Camellia Plant Buds: Why Are Camellia Flowers Not Opening And Buds Falling Off

By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

Camellias are slow growing, evergreen shrubs or small trees found in USDA plant hardiness zones 7 and 9. Camellias range in size from dwarf (2 feet or 60 cm.) to an average of 6 to 12 feet (1.6 to 3.6 m.). Many gardeners value camellias for their winter interest, yet most are known for their large and bright flowers, and are a staple in southern gardens. There are many different types of camellias that provide color from September through May. However, there are times when camellia flower problems occur, such as camellia plant buds falling off.

How to Avoid Camellia Flower Problems

To avoid camellia flower problems, it is best to plant camellias where they will be most happy. Camellia plants like moist soil but do not tolerate “wet feet.” Be sure to plant your camellia somewhere with good drainage.

An acid soil of 6.5 is best for camellias, and nutrient levels must be kept consistent. Camellias grow well in containers as long as the soil drains well. Use camellia potting soil only if you plan to grow your plant in a container. Apply a well-balanced fertilizer following directions closely.

Reasons for Camellia Flowers Not Opening

Camellias naturally drop buds when they produce more than they have the energy to open. However, if you notice buds falling off continually, it may be due to either over watering or under watering.

Bud drop on camellias may also happen due to dramatic changes in temperature. If the temperature drops below freezing before the camellia plant buds have a chance to open, they may fall off. Extreme autumn heat may also cause buds to drop.

If camellia plants have a lack of nutrients or are infested with mites, they become too stressed to open flowers.

To avoid bud drop on camellias it is important to keep the plant as healthy as possible. If bud drop continues, it may be necessary to move the plant to a more suitable location.

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Though their glossy leaves are certainly attractive, camellias (Camellia spp.) fill a somewhat understated role in the summer garden. But these evergreen shrubs beloved in the South truly come into their own when all else is going to sleep for the winter, studding lawns and landscapes with rich red, pink, creamy white and variegated flowers. Unlike perennial flowers, which form and open flower buds in a matter of weeks, camellia shrubs take a good long while to develop their flowers. The dazzling display in the depths of winter is worth the wait.

How to Get Rid of Bugs & Fungus on Camellias

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Camellias (Camellia spp.) are an important feature in an all-season garden. The sasanqua species blooms in fall and the japonica blooms during the winter when few other plants are in bloom. With heavy, broadleaf evergreen foliage and flowers of various colors ranging from white to shades of pink and red, camellias thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 to 10 in well-drained, acidic soil. Camellias can be worth the effort with a prolific, long-lasting flower show, but they do require special attention due to the potential of attack from bugs and fungus.

Observe good cultural practices. Healthy shrubs are less likely to develop insect and disease problems, although proper watering, fertilizing and mulching are not a guarantee against these pests. Fertilize lightly with a balanced blend, such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertilizer, in March and July. Apply 1 tablespoon of fertilizer per foot of plant height, spreading the fertilizer evenly just outside the dripline. Irrigate just enough to moisten soil, but do not over-water. Weekly watering during warm weather with no rain is recommended if soil tends to dry out. Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch around the base of bushes, but do not touch the trunk with mulch.

Identify insect pests on your camellias. Scale insects, aphids, mites and mealybugs are sucking insects that take juices out of the undersides of leaves and young stems. Beetles and weevils chew on foliage and buds, causing a ragged look and distorted buds. Mealybugs are identified by cottony little masses at leaf junctures and along stems. Aphids are soft-bodied, pear-shaped insects that feed in colonies, exuding a sweet substance called honeydew, which often grows a black sooty mold. Scale are the most serious insect pests of camellias. Appearing as little humps, often in colonies on undersides of leaves and stems, scale causes yellowing of leaves and leaf drop. Mites also colonize on the undersides of leaves, causing leaves to have a dusty appearance, often accompanied by webbing.

Control mealybugs or aphids, which usually disappear by the warmest part of summer, with a strong spray of water. When water is not sufficient, insecticidal soap or narrow-range oil can be used to control these pests, as well as scale and mite insects. Apply oil sprays in spring or fall, as application during times of extreme temperatures can cause injury to plants. For especially difficult-to-control infestations of sucking or chewing insects, an insecticidal spray -- such as Malathion or Sevin -- or systemic insecticide -- such as Cygon or Orthene -- can be used. Follow manufacturer's instructions for all insect control products.

Install one or more sumps to improve soil drainage. Fungi can attack roots or flowers of camellia. Poor drainage is generally the cause of root problems, resulting in root rot. When roots are damaged by fungus, the plant can be stunted or killed. Drill with an auger to make holes 1 to 4 inches in diameter just outside the plant dripline. Fill the sump holes with pea gravel or sandy loam. Flower blight results in brown streaks and rotten blossoms. Remove affected flowers and discard in the trash. Do not compost. Apply fresh mulch around bushes. Cool, wet weather during the blooming period creates susceptibility to this disease.

