How and When to Prune Camellias (Australian Guide)

Camellias are the perfect plant to brighten up an otherwise dull winter garden.

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If you look after your camellia, it will reward you with masses of colourful blooms on those gloomy winter days.

Pruning of established camellias only needs to be done once a year after they’ve finished flowering.

Younger plants can be tip-pruned at other times of the year to create a nice shape. But, don’t cut too much of the top growth until the plant has reached the height that you want. 

There are two specific types of camellias that should be pruned differently.

Camellia sasanquas have small leaves and lend themselves perfectly to hedging. On the other hand, Camellia japonica varieties have large leaves and need more specific pruning.

Here’s a rundown on how and when to prune these two camellia varieties:

How and when to prune Camellia sasanqua

Small-leaved camellias are perfect for hedging but they also make beautiful garden shrubs. When young, these plants can be pruned and shaped to whatever you desire.

To get your camellia off to a good start, it should be tip-pruned while it’s still young as this will help to establish a good framework.

To tip-prune:

  • Pinch off the tips of any new growth. This can be done continuously as the plant puts on a new flush. You can use your finger and thumb or a clean pair of secateurs to do this. Just pinch off the very tips down to a set of leaf buds or leaves. When you do this, you’ll end up with two new growth tips from where the cut was made.

When your camellia is more established and is at the size that you want, it can be pruned with hedge shears all over.

You should conduct this light annual prune immediately after the plant has finished blooming in late winter.

You can also trim any dead branches or ones that are growing outside the shape that you want, in late spring or summer.

But, don’t take off too much growth at this time because you’ll limit the number of flowers that you’ll get in winter.

RELATED: Why are my Camellia leaves yellow or brown?

How and when to prune Camellia japonica

Camellia japonica varieties have large glossy green leaves and these need to be pruned differently once they’re established.

You shouldn’t prune these large-leaf varieties with hedge shears because you’ll be cutting the leaves. All those cut leaves may encourage fungal infections and these can damage your plant.

When young, you can still tip-prune your Camellia japonica in a similar way as Camellia sasanqua to encourage nice, bushy growth and a good shape.

However, large established Camellia japonicas need to be carefully hand-pruned in late winter or early spring when they’ve finished flowering.

Here’s what to do:

  • Prune off any wayward branches. If your camellia plant has outwardly growing branches, you can trim these back to maintain an overall rounded shape. Use a pair of clean and sharp secateurs if the branches are small and cut back to just above a set of leaves. If the branches are thicker, you might need to use a pair of loppers or a pruning saw. Make sure that the cut is clean and avoid damaging any of the remaining bark.
  • Remove any dead branches. If any of the branches have died or don’t have an active growing tip, these can be pruned back to the main trunk.
  • Remove any low-growing branches. Any low-growing branches that are lower than 50 cm above the ground should be cut back to the main trunk. This allows for better airflow and stops the flowers from being spoiled by being so low to the ground.
  • Trim back any crossing branches. For a healthy camellia, you want a nice open shape to encourage good airflow and abundant flowering. Therefore, any crossing branches should be cut back to a pair of leaves or new flower bud growth.

As you continue to prune your camellia plant, stand back often to ensure that you give it a nice shape.

RELATED: Camellia hedge spacing

How to rejuvenate an over-grown camellia

If you have an established camellia plant in your garden that has been neglected for a number of years, you can easily rejuvenate it with a heavy prune.

Don’t be afraid to conduct severe pruning because the plant will reward you with a mass of new growth and thicker foliage.

Here’s what to do:

  • Take the main branches at the top down to a more manageable height. You can do this either with a pruning saw, a pair of loppers, or even a chainsaw if the branches are very thick.
  • Cut all the remaining side branches back to a set of leaves.
  • Remove any dead branches right back to the trunk. Make sure that you cut these inner branches close to the trunk. You can even use a pruning knife to cut back the branch as close to the trunk as possible.

Giving your old camellia a hard prune may limit the number of flowers you get the following winter but you’ll be rewarded with a completely rejuvenated plant with lots of nice healthy new bushier growth.

FAQ

When should I prune my camellia?

Pruning of established camellias should be done once a year, once they’ve finished blooming. When young, you can tip-prune your Camellia to encourage bushy growth and a nice shape.

Can camellias be cut back hard?

Established camellia plants can be rejuvenated with a hard prune. Take care with large-leaf varieties because cut leaves can encourage fungal infections.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture. She has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She also had the responsibility of a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.