Care of Gardenias in Florida

Care of Gardenias in Florida

Gardenia plants produce white flowers and are popular in Florida landscapes. Some types bloom throughout the growing season, from spring to fall, Gardenia plants are captivating with their fragrance and color. If the smell is a bit overwhelming to you, they can be located farther out in your landscape. Good care of gardenias keeps them healthy with beautiful flowers.

Planting Gardenias

Plant Gardenias along pathways, at corners of buildings, and near windows. They are great for borders, ground covers, singular, or mass plantings as hedges. Gardenia needs to be in full sun, partial shade or shifting shade. Too much shade can reduce blooming and loss of normal dark green color in leaves. They need to be in well-drained soil and want good air circulation. The proper placement is the foundation for good Gardenia care.

Types of Gardenia Plants

Gardenia plants come from a rootstock on their own root system “Own Root” or they are “Grafted”.

Planting Gardenias in North Florida should be restricted to “Own Root” because “Grafted” are not hardy below 28 degrees. “Grafted” Gardenia do better in Central and Southern Florida.

There are variations in flower size, Form, blooming time, duration, and growth characteristics among types. Some popular shrubs are,

August Beauty:

August Beauty blooms from spring to fall with a height of 4-6 feet.


Grows to a height of 4-8 feet, “Radicans” also known as “Prostata” with a height of 1-2 feet.


Veitchii blooms from spring to fall with a height of 2-5 feet.

Some types that are “Grafted” are Gardenia Trees which are very popular in Florida. They are great for landscapes, placed at the corners of buildings. Gardenia Trees do not grow too tall and produce large amounts of flowers.

Pruning Gardenias

Proper pruning care of Gardenias is needed for good branch growth, plus helping with bud initiation and development. Incorrect pruning can reduce the number of flowers the plant produces, and be detrimental to the plant’s growth.

Do Not prune Gardenias by “cutting back” to the base of the plant or by “shearing”.

Remove no more than 1/3 of the plant.

Light pruning is recommended for Gardenias. Light pruning is done by removing branches to shape up the plant and to remove any dead branches. Light pruning helps Gardenias to keep their natural shape.

Pruning should be done right after Gardenias have finished flowering.

If done prior to blooming, the number of flowers will be reduced.

Pruning Gardenias in Florida should be done before October 1.

Pruning in the fall after October 1 reduces next year’s blooms. Pruning should be done early enough to allow the new growth to be at least 4 to 6 inches by the first of October. Young Gardenias that are growing vigorously during the first year may be pruned once in June and again in August, to encourage heavy branching.

Watering Gardenias

It is important to follow proper watering practices for Gardenia. They do best in well-drained soil. The soil needs to be moist but not soaked. Poor drainage or overwatering can cause Gardenia yellow leaves. But during dry periods such as drought watering is necessary to keep them from wilting. Watering once a week should be sufficient for the care of Gardenias.

Watering controls the number of buds remaining on the plant. If water stress occurs on a healthy budded plant, many will fall off before opening. Large variations in soil moisture should be avoided, to keep from having problems with blooming.

Fertilizer Care of Gardenias

Proper fertilization is required for good growth and flowering production. A “Complete” granular fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and iron is recommended. Gardenias perform ideally in soil that is maintained at a PH level between ( 5.0 and 6.5 ). Follow recommendations on the label for the proper amount, too much can cause root problems.

Established Gardenias require two or three applications per year. One application in February for Southern Florida, and March for North and Central. A second in September for North, October for Central and South Florida. A third application may be done in the summer for the best care of Gardenias.

Yellow leaves (Chlorotic) can occur due to a deficiency of iron. It can be corrected by a foliar treatment with “Liquid Iron”. Once again follow directions on the label for mixture and duration between applications.

Insects on Gardenias

There are insects in Florida that can injure Gardenias unless proper insect control and care of Gardenias is used. Most injurious are Scales, Aphids, Spider Mites, Thrips, and Whiteflies.

Scales include “Cotton Cushion”, “Soft Brown”, and other types When mature they can be hard to eliminate. Spider Mites can cause damage during hot dry periods. Thrips can cause unopened buds to drop. Aphids suck the juices out of the stems, which can become a severe problem.

An organism called “Black Sooty Mold” Which lives on the honeydew secreted by Aphids can be found on the leaves. This is very common in Gardenias. The black substance does not hurt the foliage but prevents the leaves from getting sunlight reducing photosynthesis.