Camellia bud drop likely from lack of water

Gardeners treasure camellias for the bright blooms and shiny leaves they add to shady locations. This one is Camellia japonica 'Mathotiana'. Pam Peirce

Q: I planted a camellia from a 24-inch container last winter. The soil was well prepared and the plant irrigated by a sprinkler in the bed. I also gave it supplemental water from time to time on no particular schedule. Only a few buds opened and the rest turned brown and stayed on the tree. There was not excessive bud drop. I read in the UC Integrated Pest Management Guide that premature bud drop is caused by "inadequate cultural care" from the previous year when the buds were forming. Do you think the buds not opening has the same cause?

A: Camellias have long been popular with enthusiasts who grow them to exhibit the plucked blooms in camellia shows. In order to have many varieties to show, and to develop new varieties, some camellia aficionados have planted extensive camellia gardens.

Camellia shows are still active, but vast plantings are less popular in the Bay Area, largely because drought awareness made gardeners camellia shy. These days, camellias are more likely to be used as landscape accent plants, for the way their bright blooms can light up a shady location.

Your problem does sound like one related to culture, rather than a disease. The most common local disease of camellias, camellia flower blight, can cause open flowers to turn brown and remain on the tree, but also results in many fallen brown petals.

I searched publications of the American Camellia Society for an answer to your question, and found no recent reference to the problem. I did find it mentioned in the April 1958 issue of the American Camellia Quarterly, and with a name: "bud balling." In that year, the eminent Bay Area camellia grower David Feathers was proposing a system for judging the quality of camellia plants for garden worthiness, not just for judging blossoms for shows. In his plan, a variety would get deep deductions for either of both "unpardonable sins," balling or dropping buds.

I wondered whether the Feathers rating system prevailed, and if it led to greater understanding of balling and bud drop. To find out, I called the American Camellia Society, where I was referred to William Khoury, who is the horticultural specialist at Massee Gardens in Fort Valley, Ga. He told me that it seemed that the Feathers rating system had been dropped. (Such is the pity, since if your variety were one that balls easily, a rating system to give a warning would have been handy.)

Khoury said that the problem of balling is "almost nonexistent" in the Southeast, and thought that perhaps their greater rainfall and humidity prevented it. He agreed with Feathers, though, that some varieties can be more susceptible, and also thinks a young plant may ball or drop buds, but later grow out of it.


Aphids have small, pear-shaped bodies with paired cornicles in rear and they may or may not have wings. Aphids cluster and feed on new growth — flowers, stems, and leaves. Sooty mold grows on honeydew excreted by the aphids. Aphids occur in the spring and throughout the growing season. High aphid populations may be treated with insecticidal soaps, oils, or approved insecticides.

More than 30 species of scale are problematic for camellias, with tea scale being the most common. Variegation on the top of the leaf may be seen with severe infestations. The scale lives on the bottom of the leaf and, in severe infestations can look fuzzy in a cluster. In Florida, scales reproduce continually throughout the year, but in cooler climates, hatching often coincided with the warming spring temperatures. Pruning will allow for better coverage of chemical sprays and increases air circulation. Control with 2-3 applications of insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils timed 7-10 days apart, being sure to thoroughly cover the underside of the leaves.

Spider mites are small, eight-legged mites that are most commonly on the undersides of leaves. The upper sides of leaves infected with mites have a stippled or bronzed appearance. Southern red mites thrive in cool, moist conditions, while two-spotted mites prefer hot, dry weather. You can scout for mites by tapping branches over a white surface like a piece of paper, where they are more easily seen. Insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, or approved miticides may be used to control mites when necessary.

Comments (3)


Hello veronica191. I have been thinking if you have one problem or more with your plant. Your symptoms do not match any one item that I have looked at.

For example, bud drop can be caused by environmental factors such as the weather. Like when it rains too much or too little. Insecticides used on the camellia or nearby plants can cause bud drop (check the label it should have a warning saying that it can cause bud drop). And a mite that can infect camellias could cause bud drop. But none of those things explain the striping that you mention.

I have read some information that suggests striping can be caused by either genes or viruses. The only virus that I know which affects camellias is the Camellia Yellow Mottle Virus and the symptoms do not match your description.

So, I assume that another type of virus has affected the camellia and caused the striping. Something simple like pruning an already infected plant and then pruning the camellia would cause this.

Striping though, is common in camellias and, actually, many people even like the look. That is why you see camellias such as Eleanor McCown, Bella Rosa Variegated, Chandleri Elegans Variegated, Daikagura, etc. for sale at many nurseries.

So, what to do. I suggest you contact the American Camellia Society's horticulturist at [email protected] or a local ACS chapter such as the Mobile Camellia Society in Alabama

You might also try your local Extension Service or talk with a master gardener at the nursery where you purchased the camellia (bring a sample in a sealed plastic bag).

Good luck and let us know what they say,

Watch the video: Early flowering forms of camellia williamsii

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