Yellow or Brown Leaves on Camellias: What it Means and How to Fix

Camellias are popular garden plants here in Australia and those of us who grow them are delighted with their massive floral display in winter.

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Like most garden plants, camellias can sometimes be prone to certain problems. One of these is that the leaves turn yellow and eventually, brown.

So, what causes this and how do you fix it?

There are certain reasons for your lovely glossy green camellias leaves to turn yellow.

Basically, it’s the plant letting you know that there’s a problem. The most common causes for yellowing camellia leaves are inadequate drainage, incorrect soil pH, an infestation of sap-sucking pests, or a lack of nutrients or moisture.

Let’s look at these problems individually and how to fix them.

Inadequate drainage or overwatering

Excess water in the soil can lead to fungal diseases in camellias

If the soil around your camellia is constantly waterlogged, the roots of the plant aren’t able to breathe and cannot take up nutrients.

The result is yellowing leaves because the plant is suffering from a nutrient deficiency.

This excess of water in the soil can also lead to fungal diseases, especially root rot.

Once your plant is infected with root rot, there’s very little you can do to save it.

How to fix overwatering

  • Check the moisture level of the soil around your plant to see whether it’s too wet.
  • Only water your camellia when the top 2 – 3 cm of the soil is completely dry.
  • Camellias that are fully established in your garden should not need extra watering unless you’re experiencing long periods of dry weather.

How to fix common fungal problems

  • Remove the damaged leaves and throw them in the bin.
  • Clear up any diseased leaves that have dropped to the ground and put them in the bin.
  • Spray your camellia with a copper-based fungicide if the problem is widespread.

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Incorrect soil pH

Camellias appreciate a slightly acid soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5. This allows the plant to take up essential nutrients such as iron and manganese.

If the soil is too alkaline, these nutrients are generally bound and not available to the roots of your plant.

This problem is usually more apparent in the new growth rather than in the older leaves. You’re most likely to see yellowing in the younger leaves rather than those that are mature.

How to check and fix your soil pH

  • Purchase a soil testing kit or some litmus strips from your local garden centre.
  • Test the pH of the soil around your camellias to see whether it is acidic or alkaline.
  • If the pH of the soil is too high, add some matured compost to the soil around the root line of your plant.

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Pest problems

You can use neem oil or white oil on camellias to fix a pest infestation

The most common pests that you’ll find on camellias are sap-sucking insects such as mealybugs and scale.

These annoying pests suck the goodness out of the leaves and turn them yellow.

Here’s how to spot them:

  • Mealybugs: These are small white insects that look a little like cotton wool. You can often spot them on the undersides of the leaves.
  • Scale: These will appear as small brown bumps most often on the stems of the plant. You may also see some black soot on the plant with ants crawling over it. This black soot is mould that is growing on the honeydew that these insects secret.

How to fix a pest infestation on your camellias

  • If there are only a few pests or your camellia is quite small, you can use a cotton bud dipped in isopropyl alcohol to kill them.
  • Otherwise, you can spray your camellia with a mixture of neem oil and water. You can also use white oil or another organic insecticide. These products work by suffocating the insects and killing them.

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Lack of nutrients or water

A lack of nutrients is fairly easy to detect. The leaves will be yellow but the veins will still be green.

Similarly, a lack of water will exhibit in the browning or dying of the leaves. Plus, the leaves will start to curl around the edges.

How to fix a lack of nutrients or water

  • Feed your camellia with a balanced fertiliser that is designed for flowering plants.
  • Check the moisture level of the soil around your plant to see whether it is dry. 
  • If the soil is dry, water your plant deeply and check the moisture level weekly.
  • To help contain moisture in the soil, lay a thick layer of mulch around the plant.

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How do you fix yellow camellia leaves?

The most common causes for yellow camellia leaves are inadequate drainage, incorrect soil pH, sap-sucking pests, or a lack of nutrients or moisture. You’ll need to identify the cause of your yellow leaves before taking steps to fix it.

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.