Gardenias are warm season plants with glossy, dark green leaves that are so shiny they almost don't look real. The interesting features of the plant extend beyond the leaves. It produces sweetly scented creamy flowers that are long lasting. Gardenia plants have a reputation as being problem children and they are quite fussy about their habitat. The home grower needs to provide a similar environment to the native one in China and Japan. This means extra humidity, bright light and a cool room. Topiary specimens will require pruning to keep their shape, and all gardenias need vigilance against the pests that are as drawn to the plant as we are.
Place a saucer under the gardenia that has a thin layer of pebbles on the bottom. Fill the saucer with an inch of water to provide humidity as it evaporates. Gardenias need constantly moist air which is not usually found in the home. You can also try running a humidifier in the room in which you keep the plant.
Fertilize the topiary twice a year in April and again in November. Use an acidic fertilizer to lower the pH and provide the type of soil condition in which gardenias thrive. Get a liquid soluble formulation and dissolve it in the watering can. Slowly add the water to the pot so the soil has time to absorb it or it will all run out the drainage holes. Use the amount recommended on the packaging.
Prune the topiary to keep it shaped and small. In its natural habitat, the plant can grow to 6 feet tall. When pruning, cut the wood just before a leaf to prevent damaging the foliage. Don't cut across the leaves. This will kill them and you will have to look at brown and yellow leaves until they fall off.
Watch for pests. Sadly, the gardenia is an insect's delight. Scab, mites, aphids, mealy bugs and other common pests all love gardenias. If you have a hand-held sprayer in your sink you can rinse off many of the insects. Consistent use of an insecticidal spray will also help reduce the insect population. Remove bugs by hand if you aren't squeamish.
Water whenever the top inch of soil feels dry. The gardenia should not be sodden nor allowed to dry out. It is difficult to tell when to water, so use a soil meter if you're in doubt. Keep it on the pot with the sensor all the way immersed in the soil, and water when the dial goes below the medium mark. Do not get water on the leaves as this may encourage fungal diseases.
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