The Q&A Archives: Gardenia plant?

Question: I would like to keep the plant in a pot on a sun porch which is mostly shade. How do I care for this plant?

Answer: Ask any gardener to name their favorite flower fragrance and chances are they will tell you - gardenia. It has long been a favorite among southern gardeners. But there are some tricks to growing it successfully here in the desert southwest.

Most importantly, choose a gardenia that is best adapted to hot, dry conditions. Gardenia jasminoides ?Veitchii' is the preferred variety to grow. It has smaller leaves and flowers than the better known G. grandiflora, but will produce a profusion of fragrant double-white flowers in the spring. ?Veitchii Improved' is also recommended and has slightly larger flowers and in greater numbers than ?Vetchii'.

One of the keys to success with gardenias is the soil. They grow best in acidic, well-drained, highly organic soil - all the things we don't have here in Tucson. That's why it's best to grow gardenia in a container with a high quality, organic potting soil.

Proper fertilization is also important for gardenias. Most gardenias grow and flower well with applications of slow release or water soluble fertilizers with moderate levels nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Suggested fertilizer ratios are 3:1:2 or 3:1:3 (e.g. 15-5-10 or 15-5-15). If you can't find these specific fertilizers, use something with a similar ratio of nutrients. I prefer the general purpose, slow release fertilizers. Most last for 3 or more months. The first application should be made in March, and the second in July. If your using a liquid plant food, begin applying in March and continue fertilizing every two or three weeks through September.

One of the biggest complaints of gardenia growers is bud drop and bloom failure. It is commonly caused by excessively hot, dry weather when the plant cannot absorb water fast enough to replace that lost by transpiration. Keeping the gardenia in an area sheltered from hot afternoon sun and winds will help. Placing potted gardenias among other potted plants will also help by increasing humidity in the surrounding air. During hot weather it is important to keep the soil consistently moist. This may require daily watering, or even twice-daily for plants setting on hot, dry patios.

Good luck with your gardenia!

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