It is disappointing when a plant promises lots of blooms, but then its buds turn brown and fail to open. This problem is commonly called 'bud ball', 'bud balling' or 'flower balling'. If the buds disappear rather than turn brown, then chances are it’s a possum that’s the cause of the vanishing flowers! If the flowers open but then turn brown, they may have been damaged by frost or the plant may have become too dry, leading to the floral discolouration.


A camellia laden with buds. In a case of bud balling, those buds would turn brown and eventually drop to the ground, never realising their full potential.


What causes bud balling?

Bud balling may be caused by a fungus problem that seals petals so they can’t open. The potential flowers then go brown and the buds eventually fall.


Which plants are susceptible to bud balling?

The problem is most often seen in Camellia japonica and particularly in some very double varieties. Bud balling can also affect the buds of some roses and peonies. Plants that receive very early morning sunshine in winter and early spring when the flowers are in bud are often worst affected. Warmth and moisture on buds encourages the fungal problem to spread across the unopened petals, sticking them together and preventing the buds from opening.


Disbudding this cluster of camellias may help prevent the spread of bud balling in the future.


How to deal with bud balling in camellias

Once the bud has begun to ball, it is too late to treat the problem. Just remove the bud. Do, however, make a note to take action in summer and autumn next year as new buds form. These are some things you can do to lessen the chances of bud balling setting in.

  • Disbud flower clusters to give the remaining buds more space to expand and develop. To disbud, simply remove around half of the buds in each cluster.
  • Spray susceptible buds with an organic fungicide as they develop in late summer or early autumn. Flower Power recommends eco-fungicide. Repeat the spray.
  • Keep plants well-watered and well-fertilised. The natural litter caused by fallen flowers and leaves under the camellia can prevent rain reaching the soil. This can lead to dryness around the root zone, so check soil moisture and water if conditions are dry. A soil wetting agent such as Saturaid may be needed to ensure that water soaks into the roots. Camellias can be fertilised in spring after flowering and in late summer to autumn as buds form. Use a fertiliser designed for azaleas and camellias - Flower Power recommends Neutrog Kahoona.
  • Also water affected plants with a seaweed tonic. Flower Power recommends Maxicrop Organic Seaweed Solution.

Longer-term solutions include choosing varieties that are not prone to balling – for example, single rather than double varieties of camellia. Also, position the bush so that it receives morning sun after around 10am in winter (a north-east facing aspect is ideal).