How to Rejuvenate a Camellia
The camellia is an attractive landscape plant with glossy leaves and early spring blooms. The camellia can be a large bush or trained to a small tree. It is an evergreen plant that has latent buds which will become growing points.
Plants with latent buds can be severely pruned back to just before these potential growing points, which will reward you with a new flush of growth. Neglected camellias that have not been pruned in years will become leggy and woody. They will not bloom as well, and the limbs will splay out and become weighed down with any flowers they do produce. Rejuvenation pruning will encourage more flowers and a compact, easy-to-care-for shape.
Follow the largest limbs from the terminal ends back into the plant to see where there are growing points. You are looking for vigorous nodes which will produce new growth. Ignore any growing points that have already tried to produce growth but atrophied. Assessing the health of the main limbs will help you determine which wood to remove.
Cut out any dead or broken twigs and branches so you can see what you are doing. Clean out the centre with hand pruners to remove any twigs and smaller growth. The wood that needs to be removed from the centre will be dull brown and woody. Leave the newer wood that is healthy, light brown and smooth skinned.
Remove up to one-third of the old, knotty limbs back to a healthy growing point. Cut the limb off 1/4 inch above the growth node. The plant will produce a new flush of growth right where you cut it. If there are no healthy growing points, cut the limb back to parent wood. You will likely need to use a saw or chainsaw to accomplish this heavy cutting.
Wait one season to see which of the remaining limbs produced new shoots and flowered. Remove the ones that did not in early spring. You can cut these all the way back to parent wood since they failed to produce any growth in the previous season.
Prune off the lowest growth. This will just drag in the dirt and mud and with less exposure to sunlight, will not produce many flowers. Feed the recuperating camellia in very early spring with an acid-lover food. A mature plant will need at least a pound of granular fertiliser worked into the top 3 inches of soil and then watered in completely.