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TLDR: what is wrong with this recently bought potted camellia? Is it one-time frost damage, a reaction to being relocated, or something permanent I should address?

Kamelie ganz Damaged flower Yellowing leaves

At the end of March, I purchased a camellia with the intent of raising it in a pot on the patio. I ordered a 6 year old Nuccio's cameo plant from a specialized camellia-only nursery, and it arrived in great condition, full of flower buds. The nursery owner warned me not to repot it until the flowering season is over.

I placed the plant in the location where it will be permanently planted later. It has a wall to the north and to the west, and is exposed to sun and wind from the south and east. (I read that east is not optimal, but these are the conditions I have). I live in one of the warmest cities in Germany, USDA zone 8, and there are many thriving outdoor camellias here, some grown to tree size without protection around them.

I had tried to time the purchase after the last frost of the year, but we got surprised by arctic air masses lasting around 3 days. I added straw and fleece between the small nursery pot and the wall of the future pot, and when there was snow or sleet, covered the plant with a makeshift protection. Despite this, I measured -1.8 C surface temperature in the pot on the coldest morning. Else the daily maximal temperatures have been in the 10 to 15 C range. Current UV index is 5 to 6.

I am watering about twice per week until water flows freely out of the draining holes, a regime which seems to be well tolerated by other plants, including two roses which got planted in pots at the same time and location as the camellia, and are growing strong. I have not added fertilizer yet, assuming the soil in the original pot is still optimally fertilized.

Despite this, the camellia does not look healthy. The buds have gotten brown edges. The flowers survive a couple of days and wither and fall off before they have opened fully. Some of the leaves are yellowing.

Can somebody recognize the symptoms and suggest a way of getting the camellia back to health?

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One definite problem is the aspect - east facing, together with exposure to winds which are likely cold from December through to spring are conditions almost guaranteed to cause bud drop, leaf burn and reduced flowering. The reason east facing is such a bad position is because any frost that may form on the buds overnight does not have time to dissipate before the sun hits them, and that causes bud drop as well as damage to existing flowers. This will be a permanent problem, even when the plant is larger. Exposure to cold winds will also cause leaf burn - Camellias do best in sheltered, partial shade in almost any position other than east facing, see here https://www.rhsplants.co.uk/plants/_/camellia-japonica-nuccios-cameo/classid.2000037843/

I would suggest you examine the backs of leaves and stems closely to make sure there are no invaders such as Camellia scale present, but otherwise, you really do need to find another position for it - since flowering is almost over, you could now pot on into something larger, using ericaceous or acidic potting soil, watering in well. Your watering method is fine, it's exactly as it should be. Take care to keep it well watered during summer - this is when the flower buds will be gradually forming for the next flowering period, and a shortage of water at that time will mean reduced bud formation.

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  • Hi, thank you for your answer. I am still slightly skeptical (or maybe don't want it to be true :) and must say: I have seen several camellias planted in a 500 m radius of my home, not protected from the east side - actually they are also less protected from the other sides too - and they all have plentiful blossoms. What are these growers doing differently? Also, I hope there was no frost on the leaves and buds this season, the plant was covered up on frosty nights, but the situation seems to worsen as the flowering progresses even though the weather is getting warmer.
    – rumtscho
    Apr 28 at 13:19
  • When you see a camellia that appears exposed to the east, unless you see it in January at sunrise, it may be it is not exposed to direct sun for the first hour or so because of shade elsehwere - maybe a tall building or a tree a distance away. East facing is okay so long as the sun does not get on the plant during the first couple of hours after sunrise, enough time for any frost to dissipate.It also occurs to me that perhaps the grower had your Camellia under shelter up till despatch,which would have meant the need to harden it off before placing outdoors 24/7 in an exposed position.
    – Bamboo
    Apr 28 at 13:34
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Being in a pot lets roots get colder than in the ground. Here, Zone 8 , E TX, global warming took our temperatures to -16 C, record. Different camellias were hurt to different degrees. I have about a dozen ; It seems the newer varieties are not as cold hardy as the old ones. I believe a couple of my new variety plants were killed in the ground. But another even opened a small bloom a few weeks after the freeze. Governor Mouton ( a very old variety ) lost open blooms but otherwise was not affected by cold. The point is, there is not a single answer for all varieties. Typically freezing kills open flowers. A degree below that ,buds showing color are killed . A couple degrees below that ,tightly closed buds are killed , etc. It appears it was cold enough to kill your open flowers and buds with color but the plant looks good. It will do better when in the ground. I have good conditions , bright shade so I do not consider compass orientation.

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