When you list plants that belong in a classic Southern garden, the gardenia has to be in the top five. Beautiful evergreen leaves, snow-white blossoms, intoxicating fragrance and the ability to withstand the Southern summer heat. What more could you ask for? Gardenias can bloom as early as spring and will continue to produce flowers throughout the summer and into fall. With showy blooms that open white and then fade to gold, gardenias are versatile as single shrubs, hedges, or container gardens. Gardenias demand to be treated right, however, so here are a few tips to help keep your Southern beauty happy and healthy.
How to Plant
The best times to plant gardenias are fall and spring when temperatures are moderate. Like camellias, gardenias like to be planted a little high. The soil should drain fast but retain water, as well; condition it with plenty of organic matter such as peat moss or ground bark. Dig a hole that is twice as wide and just as deep as the plant’s root-ball. Firmly pack 3-4 inches of soil at the bottom of the hole and set the root-ball about 1 inch higher than the surrounding soil to help ensure adequate drainage. Then, gently taper the soil up to the top of the exposed root-ball. Mulch plants with pine straw or chopped leaves. Gardenias do not like to be disturbed once they are established so it’s best to hand-pull weeds instead of cultivating around the root zone.
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Where to Plant
Choose your spot wisely. Gardenias can handle full sun, just not all day. They need protection from baking mid-day or afternoon sun. North and east-facing exposures are ideal because the plants will receive bright morning light and some midday light, but won’t be in full sun during the hottest part of the day. While gardenias make beautiful additions to borders, they don’t like to be crowded by other plants or competing roots. Place them along pathways, at the corners of your house, or near windows where you can appreciate them even from inside your home. Gardenias do well in large pots on decks and patios; gardeners in cold-winter areas can grow them in cool greenhouses. Let potted plants grow naturally or clip and train them as topiary standards. Place potted gardenias on your deck or patio where you can take advantage of their beautiful blooms and fragrance. Unfortunately, they make poor houseplants— they attract mites, mealybugs, and whiteflies.
Did you know:
Gardenias originated in the Orient but are named in honor of a Southerner, Dr. Alexander Garden, an 18th-century botanist and physician from Charleston, South Carolina
‘Radicans' gardenia's small leaves and size make it an ideal plant to train as a bonsai.
Jazz singer Billie Holiday considered gardenias to be her signature flower and wore them in her hair whenever she performed
Watch Grumpy give advice on another favorite Southern plant:
Gardenias are easy to grow but require a bit of attention. Fuss over them and the plant gives beauty. Ignore them and they yellow and die. Moist, acid, well-drained soil; morning sun and afternoon shade; good air circulation; and proper fertilization will make them happy. With lustrous leaves, beautiful flowers, and a heavenly fragrance, gardenias are the perfect plants to grace the days of summer.