organic gardening

Camellias Light up Murer House and includes tips for home gardener

Published March 15, 2018 Mountain Democrat, Placerville, Ca.
Betty Albert Special to the Democrat

A crowd of camellia lovers gathered Saturday, February 24, 2018 at Historic Murer House and Gardens for the 4th Annual Camellia Show. Joe Murer planted camellias from local nurseries in 1926 in the Murer House gardens, where seven of those nearly century-old trees remain today. Many visitors brought blooms to be judged at this year’s show. All stayed to hear two presentations by Greg Gayton, California Certified Nursery Professional with Green Acres Nursery & Supply, who shared tips on selection, growing and maintenance of these historic plants.

Ancient Chinese literature records ornamental camellias in Japan, China and Southeast Asia, and brought to Sacramento in 1852, according to the Camellia Society of Sacramento. The flood of 1861 and 1862 destroyed much of the camellia population and interest waned until 1910, when a movement was started to make Sacramento the “Camellia Capitol.” Sacramento adopted the camellia as the city’s official flower in 1941.

The Camellia Society of Sacramento, founded in 1943, is a non-profit organization that meets October through April to study camellia culture, care and growth. Probably due to the camellia, Sacramento’s sister city is Matsuyama, Japan. Today, species and their cultivars grow worldwide as hybrids, sasanqua, hiemales and japonica to heights of 20’ tall and 10-12’ wide. They can live for hundreds of years. In the world of camellia taxonomy, their one universal trait of beauty prepares them for a world of comparison and competition equal to nothing less than the likes of a Miss Universe pagent.


Bill Kitagawa of Sacramento’s “Toichi Domato” bloom took third place as well as peoples’ choice in the Murer House show. Second place went to Folsom’s Jim Raines’ “Haru NoUtena.” Sonyia Noonan of Folsom took first place with her “Mathotiana Supreme” bloom. Best of show was again Jim Raines with his “Swadas Dream,Raines_0059 3

a 20-year old plant according to Raines. Last year at Murer House, Raines won first place with his “Colonel Fiery”.


Judge for the show was Greg Gayton, who joined Green Acres (then Matsuda’s) at 19 years of age. “I’m 60 now,” he said, “and I’ve never lost the passion I have for teaching others, especially about giving camellias more generational recognition. Our millennials need to learn and appreciate their historical significance and beauty.” When asked what he looked for in a competitive specimen, Gayton talked about the bloom’s form, color, overall beauty and perfection. He congratulated those who brought blooms because he said that these varieties cannot be found now, they come from very old cultivars.

“People think camellias are fussy and hard to grow,” Gayton related, “but the opposite is true. They can survive neglect very well, and are drought tolerant. Japonicas need a little shade, and all camellias like cooler roots. Keep all fallen debris picked up, provide plenty of mulch, and be sure to plant them on the high side.”GregGayton_0040

Working closely with horticultural specialists in California, Gayton spoke of current propagation techniques Green Acres has contributed that will bring new and hardier camellias into our climate zones.

He cautioned the audience to keep their plants away from walnut trees and redwoods.

“Most important to camellias,” he said “is the soil. It should be a specific mix like the one we make such as 80% finely ground aged bark (1/4”fir, pine, cedar) 10% Builders sand and 10% peat moss. A lot of peat and/or bagged commercial mixtures with synthetic ingredients are not recommended. Look for the CDFA organic label on fertilizer, mulch or soil from local producers for our climate like GNB or E. B. Stone.”2018Camellia_0007

In addition to excellent drainage, mulch is important. Gayton said to add mulch around the plant, but keep it well away (12”) from the trunk of the plant.

Sulfur can help keep the pH around 5 if a soil test indicates more acidity is needed and especially if your buds do not open,” he said, “and the potassium and nitrogen in liquid fish emulsion helps the plant’s vigor, immunity, and tolerance of our heavy soils. Too much nitrogen can burn leaves. Feed with acid-loving fertilizer or the fish emulsion after the bloom in spring and again in mid-summer if growth seems sparse. “

Another caution was overwatering in continued hot spells. “Dig down into the earth with care not to damage surface roots, and you’ll probably be surprised. If the soil is full of nutrients like it should be, it will hold moisture just fine,” Gayton advised. “Regular watering doesn’t mean every day.”

Botrytis or Ciborinia Petal Blight (brown petals) affects all cultivars of camellia japonica. C. sasanqua is less infected in California according to the UC integrated pest management program. Look to the condition of soil, watering and nutrients for resolution.

More information on:

The 94th Annual Camellia Show in Sacramento at the Memorial Auditorium, 1515 J Streets, will be held Saturday and Sunday, March 3 and 4, 2018. More details at:

The “Dig into Spring” Seminars March 10 and 11, 2018, at Green Acres, 205 Serpa Way, Folsom, CA. give participants weekend ideas on many gardening topics. Call 916.358.9099 M-Sat. 7a-6p Sun: 8a-6p More details at:



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