Georgia Gardener Newsletter Cool Plant: December 13, 2007

White by the Gate Camellia
Camellia japonica 'White by the Gate'

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Species Native Range: Japan
Hardiness: USDA Zones 7-9
Mature Size: 10-12 feet tall and 7-10 feet wide
Exposure: Light to partial shade
Soil: Loose, organic, reliably moist but well-drained
Ease of Culture: Easy
Classification: White, Formal Double, Mid-season

I love camellias, all camellias. There are no other shrubs that are reliable winter bloomers with such large flowers in a variety of colors. I'm particulary fond of the formal double cultivars. 'White by the Gate' camellia has crisp white, formal double flowers that are from 3-5 inches across. In my garden, blooming usually begins in mid January and continues well into February. Like most events this year, the bloom season has been affected by the weather and I'm already seeing blooms.

The shrub itself is quite tolerant of cold weather (single digit temps) but the flowers will often turn as brown as toast if the buds are opening and temperatures fall into the mid teens. Of course, this doesn't harm the shrub's foliage. If temperatures are forecasted to be that low, I usually go out the day before and remove all flowers and opening buds and bring them indoors to enjoy leaving the tightly closed buds to weather the cold.

Camellias prefer to grow in light to partial shade. They will tolerate morning sun but need to be in the shade by afternoon. The soil should be high in organic matter, slightly acidic and well-drained. They are surprisingly drought tolerant once established when planted in the correct soil with mulch. My mature 'White by the Gates' received no supplemental water this year.

Use camellias as specimens or grouped at the edge of a woodland/shade garden. They make excellent screens for shade. Even when not in bloom, the shiny deep evergreen leaves provide an attractive backdrop for other plants during the growing season. Good companion plants include hydrangeas, azaleas, hostas, ferns, hellebores, etc.

Be sure to visit the camellia gardens at the headquarters of the American Camellia Society in Fort Valley, GA. The peak time to view the blooming japonicas will be from January through March. Also, don't miss the camellia exhibit and competition at the Southeastern Flower Show, January 30 - February 3 in Hall A of the Georgia World Congress Center.

I want to personally thank Stuart Cofer of Cofer's Home and Garden Showplace in Athens for introducing me to 'White by the Gate' some years back. At that time, I was struggling with another white formal double camellia ('Alba Plena') which was not thriving this far north.


Although I have purchased or seen this plant at the following nurseries, I cannot guarantee that it will be available at the time this article is published.

Buck Jones Nursery:Grayson and Woodstock
Cofer's Home and Garden Showplace: Athens
Pike Family Nurseries: Multiple Locations
Camellia Nursery Listing from ACS

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