In our older neighborhood of more traditional homes and landscaping, nearly every front yard has a few large camellia bushes and an azalea hedge that bloomed early this winter, six to eight weeks ahead of schedule.
Temperatures this last fall were up and down, which seems to have confused the bloom timing on many plants. We also had rainy periods in November and December followed by fairly warm temperatures, ideal conditions for spreading and propogating the fungal spores that cause camellia petal blight.
If not controlled, camellia petal blight can affect all the flowers on a camellia bush. The buds and flower petals show brown streaks at first, then the entire flower dries, turns brown and drops to the ground.
The fungal spores remain viable all year on the soil surface. Control for camellia petal blight entails picking up fallen flowers and petals often and replacing mulch after bloom has finished. Put down a four-inch layer of a sterilized organic mulch, clearing the mulch away from trunks. Overhead sprinklers can spread the fungal spores. Replace overhead sprinklers near camellia bushes with bubblers, soaker hoses or micro sprays.
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Cold temperatures during the holidays may have slowed down the bloom and fall of camellia flowers but constant clean up of affected flowers and petals is needed until bloom has finished.
So far, we’ve had just a few short nights of below freezing temperatures this winter. No long hard freezes with temperatures below 28 degrees that cause severe freeze damage.
Our average last frost date is February 15th, but we sometimes experience a freezing night or two up until the first week of March.
Keep freeze protection materials handy until all danger of frost is past. (As you’ve noticed, our weather patterns are less predictable these days). Old towels, sheets or washable blankets do not transmit cold as does plastic. Remove any coverings during the day and dry them in the clothes dryer for the next use. Leave the old-fashioned holiday lights that give off heat (not LED lights) hanging on the citrus trees. And remember to deep irrigate, especially citrus vulnerable container plants, whenever the evening sky is clear and frost is predicted.
Our spring arrives at the end of January when soil temperatures rise above 55 degrees. New growth should soon be flushing on freeze damaged plants. Wait until you can determine the extent of any damage before pruning or trimming damaged tissue. Use your fingernail or a sharp pen knife to lightly scratch bark surface on branches on semi-tropical frost-tender plants such as bougainvillea and citrus and any others that you suspect may have suffered freeze damage. If the tissue just under the bark surface shows green, the tissue is still alive; if it shows brown, it’s dead.
Cannas and bananas die back to the ground when damaged by cold temperatures. Keep the stumps covered, either with the dead leaves or old towels and peek underneath the cover every few days to check for new green leaf tips. Remove any protective covering during the day after new growth appears.
Send Elinor Teague plant questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (“plants” in the subject line).