Dear Extension Experts: We recently purchased a Camellia japonica 'Nuccios Bella Rossa." We planted it last weekend and over the past week we've noticed a change in some of the leaves. Some have fallen I have attached a series of photographs. Is this normal as part of transplanting? Is this a symptom of a disease? If so, what is the suggested treatment. Should we wait another week or two before taking action?
District of Columbia County District of Columbia
Yes, this could simply be transplant shock. Typically, leaves yellow before falling, so the loss of so many green leaves is a bit concerning. Camellias prefer afternoon shade in moist soil that drains well and do not like to stay wet. Root stress from overly-wet or overly-dry soil can also trigger leaf drop, so monitor the soil moisture levels and water as needed. Feel the soil about a finger's depth down; if moist, you can wait longer to water; if drying, a good soaking should help.
You can also check underneath the leaves and on the branches for signs of common camellia pests - scale - and treat accordingly if found. We do not see evidence of scale on the leaves in the pictures, however. https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/cottony-camellia-scale-shrubs
The foliage still on the plant looks healthy, so no treatments are called for at this time. This variety is not one of the more winter-hardy cultivars, so additional protection in winter may be helpful to avoid "winter burn" on the leaves. Being in D.C., however, you may be insulated enough with the heat island effect to not need to worry in most winters. It's possible a few of the burnt-looking leaves that have already fallen were winter-burned leaves from last year that only now just shed. Plants at nurseries tend to be protected in winter, but a bit of damage is still possible, especially given the unusual temperature fluctuations we have experienced this spring.