When And How To Prune A Camellia Shrub or Tree

Camellias do not require pruning, however respond very well to it. If desired, you can prune a camellia to maintain fullness or a desired shape, to form a small specimen tree that makes an ideal focal point in the landscape, or to rejuvenate an old plant that has become spindly. You'll find some basic guidelines for each of these camellia pruning techniques below.

When to Prune A Camellia

For younger plants 1 to 10 years old it is best to do some shaping just after blooms have faded (spring or early winter, depending on the variety). Camellia sasanqua varieties bloom during the fall into early winter, while Camellia japonica varieties bloom in late winter through early spring. Just keep in mind that if you prune in early spring you won't remove the next year’s flower buds!

NOTE: Cease any pruning of camellias after June and you are almost guaranteed not to effect the next season's bloomage.

How to Prune A Camellia

When pruning a Camellia, use a sharp pair of bypass hand pruners to first remove any damaged or dying branches an inch or so beneath the point of damage, or at their origin. Then remove any long, stray branches that formed during the previous growing season. Cut these long branches back to a point just above the the main form of the shrub. 

Avoid using hedge trimmers to prune your Camellia. Shearing will cut their large leaves in half, leaving your plants with an unsightly appearance.

Pruning To Form A Camellia Tree

Whether young or old, a Camellia variety that grows tall enough (6' tall or more) can be "limbed up' to form an attractive small tree, which makes for an outstanding focal point specimen in the landscape. Tree-forming may also help to rejuvenate older camellias. The goal in tree-forming is to form a nice canopy of branches and foliage atop one to several exposed lower trunks.

When to Prune for Tree Form

Regardless of the type Camellia, pruning to tree form should be done in late winter.

How to Prune A Camellia Tree 

Before removing any branches, study your Camellia to decide how many trunks you'll want. If you're lucky, there will be only 1 to 3 trunks, and you can keep 1 or all of these. It's okay to have more than 3 trunks. If you intend to remove a trunk(s) cut them off 1/4" above the ground, or from the base of the trunk. Before removing any main trunks make sure that doing so will not spoil the shape of the canopy. 

After you've selected and removed any unwanted trunks, you can start pruning your Camellia to form the tree. Start by removing lateral branches growing from the trunk(s) that are lowest to the ground, making your cut as close to the trunk as possible without cutting into the trunk. Again, be careful not to remove a branch that would spoil the shape of the canopy. Step back after removing each branch to take a look at the effect. Continue removing lower branches upward to a desired height that is satisfying in appearance.

NOTE: The use of pruning sealer is not necessary though you may use it if you want.

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