Once a year camellias step into the spotlight when frilled, wavy, rose or peony-shaped blooms festoon the otherwise low-key shrub. As a camellia enthusiast, you see the promise in the swelling buds and wait in eager anticipation for them to unfurl, when, one by one, they drop off the plant. "Why are my camellia buds falling off?" you wonder, while gazing in envy at your neighbour's confection-like display. The answers are simpler than you might imagine.
Originating from Asia, camellias are sturdy and unfussy shrubs that have a slow-to-moderate growth habit and year-round glossy-green foliage. The plants thrive in slightly acid soil, which is rich, yet light and fast draining. Camellias have delicate surface roots that you must not smother with soil. Plant them so their base is just above the soil's surface, and shade the surface roots with mulch.
In nature, camellias grow in open forests; in a garden, plant camellias in filtered light, ideally, under the high open canopy of large trees. Absent any mature specimen trees at home, grow camellias in the sheltered east or north side of your home, or under a wooden lathe structure that provides some afternoon shade. Protect the plants from strong winds, as they can dry out your plant or even knock some buds and flowers to the ground. Camellias pair well with other semi-shade dwellers, such as azaleas, hostas and dogwood trees.
Insufficient water is a major cause of bud drop. Camellia flowers are 90 per cent water, writes Jim Nuccio, expert camellia breeder, in the "2010 Nuccio's Nurseries Catalog," and so, during bloom the plant needs more irrigation to support the developing buds and flowers. Water plants deeply and often, even if temperatures outside are cool. Even though your plant needs continuous moisture while it blooms, avoid letting it stand in water. Amending the soil with peat moss and mulch when you plant your camellia helps ensure the excellent drainage it requires to avoid root rot and resulting flower and bud drop.
The term "petal blight" strikes fear in the most intrepid camellia gardener. A highly contagious fungus, petal blight strikes the plant in full bloom, turning flower petals brown and shrivelling buds to brown, mushy ovals. The buds decay and drop off the plant. Prevent the occurrence or the spread of existing petal blight by practicing meticulous hygiene around the plants. Pick up any spent blooms immediately, and dispose of any disfigured buds or blooms by picking them off the plant as they appear. Disinfect your garden shears with a weak bleach solution whenever you prune your camellias if you find evidence of petal blight in your garden.