When Should you Prune Camellias?

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As a general rule of thumb, camellias, like most flowering shrubs, should be pruned immediately after they are finished blooming. This allows the shrub time to form new growth and flower buds before the next cycle of bloom. For camellia japonica (late winter/spring blooming), this usually means mid- to late spring, and late fall through late spring for fall blooming sasanqua camellias. However, if you are more concerned with shaping your camellia and don’t mind losing some flowers, it won’t harm them to be pruned any time of year. If you enjoy using camellias as cut flowers, you can even prune as you harvest the blooms. And of course, any diseased or dead growth should be removed as soon as you notice it.

Both types of camellia can develop long shoots in summer that can usually be pruned with little loss of flowers, since this type of rapidly growing, thin branch typically doesn't form buds. This video shows what these summer shoots look like. 

Camellias can be pruned using any of the basic pruning cuts. Thinning cuts remove entire sections of branch back to a larger branch, allowing light and air circulation to surrounding branches. Heading cuts remove a portion of the stem at some point between the beginning of the branch and the tip and are used to encourage multiple branches to develop near the cut, making the plant bushier. Pinching, which removes just the new growth at the tip, is usually reserved for very young camellia plants to help shape them.

Terribly overgrown camellias can be renovated in a few years in two steps. The first year, remove lower limbs leaving the top third of the shrub intact. Over the growing season the trunk will sprout new growth. The following year, reduce the crown to the desired height. Fertilize well with an acid-plant fertilizer like HollyTone after pruning to encourage healthy growth.