Wondering how to prune your camellias? This time of year, with its dead grass and leaf-less trees, offers a beautiful respite in the form of pink, red, and white blooms. Pruning camellias isn’t difficult, but you do want to wait for the right time.
Why Grow Camellia Bushes
Along with green glossy leaves, the fragrant camellia (Camellia japonica) is also known as the ‘winter rose’ because it blooms during the winter months.
This rare blooming trait, combined with its rich evergreen leaves make this a popular shrub. And it’s no wonder! Who wouldn’t want a beautiful reminder that spring is close at hand? And the beautiful blooms are perfect to bring inside for a bit of bright, floral decor in the midst of winter.
Camellias, though fairly low maintenance, do need to be pruned to keep them healthy, but require very little maintenance aside from a yearly pruning. Follow these camellia pruning tips and get the most from this beautiful and popular evergreen shrub.
When to Prune Camellias
Camellias should be pruned immediately after they are finished blooming, which varies based on where you live. For those in the southeast, this could be as early as February, but those in more northern climates could prune as late as May.
While the shrub can technically be pruned any time during the year, you may be removing buds and the shrub won’t have as many blooms if you prune too late after blooming.
So, if you definitely want to enjoy your winter roses the following year, definitely plan to prune right after blooming has finished.
Shaping a Camellia Bush
Use sharp snips and prune off the ends of branches to give the camellia a desired shape. If you are happy with the size of the shrub, only snip off about an inch of the branch ends.
If you want the shrub smaller, prune off 3-4 inches of the branch ends. For more of a “tree” look for your camellia, take off the lower branches, leaving one main trunk. This is a beautiful look if your camellia is part of a flower bed with other low-lying bushes.
There are many camellia cultivars and their mature sizes range from 2 feet to 20 feet, depending on the particular one you have. A slow-growing, 2-foot tall camellia won’t need pruning as often as a cultivar that will reach 20 feet tall. However, to keep any size or variety of camellia healthy it will need an occasional pruning.
Hard Pruning a Camellia
Camellias live for decades, trust me… we have some, and the larger cultivars may need a hard pruning every decade to rejuvenate them. If you have an older camellia that is looking straggly and not producing many blooms, give it a hard pruning by cutting the entire shrub back to 2-3 feet tall.
While it may seem like you’ve killed your precious camellia, fear not. They’re a hardy plant, and ours have come back just as green and glossy as ever. This same hard pruning also works well for old and leggy azaleas. You can see in the image below, a full camellia bush on the left, and a leggy bush on the right that needs a hard pruning.
Wait until spring to do a hard pruning if possible. If not possible, just know your camellia probably won’t bloom again until the second year after a hard pruning.
Why Prune Camellias?
Camellias produce an abundance of small branches that are covered with dense leaves year around. This creates an ideal environment for pests and disease.
Removing some of the inner branches will allow sunlight and air to circulate in the middle of the shrub. This will help prevent pests from creating a home within the shrub’s interior. It also prevents the onset of diseases that thrive in dark, warm environments.
Pruning keeps camellias looking their best, producing the most blooms possible and keeps the evergreen shrub healthy. For all the beauty that camellias give off, I figure I can fit time in for a bit of pruning to help them look their best.
I’d love to know your favorite shade of camellia blooms. And how have your bushes have done with pruning in the past? Let me know in the comments below.
Have a great week and happy gardening!
Wednesday 10th of May 2023
I inherited a "wall" of camellias that bloomed beautifully the first year but I don't know how to keep pruning them to keep blooming. You mentioned 1inch off the stem ends, is that correct & it's the first of may in my area. m
Wednesday 10th of May 2023
How wonderful to have inherited some camellias! To maintain their size, you can simply prune an inch or more off after they have finished blooming for the season. This will give your camellias plenty of time to produce new buds for the next year. You'll simply want to avoid pruning them once buds have already formed on the plants if you're looking for yearly blooms. I hope this helps! On a side note, we've aggressively pruned ours to about 12 inches from the ground before, and though they won't bloom the following year, they will bounce right back if you need a significant reduction in size.
Tuesday 29th of March 2022
While I love my light pink camellia, my favorite is the white - looks almost like a gardenia. It blooms later than the pink ones, and unfortunately, even though we tried to protect it, that dreadful cold snap early this month hurt it terribly.
Tuesday 29th of March 2022
I do love the white as well! Our whites actually tend to bloom earlier, but are much more sparse than our pink and red varieties. Thank you for stopping by!
Sunday 13th of June 2021
Eleven years ago, I moved to a house with three Camellias, two red, and one white. I have lightly pruned them most years, including removing the tips and the inside branches. I have never had any insects problems. I have cultivated a wildlife and pollinator friendly yard (NO herbicides and insecticides) and have many birds. Maybe they are eating the insects on the Camellia bushes before I see them?
Saturday 19th of June 2021
I think by cultivating an environment friendly to pollinators and birds, you've done a lot towards preventing pests. Well done! And your pruning would help with any leaf gall, which tend to appear on camellias. Thank you for sharing!
Tuesday 15th of December 2020
Can winter blooming camellias be grown in pots? If so, how should they be maintained and where should the pots be placed?
Thursday 17th of December 2020
Great question! Yes, they can be grown in pots, but you'll have to fertilize them if you want blooms. The pots should large enough for the growing shrub and placed in a part sun to full sun location. Here's a great article with lots of info: https://www.americancamellias.com/care-culture-resources/general-culture-requirements/container-grown-camellias
Friday 24th of January 2020
We live in the FL Panhandle and after Cat 5 Hurricane Michael most of our large shade trees are “gone”. We are concerned that azaleas & camellias no longer have enough shade cover. The yard is very large - we are too old to re-grow trees. Any suggestions for the azaleas & camellias shrubs yo have a fair chance at survival?
Thanks very much
Saturday 25th of January 2020
Hi Lyn! I'm so sorry to hear about your shade trees. As someone who lives on the east coast, I can completely understand the damage hurricanes cause. We have azaleas and camellias in our yard that are not shaded, and they hold up exceptionally well. Your bushes may struggle a bit at first, but they should be able to acclimate to their new, sunnier, life. Prune them back if the outermost foliage seems to be struggling, but I think they'll end up doing just fine. Keep me posted, and I hope this helps!