The Q&A Archives: very urgent (gardenia)

Question: hi i have one of your collection which is gardenia but now i think it is dying it looks like it snowed on it i mean there are pieces of white cotten and it is gettin pale ,yellow and falling leaves please let me know as soon as possible because i have small kids in the house and i am afraid this sikness will harm them...please i do want to live because i got it from my husband in our marriage.thank you anniversary

Answer: If the white cotton is in little tufts that move, this is probably mealy bugs. You can use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to dab at them (try to avoid getting too much alcohol on the plant) or you can treat them with commercially formulated insecticidal soap (sold at garden centers and nurseries) sprayed per the label directions.

If the white cotton looks more like spider webs on the undersides of the foliage and along the stems then it is spider mites, these also cause the foliage to become speckled or dusted looking in yellow. Treat these with insecticidal soap per the label instructions. Also try to increase the humidity level around the plant as spider mites thrive in dry indoor air.

If you use the soap, be sure to spray the plant from top to bottom and cover both the top and underside of each leaf and the stems as well. Read and follow all of the label directions.

Gardenias can be very difficult to keep at home. Here are some general care directions you may find helpful. But please do not feel bad if you are unable to maintain it -- few people are able to provide it the needed growing conditions indoors at home.

Unfortunately, the gardenia is often a disappointment to gardeners because it can be very, very demanding. In some cases it is better to consider it as a florist bouquet and dispose of it once the flowers have faded. However, you might be able to keep it going as a container plant. Here are some general care notes and instructions.

Gardenias are finicky, and any change of location or humidity or sun can set them back, so do not be too surprised if it suffers some initial shock from being moved.

In general, bright light is essential, but avoid direct mid-day sun in the summer. It may summer outside when temperatures are settled, place it in a bright location out of direct sun, in dappled light all day or in gentle morning sun. Buds that turn black and drop, and bottom leaves that are yellowed are sure signs that gardenias aren't getting enough light.

For flower buds to form and thrive, night temperatures need to be between 60-65F. During the day, temperatures should be 70-75F. A very constant, even temperature within these ranges is required or buds will drop. Also avoid drafts or moving the plant. Simply moving the plant often causes bud drop, as may any imbalance in the growing conditions.

Keep the soil evenly moist (but not sopping wet)at all times except in winter when watering should be reduced slightly to compensate for the seasonally slower growth.

Fertilize regularly but lightly during active growth periods (spring and summer) with a water soluble fertilizer for acid loving plants according to the label instructions. Check the label also to make sure it includes micronutrients or "minors" to assure a broad based supply of minerals.

Gardenias are very susceptible to spider mites, which can distort the buds and cause leaves to yellow and drop. Look on the undersides of the leaves for tiny black specks and whitish webbing. If necessary, use an insecticidal soap spray according to the label instructions to control these, be sure to repeat to control subsequent generations and treat all surfaces of the plant. Washing the plant with a spray of tepid water can also help rinse them away.

Routine misting with water helps raise the humidity and consequently discourages spider mites but it is better to set it on a humidity tray of pebbles and water or use a humidifier especially during the winter heating season when indoor air is very dry.

Finally, yellow leaves can be a natural occurance since the old leaves normally turn yellow and fall off, or could indicate inadequate light, or can signal insufficient water or even the use of hard water. Leaf drop can also be caused by improper soil pH (gardenias require 5 to 5.5 pH - on the acid side) or a nutrient deficiciency.

As you can see, these are not easy plants. Occasionally we get lucky and a gardenia will thrive. If not, don't take it personally, they are very difficult. Good luck wwith your new plant!

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