The Q&A Archives: gardenia jasminoides veitchii

Question: i have received the aforementioned plant and am trying to care for it. i live in NY and am watering it every 4 days about 2 quarts of water. most of my leaves are falling off the plant. however there are some new buds. is my watering schedule correct? when should i prune or shape my plant? how much sun does this tree need? thank you very much for your help - joe

Answer: It is difficult to diagnose this type of symptom long distance as it can have numerous different causes. Based on your description, I suspect you are overwatering your plant quite a bit. The soil should be slightly moist, never sopping wet or saturated. To know if you need to water, dig into the soil a bit with your finger. When you water, use tepid water rather than cold. After watering, empty the drainage saucer of any water that may have collected there.

Your plant should be in bright light and away from both hot and cold drafts. Your indoor air may also be too dry for it (it prefers more humidity than most homes offer during our winter heating season). It may also have suffered some cold shock while being transported and is probably going through an adjustment phase as well while it adapts to your growing conditions. In other words, it is probably in shock. Too, some yellowing and a little leaf loss is normal as it will periodically shed its oldest leaves. Gardenias are not easy to grow well at home, so I am including some general care tips to help you work out a care routine. Good luck with your plant!

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 deficiency.

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 with your new plant!

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