Regular inspection helps control insects from getting out of hand. Proper treatment with insecticide is needed when pests become noticeable. A program of using a “Systemic” insecticidal care of Gardenias on a regular basis can also help in controlling insects.

Final Thoughts

No matter what shape or form Gardenia adds attraction to your landscape, with a mix of deep green leaves and blooming white flowers. With the proper care of Gardenias, you will be rewarded with healthy eye-appealing plants with wonderful white color.

Learn what to look for when purchasing quality plants.


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  1. My gardenia needs a bit of trimming, but here it is Feb. 21, 2012 and I don’t know if cutting it back a little at this time will prevent it from blooming in Spring. Anyone?

    1. Cathy,
      Here are some tips on pruning Gardenias. Pruning Gardenias should be done right after the plant has finished blooming, not before. Pruning prior to blooming will reduce the amount of flowers. Pruning in the fall should be done before October first. If done in the fall after October first, the next years blooms will be decreased. Young plants that are growing vigorously during their first year may be pruned once in June and again in August,to encourage heavy branching.

      Light pruning is recommended rather than hard pruning such as “cutting back” or shearing. Light pruning is done by removing branches with pruning shears to shape up the plant, and to remove any dead branches. Light pruning helps Gardenias to keep growing into it’s natural shape.

      Kurt Kmetz

  2. i just bought a gardenia plant and the leaves are starting to turn YELLOW,,i didn’t put it in the ground,,but in a big pot ,,has buds on it but they are not opening ,,what should i do

    1. Lisa,
      Yellowing of Gardenia leaves can be caused by too much water ( over-watering ), or poor drainage. It needs be placed in a pot that drains ( holes in the bottom ). It could have been over-watered at where you bought it from. Gardenias need only to be kept moist, not soaked.

      Another cause for yellowing of leaves is the plant could have an Iron deficiency. But chances are wherever it was grown at it received proper fertilization. For the buds to open it needs to be in full sun, but it could still be early since you just bought it. Sometimes they can take a little time to open. But you did make the right choice to buy one that has not fully opened yet.

      You could let the pot dry out and pick off the yellow leaves and wait for new growth, or put it back in the container that you bought it in and return it, or exchange it for another one.


  3. We just bought a Fall Gardenia and would like to know if there is anything specific to their instructions. We live on the central east coast of Florida and we have sandy soil. Thanks.

    1. Karen,
      The information listed in my article “Care of Gardenias” pertains to all types of Gardenia Species in Florida. Plus if you purchased the Gardenia from a garden center such as Home Depot, Lowes, or Wal Mart the plant should have come with a tag attached to one of the branches or a label on the container, both giving proper instructions from the grower. If you purchased it from a nursery and it has no information ask them for any instructions.

      As far as the sandy soil, it is very low in potassium so I recommend that when you fertilize it you use a fertilizer containing 30-50 percent slow-release potassium. There are products sold at garden centers specifically formulated for Gardenias that should have all the nutrients needed.


  4. I recently purchased 2 potted Gardenias at Wal-Mart. They had a wonderful scent and attracted my attention, becasue they had a lot of flowers on the branches. However, the very next day, the flowers started turning yellow, eventually all of them dropped off of the bushes. Now I have 2 bare bushes sitting at my front yard entry, in pots. I have watered them, but have not yet started fertilization, as I was trying to read up on that. What made the flowers turn yellow and drop off so suddenly? Thanks for any help you can give me.

    1. Elaine,
      Perhaps the flowers had been open for a long time reaching their peak, when you purchased the plants.Sometimes flowering plants can sit at garden centers long after they got them from the grower. Also growers have a tendency to sell plants to buyers close to the end of their flowering, so they can get rid of them. That why it’s best to buy plants with bubs that have not fully opened yet.

      Plus it also depends on the condition the plants were in when you bought them. Had they previously been over watered? Did they have an Iron deficiency? Did they have any insect problems shorty before being sold? Where they a good quality stock from the grower?

      These are some of the factors to consider that could have caused this problem to occur.

      My article “Care Of Gardenias” listed in the category under “Trees and Shrubs” will give you helpful tips so you can have healthy growing plants.

      Thanks for your comment and feel free to ask any further questions.


  5. This year our gardenia has had a multitude of blooms. Of course as normal, they eventually turn yellow and then brown. My husband finds this unattractive and wants to cut off every finished bloom. I have been only pulling the brown flowers off as they release easily without cutting them.

    I have read about seasonal pruning but what is the proper treatment for spent blossoms? I would appreciate your advice.

