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What to do about brown camellias

Already damaged by wind, this Debutante camellia shows first signs of petal blight: Tiny brown specks.
(Photos: Debbie Arrington)
On eve of Sacramento Camellia Show, petal blight a common problem

This has been a challenging camellia season in the Camellia City.

As growers prepare for this weekend’s
95th annual Sacramento Camellia Show , they’ve had to deal with plenty of stormy weather. This week, an atmospheric river dumped more than 3 inches of rain, including a record 2.52 inches Tuesday.

“Rain is not as bad as wind,” said Julie Vierra, president of the Camellia Society of Sacramento. “Wind hits (the flowers) and bruises them all up. Rain tends to cause more blossom rot.”

So much moisture also brings out camellia petal blight (Ciborinia camelliae Kohn), the bane of camellia growers. This fungal disease, which only attacks camellia flowers, can quickly turn pretty blooms into mushy brown wads. The infection starts as tiny brown specks, but those spots enlarge rapidly in the right conditions. Petal blight needs a period of cold, followed by warmer, wet days; recent weather has been ideal for massive outbreaks.

The infected flowers fall to the ground, where the fungus can stay dormant for up to five years.

To help control petal blight, pick up fallen
blooms around any camellia bush.
“Pick up fallen blooms,” Vierra said. “Pick up your neighbors, too. You’ve got to get them out of there. That stuff spreads like wildfire.”

Don’t compost infected camellia blooms; dispose of them in the garbage.

Petal blight spores can be spread short distances by wind. According to the American Camellia Society, fungicides are mostly ineffective in its control. Instead, constant clean-up of infected flowers can help contain its impact.

“Pull off browned blossoms,” Vierra said. “Keep bushes clean.”

Although amateur growers are encouraged to enter flowers for Saturday morning’s judging, don’t bring any with brown spots, Vierra warned. The fungus can spread to other flowers on display.

“We won’t accept browned or infected flowers,” she said. “We’ll throw them right in the trash.”

For more on petal blight, visit . For more on the 95th annual Sacramento Camellia Show: .

Petal blight can turn a camellia into brown mush.


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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