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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 March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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