Camellias need regular pruning so they don't overtake other plants and structures nearby. However, they are also perennials, and pruning at the wrong time may mean killing off next year's flowers. The best time to do any kind of pruning depends on your local growing season. In the most southern areas, you can prune camellias in February or March, while in the midwestern or mideastern regions you may wait until April or May.
Selective or Shaping Pruning
A minor annual pruning in the early spring should set up your camellias for good health in the coming year. Minor pruning is best done right after your camellias bloom, as is major pruning. But if your camellias are overproducing buds throughout the year, or if you are training them in a new shape or direction, it is acceptable to do selective pruning all year round. Removing buds after June generally means removing next year's flowers, so keep summer and fall pruning moderate.
"Major" can mean as much as a third or half of the camellia, and doesn't need to be done annually, but only as often as the camellias--or you--require it. Do it after the camellia has bloomed, but before new buds have started to form. For best timing, do it right after blooming. In most areas this is in early spring, before summer growth begins. By late June or July, new growth is coming on and you will cut off next year's flowers by pruning then. The American Camellia Society recommends that if your pruning will be severe, it can be done early, toward the end of February, even if the camellia has not finished blooming. This gives the plant time to recover and produce growth through the spring and summer.
Reasons to Prune
Pruning serves several purposes: to reshape the plant if major landscaping changes are made, to cut back infested or dead parts of the camellia to help it remain healthy or to help the plant grow in a different direction.
Dead or dying branches or twigs should be taken off to avoid disease and allow the plant to put its resources into living parts. Interior pruning, or cutting small branches and twigs on interior limbs, allows better air circulation and, if needed, better pesticide spray coverage. Note that sharp instruments are best for pruning, to make clean, more easily healed cuts.