The camellia (Camellia japonica) is an evergreen shrub grown in the cool, moist acidic soils of the Southeastern U.S. and coastal California. The dark green foliage of the camellia is attractive all year. However, it is the large roselike blooms appearing during the cooler months that is the most outstanding feature. Camellias are slow-growing shrubs that perform best when protected from the hot afternoon sun. They have a long life for a shrub and occasionally need to be pruned to reinvigorate the shrub. The large root system helps an older camellia recover quickly from a severe pruning.
Choose a day to prune an old camellia bush after the camellia has recently bloomed. You can also prune toward the end of the bloom period, which is February in most locations. The camellia begins new growth right after the bloom period, so it is important to prune at the right time. This is because the camellia blooms on newer wood, so waiting until later in the growing season to prune will decrease the number of blooms next season.
Cut the tallest and longest branches first by cutting them back to the point where they join a main stem. This method allows you to prune the camellia into a natural shape rather than shearing it off to one level. Shearing an old camellia will cause new spindly growth to grow from the sheared limbs and destroy the natural shape of the shrub. When cutting the branches back to the main limb, cut them flush against the main limb. Do not leave a stub. A stub dies back and encourages disease and insects to enter the plant through the rotting stub.
Prune more of the longest limbs back to the main branches until the shrub decreases to an acceptable size. The shrub will look thinned out when you are finished, especially if you make a drastic pruning. However, you can remove up to half of the camellia without damaging the shrub. The pruning allows light and air to get into the crown of the shrub and increases vigorous new growth from the main limbs.
Remove any dead branches and dead wood that may have accumulated around the base of the old camellia bush.