QUESTION: I planted a camellia more than ten years ago. Apparently it’s in the wrong place because it has never bloomed; it hasn’t even grown much, though it hasn’t died. It’s in a spot that I now realize is in shade most of the time, and maybe it doesn’t get enough water, so I’m considering moving it. When is the best time to do that? And what’s the best way to do it?
The general consensus among camellia experts seems to be that camellias don’t take well to being moved. That said, it sounds like your shrub is already unhappy, so why not try moving it to a better spot? Now, while the plant is dormant, is a good time to do the job.
First, a short lesson on what camellias need: well-drained, slightly acidic soil rich with organic matter, light shade, and regular water (as long as it drains well). It should be protected from strong sun and punishing winds.
The challenge in moving the camellia will be in preserving as much of the root structure as possible. For large, established camellias, experts suggest root-pruning a year in advance of the move, but for a shrub that’s still small, that probably won’t be necessary.
Begin by carefully digging a trench around the plant at the drip line, working your way around and down and under to lift as much of the soil and roots as possible. Camellias have a shallow root system, but it’s still best to try to keep as much of it intact as you can. Transfer the root ball to a tarp or a sheet and move it to the new location, where you will have dug a hole about twice as wide but not as deep as the root ball you lifted out.
When you transfer the root ball to the new hole, make sure it is not planted deeper than it had been in the original location. Cover the exposed roots, but don’t pile soil up around the trunk. Water it thoroughly, and keep it well watered (but not soggy) during the first growing season. Consider providing protection from very cold weather; camellias can be sensitive to extreme temperatures, and in this climate (Zone 7a) some varieties tolerate cold better than others.