Along with the yellow Tabebuia trees that are blooming all around town in early spring, the gardenias begin blooming. My gardenia facing east started blooming two months ago, and is still going strong. Remember when people ask when gardenias are supposed to bloom to tell them spring to early summer is usually the time, but I always say, plants bloom whenever they feel like it. That is probably the best answer because you can only give an estimate of when things bloom because so much can change with the weather here in South Florida. But when they bloom, they really can put on a show in any garden.
Gardenias are best known for their very fragrant white to ivory flowers, that can be quite large on some varieties, and their broad dark green and glossy green leaves that have a leathery texture. Not all gardenia flowers are white, there is a yellow variety as well. With well over a hundred species there are a lot to choose from. Gardenias can be used in the garden as a mass planting, and like all other flowers massed, it creates a very impressive site, never mind the fragrance. It can also be a single free standing specimen. I have seen them used as hedges, usually growing seven to eight feet tall, trimmingafter blooming, usually mid-summer- pruning after that might decrease flower production. You can keep them at any height you wish, but why trim your gardenias- let it go, the more the merrier! Trimming makes them bushier and never use gas trimmers on them!
Gardenias love acid well drained soil, which most of us in Florida have. Gardenias are a beautiful plant, but some can be tricky. Although yellowing leaves in gardenias seem to be a natural occurrence, sometimes over watering can cause yellow leaves. Gardenias like moist soil, but not wet soil. If your leaves turn yellow but the veins in the leaves are still green, iron of chelate may be added and should help the problem. Or try a couple of tablespoons of Epsom salts. Fertilize in spring and summer when most growth occurs. In Florida, gardenias are grown on their own root stocks and also grafted plants, which seem to produce larger flowers. An old remedy that works is to give gardenias the left over pickle juice from your jar of dill pickles.
Gardenias and Pests
In the past and present, I have seen gardenias with a black mold like substance on the leaves (sooty mold), which usually means the presence of insects (such as mealy bugs, aphids, scale and/or white fly). Insects love gardenias asmuch as we do, but I have found that Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub insecticide with a fertilizer takes care of this problem. Enjoy your gardenias for its fragrance and don’t forget to put them near entrances and exits so you can smile every time you leave or enter your home. They also make a great container plant. And by the way, I have seen butterflies on the flowers – I am not sure whether they are nectaring or just enjoying the fragrance. Keep butterflying!
Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991. A Collier County Master Gardener, he has written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted and designed numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress. Bring your gardening questions to the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic or visit his website, www.naplesbutterfly.com. He also can be heard every Saturday at 4 PM on his call-in garden radio show, “Plant Talk with Mike Malloy,” on 98.9-WGUF.