Coaxing the Best from Your Gardenias

In their natural habitat of Polynesia, gardenias are evergreens which can grow from two to twenty feet or more high. (This is one of the few plants native to Polynesia). Gardenia flowers are white or yellow in color and develop either a single or a cluster of blossoms. The flowers are known for their sweet scent, and are a favorite choice for weddings and proms.

Inhabitants of Polynesia use these highly fragrant flowers as necklaces. On some Pacific islands wearing these gardenia flowers indicates one’s relationship status. When the flower is worn on the right ear, the person is available. When the flower is worn on the left ear, the person is taken.

The Challenges

Gardenia jasminoides is considered a difficult plant to take care of. Many times gardenia plants with many buds are bought and you eagerly await the opening of the flowers. But many times the buds drop without further development. When purchasing gardenia plants it’s better to start with small plants without buds. The plants need some time to adjust to the environment in their new home. Once the plants have adjusted to their new home, flower buds start to develop into beautiful, sweetly scented gardenia flowers.

Gardenias prefer partial sun and should be protected from the hot afternoon sun during the summer months. Try placing in bright but indirect sun, like near a sunny window, but not right in it.

Gardenias are prone to root disease. Growing them in clay pots can reduce the risk as the potting medium dries out faster in clay pots. Gardenia plants prefer an acidic potting medium, soil, meaning the soil ph is less than 7. If the potting medium is not acid enough, many nutrients, including iron, cannot be absorbed by the roots and the plants develop a condition, called Chlorosis, which shows itself in yellowing of the leaves. Some gardeners pour a small amount of vinegar at the top of the soil to prevent or treat mild cases of Chlorosis.

It is best to water the plants when the surface of the potting medium looks and feels dry.  Avoid using “hard” tap water. If the tap water is very hard, adding some vinegar to the watering can lowers the ph level of the water.  It’s also important to water the plants thoroughly until water drips through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. you need to make sure that no water remains in the saucer after the drainage process is complete.

Fertilize gardenias every two weeks with a product intended for acid-loving plants.

Humidity should be kept at 50% or higher. If humidity is low, misting the plants frequently or using a humidifier greatly benefits gardenia plants.

If you have the patience and provide the right conditions, you can enjoy your gardenia plants for many years!