The Q&A Archives: Gardenia

Question: I have just purchased a gardenia and want to know how to care for it. Can I leave it outside? What do I feed it?

Answer: You can keep your gardenia in a pot outdoors but it will need to spend the fall and winter indoors. Here are some general care notes and instructions: Gardenias are wonderful plants but they can be a bit 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 from outdoors in and vice versa. 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; give it dappled light all day or gentle morning sun. 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. Keep the soil evenly moist (but not sopping wet) during the growing season. In winter, reduce watering 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. (Miracid would be one brand name.) Check the label also to make sure it includes micronutrients or "minors" to assure a broad based supply of minerals. Washing the plant with a spray of tepid water can raise humidity, which will encourage flowering and also spider mites (a common pest). Indoors, you can set it on a tray of pebbles with some water in the tray 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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