Q: I have several really beautiful camellias in my yard and would like to fill in more of my landscape with these. Please tell me how to propagate them.

A: Despite its beauty and popularity here in Mobile, I venture to say that if you asked 20 individuals to name the state flower of Alabama, a sizable number would not know it is the camellia, and at least a few would probably name the azalea, an equally common landscape ornamental in this neck of the woods.

Azaleas burst forth in beautiful masses of color in the spring, but the camellia is more about quality than quantity, putting on a more subdued but equally celebrated display in early winter when little else is flowering. An evergreen flowering shrub, the camellia sports beautiful, shiny leaves as the backdrop for its elegant flowers. And to top it off, there are literally thousands of species and hybrids that produce diverse colors, shapes and sizes.

Although I consider its flowering season to be its most attractive attribute, the camellia’s status as Alabama’s state flower is well earned, not just for its beauty but for its stamina. Its flowers may look as delicate as fine china, but the plant is tough and requires virtually no pampering.

Propagation of camellias can be either sexual or asexual. Sexual propagation is by seed, but as you want to reproduce plants like those you already have in your yard, this is not the way to go. Plants reproduced from seeds are usually unlike either parent plant and vary in flower color and form.

Asexual propagation is done by cutting, cleft grafting or air layering. Cleft grafting is a more complicated propagation method than either cutting or air layering and is best pursued after watching an experienced propagator. I am, therefore, only describing propagation by cuttings or air layering here. Should you want to read about cleft grafting, there is an excellent guide (ANR-0202) available either online at aces.edu or available at the Mobile County Extension Office on Schillinger Road.

Propagating by cuttings
Although cuttings can be taken at any time, propagation by cuttings is most successfully done in July, after new spring growth has hardened.

Supplies to accommodate 6 cuttings:
• Rooting medium (1 part perlite to 1 part sand) to fill a 1-gallon plastic container
• 1-gallon plastic container
• 3-liter plastic soda bottle with bottom cut out

Follow these steps:
• Take six cuttings, each from 3 to 5 inches of terminal, hardened new growth.
• Remove all but two to three leaves and vegetative buds on the tips of the cuttings.
• Remove any flower buds.
• Slice off the lower end of the cuttings at an acute angle.
• Dip the cut stems in a root-stimulating compound.
• Put rooting medium in 1-gallon plastic container.
• Stick cuttings to half their length into six nail holes in the rooting medium and firm medium around the cuttings.
(Place cuttings close enough to each other that the plastic soda bottle can fit over them.)
• Water the cuttings.
• Place soda bottles with the bottoms cut out over the cuttings.
• Place cuttings in shade.
• Check now and again for moisture and high humidity, making sure these are conditions are met.

After two to three months, cuttings should exhibit a root system and can be potted in a soil high in organic matter with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. The pot should drain well, be kept in the shade and be top-dressed with low levels of fertilizer (18-6-8 or liquid 20-20-20).

Propagation by air layering
My favorite means of propagating camellias is by air layering. It is a relatively simple procedure and generally yields good results if the camellia to be air layered is a vigorous grower. To be successful, it must be done in the spring after new growth has begun to harden. April is usually the ideal time.

Supplies:
• Sharp knife
• Rooting compound
• Sphagnum moss
• Clear plastic wrap (some use the plastic bags newspapers come in)
• Aluminum foil
• String

Follow these steps:
• Select a healthy branch 1 to 2 feet from tip to base (stem is usually 3/8 to 5/8 at the base).
• Circle cut the bark near the base of the branch and a second time 2 to 2½ inches above the first cut.
• Remove the bark between the two circle cuts.
• Dust injured area with rooting compound.
• Wrap injured area with moist sphagnum moss in the shape of a small football and tie in place.
• Wrap sphagnum with clear plastic wrap or newspaper bag.
• Cover plastic wrap with aluminum foil and secure above and below the sphagnum to keep air out of the “football.”

In September or October, sever the branch below the ball and pot in a 2-gallon container and protect from extreme temperatures during its first winter. My husband and I have a cart reserved primarily for our cold-sensitive plants that we roll in and out of our garage depending on the weather, and this should work if you don’t have a greenhouse.
Enjoy your state’s flower!

UPCOMING:
(free and open to the public)

When: May 5, 10-11:30 a.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center,
1070 Schillinger Road N. (Mobile)
What: Local food sourcing and
sustainable living by Whole Foods
representative

What: Lunch & Learn
When: Monday, May 16, noon to 1 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center,
1070 Schillinger Road N. (Mobile)
Topic: Water features to set the mood by Neil Henderson of Pond Elegance

Master Gardener Helpline:
Call 1-877-252-4769 or
send your gardening questions to
coastalalabamagardening@gmail.com.

INTERESTING IN BECOMING A MOBILE COUNTY MASTER GARDENER?
Regional Agent Ellen Huckabay’s column in the May 12 Lagniappe will cover the particulars of the Master Gardener Course, which begins on Wednesday, Aug. 10.  
Here’s a preview:
Deadline to apply: June 8
Classes: Aug. 10 through Nov. 16, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
For more information:
Call Diane at 251-574-8445 or email to jda0002@aces.edu.

SAVE THE DATE!
What: Farm to Table Event presented by Alabama Cooperative Extension System
When: Monday, June 6, 6-8 p.m.
Where: Sessions Farm Market
(Grand Bay)
Cost: $60 per person,
reservations required by May 27