Pruning books tend to be unhelpful when it comes to pruning Camellias, typically saying that they require no pruning but may be cut hard if it becomes necessary. It’s not how I go about it.
This is Camellia japonica ‘Bob Hope’. This had grown as big as I wanted it to get by about six or seven years ago. Since then, every two or three years, I have reduced it in height and width. My aim is that it should end up smaller but not look like it has been pruned. To this end I take the tallest and widest shoots off, pruning to a suitable sideshoot that will then form part of the outline of the shrub. The cuts will be well within the leaf canopy and hidden from view. Most of the shoots I removed were between 12 and 20 inches in length.
The next to get my attention was camellia x williamsii ‘Debbie’. This was cut down a few years back because it was falling over and I wanted to give its root system a chance to establish properly. It meant though that the screening from neighbouring properties was lost. I have been keeping it pruned quite close for a few years to give the roots time, now I want to let it make a bit more height. I would anticipate it making two flushes of growth, the first, now under way, will be around 6 inches, then it will probably break again in July or August after a short rest and put on at least another foot.
Keeping it pruned down has led to it getting quite wide and rather flat topped, so I took a few stems off the sides and removed a few from underneath to allow a bit more light to the plants growing under it. Most of the shoots removed were 2-2.5 feet in length.
The next to receive my attention was Camellia x williamsii ‘Charles Colbert’. This has had the lower branches removed to turn it into a small evergreen tree. I have also pruned the crown to restrict its size somewhat, mainly so that it remains within reach of my stepladder and telescopic pruner. That pruning has encouraged it to become rather denser than I would like; it starts to get lumpen in appearance and also lets no light through, creating more shade than I want. The task here then was to thin it. I simply removed perhaps a dozen shoots from the parts of the crown that were most dense, taking them off where they arose from bigger branches. These shoots were all two to three feet in length. I need to get my step ladder back out and remove a few of the longest shoots at the top of the bush.
The branches remaining will even themselves out in a week or two so as to best use the extra light available to them and at that point I may take a bit more out. I don’t want the crown to look too neat and symetrical, a topiary look is precisely what I’m trying to avoid.
There may be no need to prune a camellia but if you don’t it will steadily get bigger. A lot of people are happy to let them get very large then chop them down by a half or two thirds. It’s not a method I’m a big fan of, is all I’m saying.