Longtime followers of this blog - who are also gardeners - may recall that each March for the past four years I've posted a photo of a camellia in bloom on the east side of our house. The photo above was taken March 31, 2011.
This year after the extremely harsh winter the camellia has taken it on the chin, above. "Zone pushers," a term Ellen Barredo of Bowood Farms uses to describe plant species that were traditionally considered by horticulturalists and plantsmen to be suitable only in Southern climes, were available in nurseries in our region in recent years because of a pattern of warmer winters. Hybridizers and growers pushed sales of camellias, crape myrtle, Nandina (Heavenly Bamboo, below), and other shrubs that would have normally been appropriate only as far north as Hardiness Zone 7a into Zone 6b (our zone). Here is the U. S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zone map.
Upon seeing the damage this year, my first instinct was to cut the camellia back to the ground, but I was advised by expert gardener William Wells not to do anything until mid-April. "It's best to play the waiting game and see what happens," he said. In the meantime, search for signs of life by scratching the bark to see if it's green underneath and look for lateral buds, see below.
Happily I discovered additional signs of life at the base of the shrub.
Other zone pushers include Nandina, above, and dwarf varieties of azalea such as Encore. I am going to pick the dead leaves off the camellia and hope it comes back as strong as ever. You probably won't find many, if any, zone pushers in the local nurseries this Spring...the growers aren't shipping them. Lesson learned. Mother Nature pushes back.