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On Gardening: October Magic camellias put you in a gardening frame of mind for fall

Norman Winter, Tribune News Service on

Published in Gardening News

October Magic camellias have captured The Garden Guy's heart in recent years with blooms that are nothing short of exquisite and of a size and vigor of plant that seems perfect for the landscape. I have had camellia sasanquas that reached the second story and took a pretty tall ladder to do a little trimming.

When you think about October, it is usually a time that you catch your breath a little, you realize you survived an oppressive end to summer and all of a sudden you feel like doing a little gardening. It's hard to even believe that there are shrubs that start their blooms in October. By all means, you've got to have them.

October Magic is a series within the Southern Living Plant Collection that features eleven varieties. There are a variety of colors and textures with blooms that will leave you mesmerized. You'll find blooms that are ruffled like October Magic Carpet as well as those like October Magic Dawn and October Magic Inspiration that look like they were handpainted by an artist brush.

You will most likely find the color of camellia you are looking for in this group. They all excel in providing the welcoming blooms as well as the bones or evergreen structure needed in the home landscape. You'll relish the fact that each of these October Magic camellias has a wide range of cold-hardiness, recommended for zones 7-9. They are ideally suited for the high shade or filtered light garden, though sasanquas can tolerate more sun than most imagine.

Fall is a great time to plant and inventories of camellias are normally at their highest now. Roots increase dramatically during the cool season allowing the plant to get acclimated and take off once growth resumes in the spring.

Camellias require organic-rich, well-drained acidic soil. In the landscape, put them in a bed versus surrounded by turf. Prepare the area by incorporating 3- to 4-inches of organic matter, tilling deeply. Remember you want to avoid wet feet as much as possible. Dig the planting hole three times as wide as the root ball but no deeper.

The wide holes allow for the quickest root-expansion and thus acclimation to your home's landscape. Place the camellia in the hole planting 1- to 2-inches above the soil surface. Backfill with soil, tamp and water to settle. If needed, add more soil and finish the project by applying a good layer of mulch.

Camellias typically don't require a lot of pruning. Shape your camellias in the early spring as needed, just before the flush of growth. Dead or weak wood can be removed anytime. Feed your camellias with an azalea camellia fertilizer in the spring coinciding with the return of growth. Follow label recommendations and always err on the side of caution that two light applications are better than one big one.


October Magic Ruby is one of my all-time favorites. I feel the bulk of the garden world simply doesn't know about this small compact grower that has about the same habit as Shishi Gashira. It loads up with an uncountable number of buds that open up all fall. The flowers are fully double and perfect to get you into the holiday spirit.

At, The Garden Guy's house, I have them partnered in one area with Yewtopia Plum Yew. There is just something to love about this combination of conifers like needles and ruby red flowers. In another area I have them partnered with Paul's Gold Chamaecyparis. This bright gold needled conifer adjacent to ruby red flowers is nothing short of dazzling. It's kind of like a piece of fine jewelry albeit a plant growing in the landscape.

I also love October Magic Orchid. Wow, you are talking camellia blossoms resembling rare china. These blooms are semi-double, white to blush with orchid pink highlights. These plants reach about 5-feet tall and 3- to 4-feet wide. I combined these with Autumn Ivory Encore Azalea and Purple Daydream loropetalum.

Now is a great time to shop for, and plant, October Magic camellias.

(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)

(c)2019 Norman Winter

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