How to Grow and Care for Gardenias

Garden Centre - Gardenia Florida

Gardenias, with their intoxicatingly sweet smell and dark glossy leaves, are favourites of gardeners and flowers lovers alike. Brides love gardenias in their bouquets for the scent to spread as they walk down the aisle.

The gardenia was developed by the famous Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus who showed them to his friend, English merchant John Ellis. The story goes that Linnaeus thought at first he might have another variety of jasmine. Later, he decided he had a completely new plant and needed a name.

Ellis suggested they name the plant after his Scottish pen pal, Dr Alexander Garden, living in Charleston, South Carolina. So, in 1758 the gardenia was born and has been filling gardens with its beautiful dark leaves and intoxicating buds ever since.

If you adore the smell of the gardenia and its glossy leaves and want to try your green thumb at growing some of your own, read on for all you need to know about the gardenia.

Gardenia Growing

The gardenia is a shrub that can grow up to 8 feet tall. It is bushy in nature. Despite the story about its name, the gardenia is believed to be native to Japan and China.

The gardenia does grow best in Zones 8 to 11 but there many varieties that now tolerate Zones 6 or 7.

Gardenias usually bud with their sweet-smelling flowers in spring and summer, although some varieties will bloom again in the fall. Not to fret when they’re not blooming, the dark green waxy leaves are still a garden delight.

How to Have Gardenias In Your Life

While gardenias are popular, they can also be particular about where they grow. Yet, once they find a spot they like, they’ll grow heartily for years.

Gardenias can be grown a number of ways.

In your landscape, the gardenia works wells as a border plant, for example, along a walk or edging a patio or deck. Here you get the most advantage of smelling them when they are in bloom.

If you live in a climate where you get colder, more harsh winters, you can use the gardenia as a container plant. Let it thrive outside in the heat and humidity of summer. Then as your seasons cool down, bring it inside. If you want to grow gardenia inside, the thing to remember is they like bright light and humidity to thrive indoors.

Growing Gardenias

Gardenias like humidity and sunlight, unless it’s beating sun in the hottest part of the summer. Then they will happily tolerate some shade too. Let’s take a look at how to successfully grow gardenias, what do they like and what does the plant want you to know.


If you want to plant gardenias in your yard, it’s best to plant them in the fall or spring, versus the heat of summer. Test your soil before planting. Gardenias like:

  • Acidic (pH 5.0-6.5), humus-rich soil
  • Good drainage

When planting, dig the hole wide enough and deep enough so they have room. Before putting the plant in the ground, it’s wise to add mulch or some bark so they have the good drainage they like so much.


Gardenias know exactly how much water they like, if you give them too much they will tell you, same for not enough ( more on this later), They like about an inch of water per week.

You don’t want the gardenia to completely dry out. Likewise, you don’t want it sitting in water. Be careful of this if you water a gardenia indoors, that its tray doesn’t have standing water.


Mulch is a friend of the gardenia and you. It will help your gardenia plants to manage water and not get too dried out either. Remember, when planting you want to mulch the bottom of your hole before planting.

It’s also a good idea to mulch several inches deep around your plants to help them maintain moisture in the warmer climates they like so much.


Fertilizing your gardenia is going to help them be most successful. They do love acidic soil. It’s best to fertilize in the spring, then give them another boost in summer.

Gardenias will also like if you put your coffee grounds around their base. It acts as an acidic like mulch for the plant. You can also treat them with bone meal and fish emulsion fertilizers.


Pruning may not be necessary if you have planted your gardenia in the right location and it’s growing successfully.

When the gardenia is done blooming, you will see those sweet flowers turn brown and wilt. Don’t be afraid to prune just the tip when this happens to keep your plants looking beautiful.

Word to the wise, do not do any pruning of your gardenia any later than August. The gardenia, like some hydrangea, start their bud growth for the next year very early. If you prune them too late in the season, you risk cutting off some of next year’s flowers.

Winter Care

The gardenia doesn’t care for cold temperatures. So, as your weather starts to cool, you want to add a hardy layer of mulch all around the base of the plant. This will help to protect the plant and its roots from colder conditions.

If you have a more significant cold, you might consider using a lightweight fabric like garden burlap to wrap the plant in for protection against the elements. You want to be sure you are using breathable fabric though.

Growing New Plants

While growing gardenias you will learn they are particular about their growing conditions. So, it’s funny that they are relatively simple to propagate and grow new plants from.

You only need to cut off a branch. Remove any flowers so the plant isn’t giving its energy to the flower. Then stick it in water. It will grow roots and you have a new plant.

Indoor Care

Gardenias grow best in heat and humidity. So, when you bring them inside to grow you need to attempt to duplicate those conditions.

Place them in bright light, but not direct sun. Either put them near a humidifier or place them in a tray of rocks with some water under the rocks so they get the natural humidity. You can also use a mister to give them some humidity.

Also, remember gardenias like moisture but don’t like to be in standing water. You want to be certain their indoor pots have good drainage.

Treating Gardenia Problems

Like with any plant or pet or child for that matter, if something isn’t quite right, the gardenia is going to give you signs that there’s a problem. Let’s take a look at potential problems and what your plant could be telling you.

Buds Dropping

If your plant drops buds before they open it can be because of several causes. Most likely is that it isn’t getting enough humidity around it.

Other causes might include:

  • Over or under watering (remember they like about an inch of water per week)
  • Poor soil drainage
  • Over-fertilizing
  • Not enough light

They can also drop their buds if they are suddenly exposed to a bout of cold. They like warmth and heat and will respond to cold negatively.

Brown Leaves

Browning leaves on your gardenia can be for several reasons. They don’t like their leaves wet. So when watering, water at the base, the leaves aren’t soaked. Likewise, if they are not getting adequate drainage, they might have leaves that turn brown.

If the pH is off in the soil, it can also cause the gardenia to get brown leaves. Remember, they like nice rich acidic soil.

If the brown leaves have a powdery substance, it could be a sign of mildew or pests.

No Blooms

Two of the biggest culprits for a not blooming gardenia could be that it was improperly pruned during the previous season. If you recall, they start those buds very early for the next year.

The other culprit for a non-blooming gardenia is that the soil isn’t quite right. If you haven’t pruned and are still not getting blooms, start by doing a soil test.

The gardenia needs all the conditions to be right for it to bloom, so pay attention to light, humidity, drainage and temperature too.

Yellow Leaves

The most common way a gardenia tells its owners that something is wrong is with yellowing leaves. The leaves turn from the dark glossy green to yellow and then fall from the bush.

Some reasons for yellow leaves include:

  • Soil deficiency (again do a soil test)
  • Over or under watering
  • Not enough bright light
  • Poor drainage

If a gardenia was overwatered and it doesn’t have good drainage, it can actually get root rot which will then cause the leaves to yellow and fall from the plant.

Varieties of Gardenias

There are many varieties of gardenias. Some of the most popular include:

  • Gardenia Radicans
  • Gardenia Magnifica
  • Gardenia Professor Pucci
  • Gardenia Four Seasons

Some varieties grow better in different zones, so be sure to research them and consider your climate.

Sweet Smelling Gardenias

Under the right growing conditions, gardenias can be a lovely addition to your yard or garden. Whether they are filling your yard with their sweet scent, or showing off their shiny leaves, they can be showstoppers in any garden.

If you have questions about growing gardenias or need help deciding on the best variety for your yard, contact us today. One of our garden specialists will be happy to help you with your gardenia and garden questions.

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