Groundwork column for Nov. 4, 2012

Photo provided by BOB SOUVESTRE -- Camellia sasanquas brighten autumn and early winter landscapes with petals of pink, red and white all having prominent yellow stamens. Sasanquas offer an alternative to ligustrum for a privacy screen.
Photo provided by BOB SOUVESTRE -- Camellia sasanquas brighten autumn and early winter landscapes with petals of pink, red and white all having prominent yellow stamens. Sasanquas offer an alternative to ligustrum for a privacy screen.

Site, drainage essential for sasanquas

By bob souvestre

Sasanquas are one of our most popular flowering shrubs for the late fall through early winter.

Also known by the scientific name Camellia sasanqua, sasanquas are typically smaller-growing than the plants we normally call camellias. They also have more finely textured foliage. They bloom from mid-October through December or January. Sasanquas are very abundant at retail garden centers these days.

Popular sasanquas include Bonanza, Yuletide, Stephanie Golden, Leslie Ann and Sparkling Burgundy. A new dwarf variety with red flowers is Hot Flash.

The most popular of these type plants is the ShiShi Gashira variety. It is a smaller-growing, “dwarf”-type plant. Flowers are double and rosy pink. It is actually another species of camellia, technically Camellia hiemalis. This variety, though, is typically mistakenly lumped by most folks into the sasanqua group. ShiShi Gashira has been named a Louisiana Super Plant.

Success with sasanquas depends on the planting site. Part sun to part shade is best, especially for younger plants. Choose a location that receives four hours to six hours of direct sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon, or find a spot that receives light, dappled shade throughout the day.

When planted in full sun, sasanquas are subject to more stressful conditions. The foliage sometimes has a yellowish look, and flower buds may not open properly. Plants in full sun also may be more susceptible to injury in freezing weather. But some of my favorite sasanquas planted in Baton Rouge thrive in a full-sun location. Overall plant health is directly tied to a well-drained soil and vigorous root system.

Good drainage also is essential. Do not plant sasanquas in areas that are poorly drained or where water settles after a rain. If an area has poor drainage, plant camellias on mounds or in raised beds. These plants are acid-loving, and an alkaline soil (pH above 7) can limit their ability to obtain some nutrients, especially iron.

When you prepare an area for planting, incorporate a soil acidifier to help make the soil more acid if the soil is alkaline. Three readily available materials for this are ground sulfur, iron sulfate (copperas) and aluminum sulfate. Copperas should generally be used because it is faster-acting than sulfur and provides additional iron.

Fertilize in the spring as new growth begins — about March or early April. Use a fertilizer labeled for acid-loving plants or any general-purpose fertilizer according to the manufacturer’s label directions.

Sasanquas are part of our Southern gardening heritage. A few well-placed specimens will brighten up your landscape during these late fall and early winter days when few other shrubs are blooming. They are mass bloomers creating an unequaled fall flower display making sasanquas one of the most outstanding landscape plants available to homeowners.

Flowering evergreen

Louisiana gardeners are always looking for nice trees for the landscape. The evergreen Sweet Bay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana var. australis) is an excellent native tree that is not nearly as well known as it should be. That’s about to change.

This native evergreen has been chosen as a Louisiana Super Plant just in time for planting into fall landscapes.

In Southern landscapes, flowering evergreens are few and this magnolia adds yet another excellent plant choice to consider when looking for a specimen tree or background planting.

The foliage of the tree is especially beautiful. Smaller and lighter green than the Southern magnolia and without the glossy shine, the foliage of the Sweet Bay is bright silver on the reverse. When the wind catches the canopy and flips up the leaves, the ripples of silver are a delight to the eye.

Flowers are creamy white and about 2 to 3 inches in diameter. They are present late April through June and have a lemony fragrance.

Mature trees will average about 30 feet tall with a spread of 20 feet, but larger sizes are not uncommon. Trees commonly are grown with a single trunk and will produce an attractive columnar, upright tree, but they can also be grown multitrunked.

In the landscape, trees are used as background privacy screens, patio shade trees, narrow spaces between homes, curb plantings and in smaller landscapes where a large tree is not appropriate.

I once saw a long driveway planted with this evergreen allowing one to fully appreciate the smooth gray bark on the trunk contrasting with the two-colored foliage.

Smaller trees can be successfully grown in large tubs. Planting a Sweet Bay will attract wildlife to the landscape. Birds and squirrels love the seeds the flowers produce.

Plant in a moist, acidic soil as this tree is not drought tolerant. Newly planted trees should receive a weekly watering in the absence of rainfall for the first year and possibly longer, depending on how quickly it establishes a root system.

Visit your local independent garden retailer for this latest addition to Louisiana Super Plants.

Got a gardening question? Write to Bob Souvestre, horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter, at Burden Center, 4560 Essen Lane, Baton Rouge, LA 70809, or email to bsouvestre@agcenter.lsu.edu, or call Master Gardeners at (225) 763-3990.