Out of season

Recent mild temperatures have encouraged flowering of several spring flowering camellias along with prolonging blooms of a single azalea that occasionally flowers into early December. The formula of cold nights followed by mild daylight hours that spurs early, spring-like flowering is imprecise, and in the case of camellias December flowers are quickly damaged in twenty degree nights. This will detract from spring flowering, so while out of season flowers are of mild interest, my preference is that flowering be delayed until the proper season. However, my preference in this matter is of no consequence.

Casual gardeners are prone to panic in January when foliage of spring bulbs, usually daffodils, makes an early appearance, and on more rare occasions there will be a few flowers weeks early. This is rarely widespread, and less often a problem for flowers of bulbs that are acclimated to flowering in the cold. Here, spring bulbs are mostly insulated, from mild temperatures or extreme cold, by deep piles of leaves, and so they are out of sight until late in winter.

Camellia ‘Royal Flush’ should flower earlier, at least in late autumn, but too often it flowers in December when blooms are quickly damaged.

Autumn flowering camellias continue to show color in this third week of December, both newly opened blooms and browned, freeze damaged flowers (below), and two shaded camellias that rarely flower until January have buds that show a glimpse of pink. Buds of spring flowering camellias with more sun exposure are swollen, and perhaps susceptible to damage in a period of prolonged cold. Close beside them, but with more shade are camellias with buds considerably smaller, so spring flowering is more assured even if some are damaged.

The ‘Autumn Amethyst’ Encore azalea (below) continues with scattered flowers into mid-December. Blooms are damaged with temperatures in the low twenties (Fahrenheit), but chillier daytime highs are necessary to bring flowering to a halt. ‘Amethyst’ is rarely a heavy bloomer in any season, but is notable for early winter and early spring flowers when it is too cold for other azaleas.

I see that the variegated leaf osmanthus ‘Goshiki’ (Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’, below) is flowering, and while I have not noticed this in the past, the timing is not far out of season. Another osmanthus in more sun, ‘Sasaba’ (Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Sasaba’) flowered in early November, with scattered blooms in early December.

‘Goshiki’ osmanthus

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Linus says:

    Is the variegation of the camellia leaves impacted by cold weather?

    1. Dave says:

      The variegation is brighter in spring and early summer, but it fades in autumn until spring. The color contrast is never as bold as most other variegated plants.

  2. Mommaker says:

    I just discovered your blog which was included in a meadows farm email alerting its customers to shake off snow from evergreens – very helpful advice!! I’ve really been enjoying your garden diary and fabulous pictures – thank you for including a pic of the royal flush camellia, I’ve had my eye out for that one, haven’t seen it in garden center yet – a very cheerful looking sport!

    1. Dave says:

      I’m glad you found my blog. With milder winters, camellias have become an important part of my garden. Unfortunately, huge increases in demand have left many shortages, including camellias, so it’s likely to be another year before inventories recover. Ideally, a sasanqua camellia such as ‘Royal Flush’ would flower earlier in autumn when freezing temperatures do not ruin blooms so soon after they open. I enjoy the winter flowers, but too often they turn brown a day or two after opening.

      1. Mommaker says:

        Thank-you! I’m afraid I’m one of those reasons why inventory is so low, I planted 6 camellias this fall, 3 April remembered, one Early Wonder, and rolled the dice on 2 October Inspirations. I love the brighter green foliage of Royal Flush, nice to see in your pictures. I was considering adding reblooming azaleas in front of some of my camellias to provide additional color during the seasons – do you have any favorites that have winter color? I noticed your Autumn Amethyst has a couple of beautiful crimson leaves…

      2. Dave says:

        I have selected reblooming Encore azaleas for their most consistent autumn flowering. Leaves of red flowering ‘Fire’ and ‘Bonfire’ turn attractively dark in winter, but ‘Amethyst’ darkens and leaves are somewhat glossy, unusual for azaleas. I have noted that ‘Amethyst’ is never a heavy bloomer, in spring or autumn, but this year it had scattered flowers into late December, and buds that would have opened in January with just another mild day or two.

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