Home Feature If you do not grow stunning Camelias and gorgeous Azaleas, you are...

If you do not grow stunning Camelias and gorgeous Azaleas, you are missing something

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Beautiful Gardens of Doon- 6

These quintessential plants reward gardeners with massive blooms

By SUNITA VIJAY

I have always been an advocate of low maintenance, high yield gardens. A garden can be low maintenance and still be incredibly beautiful. Due to peer pressure, the attractiveness of certain exotic plants, or a gardener’s greed to have a variety of species in one’s garden, we overstretch our regime and make gardening a strenuous and challenging endeavour. It’s a personal choice, though, what to choose, but for those who want to sprinkle flowers in the yard yet spend less time while providing an expensive and soothing look – opt for plants that require less energy.

Camelias and Azaleas are the best bet to have profound winter bloom. They not only grow well together but also can look good together. Once planted well with care, they will go a long way in providing happiness through beautiful bunches of flowers throughout the winter season. They both like naturally acidic soils, do not need much watering once they are established, have similar annual maintenance schedules, and the flowers enhance the garden’s aesthetic appeal.

How to plant
Choose a location that has morning sun and afternoon shade or filtered light. The hot all-day sun can stress the plants, rendering them more susceptible to pests. They love well-drained soil.

If you have a small yard, look for a dwarf variety. If you own ample space, you may experiment with many types – small and large. Several plants offer re-blooming varieties that bloom multiple times during the year. Choose well before planting. The nursery person may guide you.

1. Set the plants where you plan to plant. Carefully observe how they will look once planted. Planning is important.
2. The planting hole should be twice as wide and deep as the plant’s root ball.
3. Remove the plant from the bag and place it in the planting hole, so the top of the root ball is slightly higher than the soil line. Press the polybag from all sides to loosen the soil a bit before removing the root ball.
4. Fill the hole with organic compost. It will provide sufficient nutrition for six months.
5. Water thoroughly after planting.
6. Spread mulch or leaf mould around the stem. It will keep the soil moist.
7. Make arrangements for adequate drainage. Waterlogging will kill the plants.

Watering
1. Thoroughly soak the soil two to three times per week during the first two months after planting.
2. Decrease the frequency of watering as the roots develop.
3. After three or four months, watering deeply once per week should be sufficient.

Nutrition
A month after planting, begin feeding the plants with ready-made plant food. You may add fertilizers that have micronutrients like iron, manganese, and zinc, which are vital for growing Azaleas and Camelias.
Camelias don’t like to be overfertilized. Both these acid-loving plants require suitable nutrition. May check with the garden store about your requirement.

Pruning and shaping
1. The best time to prune Camelias and Azaleas is Spring. They will have sufficient time to spread during summers. Give shape as per your choice. Prune them heavily if the plan is to keep them short or may let them grow big if the respective spot permits. Make sure that the bottom of the bush is kept slightly wider than the top so that sunlight can reach all the leaves.
2. Heavy pruning can be done after bloom if the plant remains stunted.
3. Thin out the dense branches to expect quality bloom. Shortening lower branches will encourage a more upright growth pattern. Cut back leggy top growth to promote a fuller plant form.
4. Pruning at the wrong time of year will significantly reduce blooming. So, be careful.

Watch for these symptoms
1. These evergreens are susceptible to scale. White waxes that cover the upper and lower side of the leaf indicates the attack. Scales make the underside of the leaf appear cottony. Treating with neem oil and a pressure spray helps. Add neem cake in the soil too.
2. Yellowing of leaves might indicate a lack of iron. Test pH and adjust if it’s over 6.5. Treating with an iron supplement will help.

Camelias and Azaleas are wonder plants. They do well in pots, but in beds, they do wonders. Just take a little care, and they will give you back abundantly through a delightful bloom that goes well with the wintery mood while providing a perfect complement to the annuals.

(Authorised usage of pictures from the internet)