What factors determine when a camellia blooms?

What factors determine when a camellia blooms?
I have two camellias in my yard. One consistently blooms about 2-4weeks after the other but when they bloom varies wildly from year to year. My neighbor has one that always blooms 2-4 weeks before either of mine. They have started blooming as early as late November. They have almost always started blooming before Christmas. But this year they have not started blooming yet and it is almost February. All three are similar in size and all are on the north side of our houses and close to the wall.
As far as I can tell conditions are very consistent. It has not been very cold this year. Rainfall has been good. There seem to be a large number of healthy buds so I assume it isn't a nutrition issue.
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Bloom time is dependent on a combination of factors - where you are located, the type of camellias in question and summer growing conditions and winter cold. If you can provide more information, we can be more specific in our responses.
pam - gardengal
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I am interested in understanding the variation more than predicting the time blooms begin. I live in Vallejo CA at the North end of San Francisco Bay. But since the location remains constant it is probably not related to the large variations in bloom time from year to year. We seldom have severe frost and the camellias which are somewhat sheltered have never shown any sign of frost damage. Summers and winters are moderate but both are a bit warmer in recent years. The last several years we have had a few (5-10) unusually (104+) hot days each summer. The Camellias have shown scorched leaves at these times despite heavy watering. I try to keep the soil damp and maintain thick mulch of pine needles. But this too is fairly consistent from year to year. I fertilize with whatever Camellia/Azalea Fertilizer is on sale. I am not real consistent about feeding as often as recommended. But it is probably about the same each year. As I said, the blooms are plentiful and healthy so I suspect nutrition is good. Soil is heavy clay, adobe. The most significant change that I can think of in the last few years has been to plant some Hydrangeas under the Camellias.
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The autumn & winter-blooming camellia cultivars are hybridizations C. sasanqua, C. olifera, & C. hiemalis, & each cultivar has its own general behavior. You'll just have to keep a garden diary of when they DO bloom & for how long, then each plant becomes fairly predictable in behavior when you're familiar with its past behavior. Some start blooming no later than October, others wait until January; some bloom from autumn to the start of spring, others only for three or four weeks. They tend to be predictable year to year & plant to plant, but generalities cannot be made of all cultivars collectively. The most strongly cold-hardy varieties bloom earliest & often bloom longest, because they are showing the most bloom pattern of C. olifera. The least cold-hardy don't thrive outside of zones 7 & 8 so are very predictable for bloom months everywhere they can be grown, & info on them frequently gives the exact month when each of these zone-restrictive shrubs start blooming. But the ones that can tolerate colder or warmer zones are harder to predict until tested in each zone, & the reviews won't as often speculate a specific month for everyone, or will still just give the month expected in zone 7/8 which won't match everyone's experience. Increasing or decreasing sun exposure I don't believe will effect them much, but when temperatures drop in autumn will change by a week or two forward or back when they begin to bloom, & amount of sun dictates how long each flower lasts (those in shade last longest; those blooming under eaves where they don't get battered by rainfall last longest of all).
Overwatering during hot days is not the answer to leaf scorch, & risks damaging the roots which tolerate droughtiness better than overwatering. They are semi-shade plants; leaf-scorch usually means they're simply getting too much sun. If a sun-loving shrub can be planted in the way of where the sun reaches a camellea during on the hottest month, that can be enough to change the daily sun to shade ratio in its favor & protect the leaf appearance. I have two in bright shade that bloom extremely well with almost no direct sunlight at all, & one in rather a greater amount of direct sun morning only which also blooms well & never gets scorched. There doesn't seem to be a preference for bloom power, but for safety from overheating & leaf scorch is going to make increased shade preferable.
I'm only a moderate fan of spring-blooming C. japonica, but these other species that bloom for winter, these are great marvels for insuring floweriness when other peoples' gardens are completely fallow.
-paghat the ratgirl
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Overwatering during hot days is not the answer to leaf scorch, & risks

The solution in the deep south for generations has been to plant camellias under the high shade of pine trees. This would be a good solution in California as well.
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paghat wrote:

Pag,
On the east coast, C. japonica's "spring" blooming season can start in early January, after most of the fall-blooming Camellia species are done for the year. In the right location, they can be tremendously effective and provide flowers when nothing else is blooming.
Like you, I prefer the C. sasanqua species and hybrids, but then again, I don't have the right location for C. japonica. Friends who live in the woods nearby have planted dozens of varieties of the latter, and they are wonderful to behold, all winter long.
In my windy, sunny location, I just seek late-blooming C. sasanqua varieties, which bloom through mid-January. By then, some of the Viburnum species and Lonicera fragrantissima take over.
Mike Prager Beaufort, NC (on the coast in zone 8a) (Remove spam traps from email address to reply.)
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wrote:

Didn't want to quote your add-on and Paghat's msg, but "what she said." I would just have said there are a bunch of different varieties that bloom at different times. Here (SE Virginia) I see both spring- and fall-blooming types. I'm particularly fond of my bush/tree because it produced the first blooms (after crocus) I saw my first spring here -- whoof! what a surprise to find something so lush blooming in February! I'm sure with different cultivars, one could have camellia blooms nearly year 'round.
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