How to propagate camellia through cuttings

Close up of stem with nodes, the tiny bud-like growth at the base of the leaf junction with the stem
The shiny, deep green leaves of the camellia shrub make a lovely background for the blooms that open in late winter. I had a camellia shrub and as pretty as it was, its location looked awkward, just feet away from azaleas and a flowering dogwood. No amount of pruning could convince me the camellia would ever fit it, so I asked my husband to dig it up with a plan to move it to another, more suitable location.

Much to my chagrin, the roots of the camellia were entangled with the roots of the dogwood tree and some other mystery roots (previous homeowners had whacked something off at ground level and left the roots). The dilemma then became leave the camellia where it is and hope the roots are not too damaged, or *gulp* cut it off at the ground. Like a dangling tooth, the camellia looked so pathetic that I bid it a tearful goodbye and told my husband to cut it down to the ground, pulling out as much of the root as he could.

A Chance for Rebirth

Seeing the poor camellia prone on the ground, I felt so sadden, almost like my car had hit and killed a deer. And then it hit me-why not take some cuttings and see about re-growing new camellias?! So that is what I did, gathered and planted cuttings from the camellia yanked from the ground. To duplicate this task, you will need garden clippers, rooting hormone (I get mine at Lowes for about $8; Home Depot, Ace Hardware and other garden centers will also carry it), flower pots (with drain holes) that are at least 6-inch tall and are filled with half peat and half perlite (all coarse sand or half sand and half peat will also work), and a large plastic food storage bag. Oh, and you will need a camellia. If you do not have a camellia and a neighbor does, ask them for some cuttings.

Choose Cuttings

Before you make any cuttings, sterilize the clippers. Dip the clippers into a 1:9 solution of bleach and water, which is roughly two tablespoons bleach to a cup of water, and then wipe the clippers.
To choose where to make the cut back from the tip of a limb, the Virginia Camellia Society says to look for the "fifth node (the node is the tiny bud-like growth at the base of the leaf junction with the stem)." I instead looked to have about five leaves on a cutting about 6 inches long. Make an angled cut beneath a leaf. Take several cuttings. Though it's quite likely they all will grow, my belief is it's better to take too many and have them all grow than to take only one and it not root. You can always give away the extras.

Snip off the leaves on the bottom third of the camellia cuttings.

Planting

Water the potting mix until water comes out the bottom of the pot. Moisture the bottom third of the camellia cuttings. Transfer rooting hormone to another container so as not to contaminate the whole bottle of hormone. I use a sandwich bag and less than 1/2 teaspoon per cutting. Dip the moistened end of the camellia cutting into the rooting hormone to cover the lower third of the cutting.
Use your finger or a pencil to create a hole in the flower pot equal in depth to the bottom third of the cutting. Put the camellia cutting into the hole and water lightly around the cutting to get the soil to settle and hold the cutting upright. If you are putting more than one cutting per pot, place them about 2 inches apart.

Sunlight and Moisture

Keeping the soil moist is important. Place a food storage bag over the pot and secure it to the pot with string or twist the bag and hold it in place with an office binder clip or a bread bag twist tie. A glass or jar that will fit over the camellia cutting and into the dirt of the pot could be used instead of the bag.

Place the pot where it will get indirect light. Moisture will form inside the bag. Watch for any decrease in moisture and water with a spray mist by tipping the bag/jar and spraying inside. Also check the soil weekly. If it feels dry and inch down, then water the soil.

Roots

Roots will grow on the camellia cuttings in about two months but the plant is not ready for outdoor living in the ground. Keep it in the pot for at least seven months, which may coincide with spring planting time. Alternatively, you could transplant each camellia cutting to its own larger pot and leave them in the pot. Camellias will do quite nicely potted and left outdoors. After planting it may take two years before the camellia will bloom.

Surviving Adversity

Remember how I mentioned the roots of the camellia were entangled with other roots when my husband tried to dig it up? Some camellia roots were left in the ground. It was two years later that I noticed what I thought was a rogue tree, "planted" by birds that frequent the area, growing where the camellia had been. On closer observation, jaw hanging, I recognized the leaves. It was the camellia I thought had been destroyed during a digging project gone crazy. Talk about determined to live! That camellia stands as testimony that it can survive adversity.

But wait, there's more! Over the course of 10 days this winter we received about 30 inches of snow. The camellia along with all the shrubs on one side of the house was packed down with drifts of snow up to 5 feet tall. That camellia is showing true tenacity. I broke snow and ice away from the camellia, it sprang upright (well, most of it did) and I can see the camellia has flower buds!