    1. Joanne,
      Spent flowers on Gardenias can be removed by either, gently pulling them off when they come off easily, or done by pruning them off. However, pruning does help to initiate new bud development. Do Not prune the stems way back when removing finished blooms.


  6. I am caring for a friend’s garden that has a gardenia “tree” at least 7 ft tall. She waters and feeds the tree almost every day. It was loaded with blooms, but they all had little ant-like bugs on them. Now in late May, the blooms are not so plentiful, but I am feeding it just once a week. A few questions:
    Is it a good idea to give it a rest from the plant food for the summer?
    Should I be concerned about the “ants” and what should I do to get rid of them? I would rather not use a toxic insecticide.
    Now that the blooms have diminished, should I prune it before hurricane season, and what are some good guidelines for a plant this large?
    Thanks for your ideas on this!

    1. Bridget,
      Established Gardenias (including gardenia trees) grow well with granular fertilizer applications 2 to 3 times a year. My article gives information on when to apply granular fertilizer during the year in Florida. Nutritional liquid feeding can be done from spraying between granular applications, but it has to be done at intervals, generally 30 to 60 days apart(follow directions on label). Wait at least 30 days before spraying after granular applications. They Do Not need to be fed every day or every week, I don’t recommend doing that. I would take a break from feeding it right now.

      Ants generally don’t harm plants, and do eat insects that are harmful. However, most people want to get rid of them when they are all over their plants, trees, and shrubs. If they are carpenter ants or fire ants, definitely eliminate them. The best way to totally eliminate any kind of ants, is to find where they are nesting and treat that area. The type of ants determines what insecticide to use on the nest.

      Go ahead and spray the tree with insecticide anyway, so you can remove whatever type of pests that are on it. Since you do not want to use a toxic chemical, you can spray it with an “insecticidal soap”. There are products found at garden centers that are “non toxic” you can use. Follow directions on the label.

      You can prune the tree now since it has finished flowering (Do only light pruning). There is information on pruning Gardenias in my article. This information pertains to Gardenia trees also.


  7. Hi Kurt
    I just purchased my first gardenia plant at Lowe’s… a ‘whim’ purchase. Now I’m deciding where to plant it. I live in Clearwater (near you in Palm Harbor?)
    The plant tag says Mystery Gardenia – Part Sun, Morning Sunlight Only. After reading your explanation about gardenia needing sunlight to bloom, and your statement “Gardenia need to be in full sun, partial shade, or shifting shade”, I think I want to plant it in afternoon sun. This is contrary to the tag! I’m considering planting on the west side of the house, where it will get sun for half of the afternoon. If ‘afternoon sun’ is not wise, I might plant it in full sun. Can gardenia ever get too much sun in west central Florida?

    1. Cathy,
      When a plant requires full sun, it means that the plant needs direct sunlight for some time during the day, whether it is in the morning, mid day, or afternoon. The sun is the strongest (peaks), in midday and the afternoon hours. During the early morning and late afternoon it is the least strong. Partial shade or part sun is almost the same as filtered sun, and shifting shade is like when the sun goes in and out.

      The light requirements stated in in my article is general information pertaining to all types of Gardenias, not a specific type, for them to perform at their best.

      I’m sure you know living in Clearwater Florida how strong the sun can be in the middle of the day during the summer. I know I do since I live in the same area, and have worked at the beach taking care of lawns, trees and shrubs. I have seen Gardenias grow fine in full sun anywhere in Clearwater, regardless what time of day they receive it.

      However, if it says on the tag “morning sun only” perhaps what it means is for that type the flowers might burn (turn brown) when the sun is the strongest in the middle of the day or afternoon. “Mystery” Gardenia might be sensitive to the intense sun in Florida when it is the strongest. It probably would be better to follow the directions on the label, since the plant most likely came from a grower in Florida.

      I hope this has been helpful,


  8. Thank you Kurt for your thorough response. Yes, the information you provided is very helpful. I will not plant the gardenia on the west side where it would get intense afternoon sun because, as you point out, the plant may do fine but the blooms may burn. So, I’ll pick a ‘morning sun’ spot in my yard.

  9. Hello Kurt,

    We have two “volunteer” Gardenia trees along our fence, each approximately 12 feet tall and about 5 feet apart. They have thrived for years and we love their shade and scent of their flowers. Unfortunately, about a year ago, we started to notice holes being eaten out of the leaves of both trees. It has gotten worse and worse but the trees continue to bloom and grow. I have examined the trees and leaves during the day and find no insects visible on the leaves or upper branches. I have checked various websites but can’t find any known Gardenia pest that would leave this kind of damage to the leaves.

