From Southeast Asia to South Africa to the Deep South in the US, gardenias are an intriguing floral option for those looking to add a controlled burst of color to their garden. However, you might know them best not as a flower adorning a garden but nestled in your hair.
Gardenias are a popular choice for brides and bridesmaids looking to wear flowers in their hair. Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American woman to win an Oscar despite enduring segregation and prejudice, wore gardenias in her hair when she won for Gone With the Wind. Decades later, Mo’Nique Hicks wore them in tribute to McDaniel when she won Best Supporting Actress in 2009.
But what about how and when gardenias come into bloom? Let’s take a closer look at how you can coax the most out of these sumptuous stylish flowers and get your gardenias growing.
Though they are grown all over the world as indicated in the intro, gardenias are native to Asia in general and large swaths of China in particular. That said, there are also several varieties to be found in Africa.
The gardenia found its way to Europe in the eighteenth century, where the English merchant John Ellis and Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus helped to classify and popularize it, after which it found its way to America.
Gardenias themselves tend to be soft, white, creamy, and elegant, hence why they’re such a popular fashion choice for formal wear from weddings to the red carpet. Fringing that creamy whiteness are dark green leaves. Gardenias tend to have between five and twelve petals and measure from 5 to 12 centimeters in diameter.
As noted above, they grow in many areas, but all those areas have at least two things in common – high heat and high humidity. This is essential for making sure that your gardenias grow well.
We’ll talk about how to care for your gardenias in a moment, but for now, suffice it to say that because their origins are in warm and humid climates, you’ll need to ensure that they get plenty of sunlight and moisture.
One thing you should know about gardenias right away is that they can grow to be pretty big. That said, their size varies, and can they grow to be anywhere from 1 to 15 meters tall. You’ll thus need to make sure that you have plenty of room for their roots to grow out.
Conversely, if you want to check the growth of your gardenias, making sure that they are hemmed into a tight space where their roots cannot expand can help do so, but this also risks stifling the plant’s healthy growth.
Finally, whether you grow your gardenias inside or choose to plant them in a garden, you need to make sure they are well-drained. As stated, gardenias thrive in humid, wet climates, but too much of a good thing can go horribly wrong, and in this case, too much water can drown your plants’ roots or cause them to rot.
When Gardenias Are in Bloom
To get the most out of your gardenias, you need to make sure to plant them at a time when they are best suited to bloom.
The most commonly cultivated type of gardenia in the West, Gardenia jasminoides, is typically at the peak of its bloom during the height of the summer months. That said, some gardenia varieties see their growing season start even earlier in spring or extend into the fall.
No matter the type of gardenia you choose, you can count on your plant to have a strong fragrance, especially in early summer. Also, these flowers aren’t meant to be kept in the shade. They love the sun, so make sure they get plenty of it.
In order to extend the blooming season for your gardenia, you’ll want to make sure it gets plenty of TLC.
We’ll go into greater detail about what that entails in a moment, but for now, suffice it to say that these flowers are delicate and require a fair amount of care lest their blooms falter early or they spoil. Do so and you can count on your gardenias to be in full bloom from early May to the peak of summer heat.
That said, there are other gardenia species, such as G. thunbergia, which thrives during winter months instead. When tended to, this variety can grow to a length of 12 feet and is hardier than the G. jasminoides subspecies described above.
That said, while it does better in colder conditions than G. jasminoides, it cannot tolerate frost, and while it is less picky about soil conditions, it still needs soil nutrients such as those described below in order to grow to its most vibrantly beautiful bloom.
Caring for Gardenias Outdoors
As mentioned, you need to make sure that your gardenias are exposed to sunlight. That said, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, and that’s true here, too. As such, your gardenias need to get both sun as well as shade.
When planting gardenias, you should dig a hole which is at least twice the size of the root ball in order to give the roots more than enough room to grow out. Soil nutrient ideas include acidic fertilizers, blood meal, bone meal, and fish emulsion.
Set down some fertilizer once the spring thaw has come, mixing it so you have roughly one part soil to one part fertilizing plant mix, and then see where you are and repeat the process after six weeks.
Whatever you do for the soil nutrient-wise, make sure that the soil is well-drained, lest that aforementioned root rot set in. Ideally, you should plant gardenias in such a way that excess moisture will slip down a slope away from the roots and thus drain naturally.
Planting your gardenias outdoors means that they will be exposed to all manner of different insects and bugs. While most of these are harmless and some, like bees, can be very beneficial, others like aphids, scales, thrips, mealybugs, and more can eat away at your gardenias, so you need to check for and remove these at the first sign of trouble.
Finally, there’s the question of proper pruning. Thankfully, gardenias are relatively low maintenance in this regard. That said, they can still benefit from a bit of pruning as branches and stems start to get old and grow brown or droop, or you notice flowers starting to fade.
That said, gardenias will start to set down flower buds for the next season in late summer. Do not prune these if you want your gardenias to bloom next season.
Gardenias can sometimes be subject to their buds beginning to drop. This can be caused by everything from an insufficient amount of light to too much heat at night, as gardenias tend to do best in temperatures from 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit during the evening.
Doing your best to mitigate this can help combat “bud drop.”
Caring for Gardenias Indoors
In addition to observing all of the relevant information above, one of the biggest challenges with growing gardenias indoors is making sure that they get enough light.
Turn them to make sure they get direct sunlight, and do whatever you can to make sure this is sustained throughout the winter, when sunlight may be less frequent and conditions are likely to be most challenging.
As mentioned, humidity is essential to making sure your gardenias grow well, so if you’re growing them indoors, using a humidifier or grouping them with wet pebbles can help ensure that they receive the moisture they need.
However, you’ll want to avoid misting them with a plant mister, as this can cause fungal leaf spots to appear.
How to Encourage Gardenia Blooms
All of the above tips can help ensure that you get the most out of your gardenias this season. However, if you want to really encourage your gardenias to bloom bigger, bolder, and beyond this season, you’ll want to take additional steps.
First, you should make sure that your gardenias aren’t planted near concrete foundations. These can include everything from the foundations of your home to sidewalks, as lime leaching from the concrete can cause the soil’s pH level to rise, thus impairing growth. Ideally, you should aim for a gardenia soil pH of between 5 and 6.5.
If you do this, you’ll want to make sure the cutting in question is at least five inches long. After cutting it, you’ll want to place the plant in a 5.50 mixture of either perlite or sand along with peat moss.
Water the cuttings properly for ten to fourteen days, or until it starts to sprout new roots, at which point it is ready to be placed in its long-term soil.
By following these steps, you’ll have gorgeous gardenia blooms for many seasons to come.