extra lighting. However the old time growers had none of these and using simple methods the home gardener can achieve good results perhaps adding equipment later should this aspect of camellia growing prove attractive.
Growing camellias from seed is a labour of love requiring much patience as camellia seedlings can take from four to seven years to flower. Seedlings do not generally come true to the parent and are usually single or semi-double flowers.
Seed pods should be collected late March to April when they are splitting open and the seed is ripe. If possible, label the seed with the name of the seed parent.
Seeds can be sown individually into small pots filled with a commercial seed-raising mixture, or a home made mix of 75% coarse sand and 25% peat moss. Seed should be placed near the top of the pot covered with a light layer of mix .
Cover the pot with an improvised frame and plastic which could be a simple sealed plastic bag, or even a plastic bottle with the bottom cut off. Place the pot in a warm, well lit position outside (but not in direct sunlight) and keep just moist.
Seeds can take 6—8 weeks to germinate. Repot once the new root (radicle) is 40-50 mm long. The tip of the radicle can be nipped off at this time and hormone powder mixed with fungicide applied. This process usually creates a better root system.
Plant in a small pot (7-10 cm) filled with 2 parts river sand and 1 part peat moss or an open seed raising mixture. Make a hole in the centre of the mixture, place the root in so that the seed kernel rests on the surface of the mix. Place in a well lit, protected area inside or outside. Keep the mixture moist but do not overwater. Only pot up when the roots comfortably fill the pot. Never overpot and use only a free draining, open mix.
Occasional waterings of weak water soluble fertilizers such as Aquasol after a few months of growth will help strengthen the seedling.
Reduced amounts of slow release fertilizer can be used after the first year, or before if the plant is vigorous.
Most varieties grow from cuttings, a simple and inexpensive method of propagation that does not require complex equipment. Some reticulata hybrids grow on their own roots but broadly speaking reticulatas are better grafted.
Cuttings should be taken in late December/January when the spring growth has hardened off. Bend the new growth gently, if the wood is too green it will bend, if it appears to be ready to snap it is ready to use.
Sever the cutting approx. 10 cm. long with sharp secateurs, making sure that only healthy, insect and disease-free wood and foliage is selected. If collecting multiple cuttings place them in plastic bags and label with a waterproof marker.
Remove excess leaves from each cutting, leaving two per cutting. Some growers like to cut about a third from each remaining leaf to reduce the amount of moisture transpired, and to allow more cuttings per container.
Using a razor sharp knife, cut the base of your cutting just below a growth bud on a slant using a soft wood cutting board to prevent squashing the cambium layer. Good results have been obtained by making a cut about 1cm long, exposing the cambium layer at the lower end of the cutting by removing the bark, which gives a much greater area to callus and produce roots. Cuttings may be dipped in hormone power if available, eg. “Rootex” or “Clonex”.