Sasanquas provide color during late fall, early winter

By: LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Kyle Huffstickler and Allen Owings
Sasanquas are one of our most popular flowering shrubs for the late fall through early winter. Also known by the scientific name Camellia sasanqua, sasanquas are typically smaller-growing than the plants we normally call camellias. They also have more finely textured foliage. They bloom from mid-October through December or January. Sasanquas are very abundant at retail garden centers these days.

Popular sasanquas include Bonanza, Yuletide, Stephanie Golden, Leslie Ann and Sparkling Burgundy.

A new dwarf variety with red flowers is Hot Flash. The most popular of these type plants is the ShiShi Gashira variety. It is a smaller-growing, “dwarf” type plant. Flowers are double and rosy pink. It is actually another species of camellia, technically Camellia hiemalis. This variety, though, is typically mistakenly lumped by most folks into the sasanqua group. ShiShi Gashira has been named a Louisiana Super Plant.

Success with sasanquas depends on the planting site. Part sun to part shade is best, especially for younger plants. Choose a location that receives four hours to six hours of direct sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon, or find a spot that receives light, dappled shade throughout the day.

When planted in full sun, sasanquas are subject to more stressful conditions. The foliage sometimes has a yellowish look, and flower buds may not open properly. Plants in full sun also may be more susceptible to injury in freezing weather.

Good drainage also is essential. Do not plant sasanquas in areas that are poorly drained or where water settles after a rain. If an area has poor drainage, plant camellias on mounds or in raised beds.

These plants are acid-loving, and an alkaline soil (pH above 7) can limit their ability to obtain some nutrients, especially iron. When you prepare an area for planting, incorporate a soil acidifier to help make the soil more acid if your soil is alkaline. Three readily available materials for this are ground sulfur, iron sulfate (copperas) and aluminum sulfate. Copperas should generally be used because it is faster-acting than sulfur and provides additional iron.

Fertilize in the spring as new growth begins — about March or early April. Use a fertilizer labeled for acid-loving plants or any general-purpose fertilizer according to the manufacturer s label directions.

Sasanquas are part of our Southern gardening heritage. A few well-placed specimens will brighten up your landscape during these late fall and early winter days when few other shrubs are blooming.

Visit LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (La. 30) in Baton Rouge, across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. For more information, go to www.lsuagcenter.com/lahouse or www.lsuagcenter.com/lyn.

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