Every year as summer comes to an end, we look forward to the beginning of fall. The cooler temperatures are a welcome relief from the hot, sultry days of July and August, and another season of football is just around the corner. It will not be long before the holiday season will be here with much sharing with friends and family. The masses of tiny white flowers fill the foliage of our Tea plants with a few early blooming Japonicas beginning to smile as their gorgeous blooms open, but my very favorite anticipation of fall is massive floral colors of Sasanquas. Very few plants can match the color displays of autumn like our Sasanquas and their hybrids.
Sasanquas are one of several camellia species that are native to Japan, and today this beautiful species is still the most widely used and most popular camellia found in the gardens of its native country. In its native environment, Sasanquas are quite different in appearance from our varieties that are grown in the western world. The native Sasanquas of Japan are always small white flowering trees or shrubs of very similar appearance and growth habit. However, our cultivated forms of Sasanquas are very diverse in both flower color and form, and in plant appearance and growth characteristics. The reason for this difference between native Sasanquas and cultivated forms of this species is really quite simple. Over the years, native Sasanquas were propagated and relocated to areas where other camellia species were grown. When these native Sasanquas came into proximity with these other camellia species, much natural hybridization occurred. The end result is that most of the plants that we think of as Sasanquas, are really hybrids with other species. Many of our favorite Sasanquas have Japonica, Oleifera, and Fraterna parentage in their genetics as well. For the average gardener, it only means that we have many colors, forms, and plant choices to choose from for our landscapes.
While Sasanquas have always been extremely popular in their native Japan, they did not have the same appreciation in Europe and in America as did the larger flower Japonicas. The early European gardeners that used camellias subscribed to an adage we sometime still see today with camellias. They believed that bigger was better, and since many Japonica flowers were bigger, then Japonicas became the camellias of choice in many of those early European gardens. As camellias made their way to America, much of that same opinion was imported with the plants. There were many more Japonicas established in our early American gardens as well.
In recent times, we are beginning to see a shift in camellia appreciation that is propelling this fall blooming camellia species into many prominent garden settings in our landscapes. Sasanquas are one of the most versatile camellia species that we have today. They usually grow faster that either Japonicas or Reticulatas, and they are more adaptable to a larger range of environments than most species. Most Sasanquas perform well in filtered light conditions to full sun. They can be allowed to grow natural, or they can be pruned to meet specific landscape needs. Like all camellias, pruning needs to be done with care to preserve blooms, so selective pruning is generally desirable. Moderate fertilizer for established plants will keep the plants nutritionally fit and looking good. As with all camellias, a regular spray program to minimize Tea Scale on the underside of the leaves should be done as needed.
Part of the reason that Sasanquas are becoming so popular in our landscapes and gardens today is because of their dominant characteristic. Most Sasanquas and Sasanqua Hybrids are mass bloomers. Their individual blooms do not last more than a few days, but they have many blooms that continue to open over a long period of time. This profusion of floral color makes Sasanquas one of the most outstanding landscape plants available to gardeners today.
Not all varieties are perfectly suited for every garden. In areas of the country where diseases such as Dieback are predominant, certain varieties would be more disease resistant than others. In areas where winter temperatures are extremely cold, many of the new winter hardy camellias that have been bred between Sasanquas and certain varieties of Oleifer would offer improved cold hardiness. Other considerations have to do with plant growth habits and mature size of available varieties for specific locations in the garden. Sasanquas can make excellent screens, foundation plants, standards, container plants, espaliers, and low growing shrubs in the garden. It all depends on selecting the best variety to meet your specific landscape need.
As you begin to feel that nip of cool air approaching us this fall, begin to anticipate the things that you love best about the change of seasons. If you have not taken a close look at what Sasanquas can offer to your garden, maybe this is the year that you should see what you have been missing. Very few shrubs can provide the fall floral explosions that are produced when Sasanquas begin to dance. Enjoy the season!