Gardenias have the most intoxicating fragrance. And yet, this plant has a reputation for being particular, fussy, and just plain frustrating. Many that have grown gardenias and failed vow to never try again. Others try over and over. Some, however, succeed the first time and do not understand why others find this plant hard to grow.
If you have tried gardenias before and failed, perhaps these tips will help you succeed the next time. Ideally, your soil will be slightly acidic (5.0 to 6.5). If you are unsure of your soil pH, you can request a soil test kit from the extension office. This inexpensive test tells you a lot about your soil and will come in handy when determining if you are supplying what your gardenia needs.
Gardenias are traditionally grown in the eastern or northern portions of gardens because they love morning light, but need protection from the harsh afternoon sun. If you have an area near the house or under trees with semi-shade conditions, that is perfect.
The one thing that gardenias need most of all is moisture. They do not like to be kept in soggy soil conditions, but will not tolerate drought. Keep your soil moist and your gardenia should respond well.
Fertilizer is also important. This fact became very clear to me when I inadvertently fertilized only half of a gardenia one year. One side of the gardenia received nutrients when I fertilized a plant next to it. The difference in the two sides was incredible. One side was lush and green, the other small and yellowed. The soil test you received showing your soil pH will also show you which nutrients you need to supply. Remember, gardenias bloom a lot and are evergreen, so they need to be feed regularly, but not during fall or winter.
If you choose to prune your gardenia, wait until after it has bloomed, but before cold weather sets in. Gardenias do not like their roots disturbed, so a nice layer of mulch is recommended. Gardenias will only bloom when their idea temperature is met, although there may be other problems which might prevent it from blooming or cause it to lose their buds.
If your gardenia exhibits yellowing leaves, it may indicate a soil pH that is too high, an iron deficiency, or root rot. Watch for white flies, aphids, and scale insects. You can use a horticulture oil or insecticidal soaps for most of those types of pests.
Even with their potential problems, gardenias are not the picky, petulant prima donnas some make them out to be. My great-grandmother has a gardenia growing in her garden which has received no care over the past 10 years. It still blooms and grows and is doing fine.
There are numerous cultivators of gardenias. Some grow large, others stay small. Bloom size, shape, and even color may vary, so they are a versatile plant which can be used in a variety of ways. When you get a gardenia to grow in your garden, I can almost guarantee that you and your visitors will appreciate that sweet scent of success.