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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Dec. 3:

Make the most of gaps between raindrops. This is a busy month!

* Windy conditions brought down a lot of leaves. Make sure to rake them away from storm drains.

* Use those leaves as mulch around frost-tender shrubs and new transplants.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they're dormant.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Plant one last round of spring bulbs including daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, anemones and scillas. Get those tulips out of the refrigerator and into the ground.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers such as California poppies.

* Plant such spring bloomers as sweet pea, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Late fall is the best time to plant most trees and shrubs. This gives them plenty of time for root development before spring growth. They also benefit from fall and winter rains.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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