Severe winters, such as the past two, sometimes injure the flower buds of camellias. For that reason, many gardeners are interested in gibbing their camellias to make them bloom in the fall. Use of gibberellic acid, a growth regulator, can speed up flower production and result in flowers before cold weather. This chemical, available commercially in a water solution, may help many gardeners have flowers -- and larger, finer-textured and longer-lasting blooms -- on plants that have not consistently produced good blossoms.

In some cases the color may be affected. Some delicate blushes may fade to almost pure white, according to the Camellia Society of the Potomac Valley, while others appear in a deeper shade. Debutante produces blooms of a livelier pink and larger size when gibbed; Mathotiana and a few other red varieties may turn a deep purple. Some varieties may not respond well: Buds may fail to open, bull-nose, or tend to be deformed. But many others do quite well. Factors include the variety, time of treatment, location and condition of the plant, and the weather. If the treatment is made in September, one of the best times, early-flowering varieties may bloom within 30 days; later bloomers often require 60 to 90 days to open.

Buds to be gibbed should be well developed. Those near the top of the plant generally respond most quickly. One application per bud is adequate.

If several flower buds appear on the stem, disbudding should be performed, leaving only one bud to be gibbed. To apply the solution of gibberellic acid, the growth bud adjacent to the flower bud is first removed and a drop of solution applied where the growth bud was. Only one drop, from a medicine dropper or hypodermic needle, is needed.

Within a few days the flower bud will begin to swell, and in two weeks there should be a noticeable increase in bud size. Four to 10 weeks after treatment, you should have blooms, if your camellia is of the right variety. Although only a few buds should be treated on small plants, treatment of many buds has been made repeatedly on large, established plants without ill effects. Some of the best varieties include Bernice Boddy, Debutante, Elizabeth Le Bey, Gov. Mouton, Lady Clare, Mrs. Tingley, Pink Perfection, Professor Sargent, White Empress and Dr. Tinsley.

The terminal vegetative buds on treated stems usually fail to make normal growth in the spring, so it's a good idea to prune them back to the third or fourth vegetative bud in late fall or early spring.