If fragrance is high on your list of garden priorities, a gardenia bush may be the perfect choice for your landscape. This medium textured, evergreen shrub provides beautiful white blooms twice yearly which are loaded with rich scent. Having success with gardenias does require a little thought and planning, however, and some gardeners find them downright finicky. You can increase your shrub's vitality by choosing the appropriate variety for your site and planting properly.
Selecting a Variety and Site
Gardenias, also known as cape jasmine, are available in a number of varieties, ranging in height from 2 to 15 feet. Most gardenias perform best in the South, where the mild temperatures and humidity are ideal. However, breeders have long sought to improve the cold tolerance and regional flexibility of the plant, and made a significant leap in that direction with the introduction of the Frost Proof gardenia. Designed to be planted as far North as Zone 6, this variety can weather a late frost without dropping its buds. If temperamental spring weather is a threat where you live, a Frost Proof gardenia may be the best bet.
Most gardenias thrive in full sun to part shade. If a full-sun location is not possible in your landscape, opt for one that provides morning sun and afternoon shade. Also, take care to give your gardenia plenty of room, as they tend to grow and bloom best when given good air circulation.
Gardenias are acid-loving plants, preferring a soil pH between 5.0 and 6.0. Test the soil of your planting site to see if the pH falls into the acceptable range. If necessary, add sulfur to lower the pH. Avoid planting near a concrete foundation or sidewalk, as these locations tend to have very alkaline soil, which causes nutritional problems for gardenias.
Gardenias also perform well in soil that has been amended with sufficient organic matter. Incorporate compost or peat moss into the planting bed to increase nutrient and moisture retention.
Planting Your Gardenia
Fall or spring planting is recommended for gardenias. Dig a hole as deep as the root ball of your plant and 2 to 3 times as wide. Place your gardenia plant in the center of the hole. Fill the hole with soil about halfway, and water in the soil to eliminate air pockets. Continue to fill until the hole is level and water thoroughly. Add a layer of mulch around the base of the plant to help with moisture retention.
Feed your gardenia monthly during the growing season with a fertilizer for acid-loving plants. Prune in the spring to shape, and remove spent blooms to encourage repeat blooming.