Plant Common Name
Warm days, cool nights -- fall and it’s time to look for the colorful blooms of Camellia sasanqua. These evergreen shrubs don’t get as much attention as their more popular cousin, the large-flowered common Japanese camellia, but they should. Native to Japan, sasanquas, as they are known to garden enthusiasts, have a long history of use for tea, oil and ornament.
Glossy, thin but leathery, elliptical, dark green leaves with toothed margins are held on thin stems. The plants can have a spreading to upright form and vary in height from low-growing shrub to small tree or standard. Sasanquas originally had round, fragrant, single, white blooms with hearts of gold stamens. Today, plants have been selected with colorful, single, semi-double or double flowers in shades of reddish rose, pink, white and bi-colors. The small to medium flowers are produced in the leaf axils (joint between leaf and branch), have waxy petals which often overlap and appear from fall to midwinter. What these blooms lack in size compared to common camellias, they makeup for in numbers. It is not uncommon to see plants covered in blooms with many buds yet to open. Sasanqua blossoms also shed petals as the flower ages, creating a carpet of old petals on the ground. This is in stark contrast to common camellias, which drop the entire old flower to the ground.
Sasanquas are best located in partial shade, but will tolerate full sun once established and are well watered. The soil should be moist, acidic and have ample drainage. These plants are notoriously slow-growing, slow to establish and shallow rooted, a thick layer of organic mulch is a good practice to protect the roots. Regular irrigation when dry (especially in late summer prior to the flowering season) and light applications of fertilizer promote good growth and flowering. Prune after flowering and just before growth starts in the spring, but only lightly, they do not recover well from harsh pruning.
Cold sensitive, but more tolerant than common camellias, use sasanquas in locations where temperatures don’t drop well below freezing for extended periods. Use sasanquas as groundcover, an informal hedge, an accent shrub or tree, in borders, containers and as screening depending on the size and habit of the cultivar.