    In addition, one tree has what appears to be an ant infestation along the main trunk. These ants are black, approx. 1/8th inch in length and have made their nest under the bark of the tree. If I peel off the outer bark I can expose live ants and wood dust from their excavations.

    Can you provide any help in how to deal with these two seemingly unrelated issues?


    1. Mike,
      The pests eating the leaves could be worms or caterpillars that come out at night from the ground. At nite look for them with a flashlight.
      If that is the case treat the ground with granular pesticide for worms and caterpillars.

      As far as the ants get insecticide for ants and treat the nest.


  10. Hi, I moved here about 2 yrs. ago. I am doing all my own yard work. I live in Spring Hill,FL. We need some schrubs to add to the front yard. But we are worried cause that is where our septic is and don’t need roots to grow into any piping. So any help would be great. We don’t have to have scrubs we can also have flowers or whatever. What we pick out has to be on the north side of the house in full sun all day.
    Thank you very much for your help.

    1. LaVonne,
      Before doing any landscaping in your front yard, mark the ground with flags, placed directly above the pipes where thy run. This way you will know where not to do any digging. You can use the same type of flags that irrigation companies use to mark broken heads and pipes. You should be able to purchase them at Home Improvement Centers, like “Home Depot” or “Lowe’s”. Sometimes nurseries carry them also. If you can’t find them anywhere contact your local county extension service, they might offer them to residents.

      The roots systems on shrubs generally don’t have roots that extend out very far, like Oak trees which can grow outward to 20-30 ft. Therefore, I don’t recommend planting large trees in your front yard as part of your landscape design. Depending on what type of shrub it is, determines how extensive the root system can be. Shrubs like Viburnum can have larger roots that can grow a good ways out, I would avoid using them closest to the pipes.

      Depending on what is available determines what you can purchase at this time of the year. Go to your local nurseries or garden centers to see what they have. Read the labels attached to shrubs for information to help in your decision on what to pick. The labels will tell you there mature height and width, with light conditions. There should be an attendant who is knowledgeable who can answer your questions about each type of shrub.

      Areas around the pipes would be good locations in your landscape to plant flowers, such as annuals or perennials. Use these areas for your flower garden beds. Areas furthest away from the pipes should be the locations to plant shrubs.

      If you have any unanswered questions, such as length of root systems pertaining to different types of shrubs, the county extension service should have information available.


  11. i bought 2 gardenia plants at a local grocery chain. Both were healthy and loaded with buds. now one of the plants’ g leaves are turning yellow and dropping off. My husband
    waters every other day also fertilizes with Miracle grow. He has transplanted them into
    larger pots. they both sit in pots under a large oak tree and get morning sun. what should we do to help the plant with the yellowing and dropping leaves ?

    1. Linda,
      Since it is in a pot move it out from under the large oak tree to a location where it will get Direct sun for 3 to 4 hours a day (preferably midday sun), with good air circulation. It is probably not getting enough Direct sun and air circulation, where it is underneath your tree.

      Not enough sunlight can cause loss of green color in Gardenia leaves turning them yellow. Plus, lack of sunlight can also reduce blooming. Good air circulation is important for Gardenias to be their healthiest.

      Cut back from watering every other day. They are probably being over-watered, especially since they are in pots. Too much water causes Gardenia yellowing of leaves and for them to drop off. Keep the soil moist not soaked. Plus, make sure that the pots they are in drain. Good soil drainage is important for Gardenias to stay healthy.

      After being relocated to a location i just explained, new growth should appear after some time and the plant eventually return to normal. I do recommend re-locating both of them, since the other one might wind up having the same problem.


  12. I purchased a gardenia from Home Depot over a year ago. It has grown beautifully but has never blossomed. It is in a large container in the morning sun. What is wrong?

    1. Mary Jo,
      Perhaps your gardenia is not receiving enough sun in the morning for it to bloom properly. It also could have been pruned improperly. Improper pruning can interfere with the blooming. Move it to an area where it will get full sun as much of the day possible. Have it pruned properly at the right time of the year. In Florida depending upon where you live determines when to prune gardenias.

      There are different types of gardenias and each type bloom at different times of the year, some in the spring, some in the fall. The label that was on the plant when you purchased it should tell what kind of gardenia it is.

      Perhaps the P H level is off and perhaps it is not getting the proper fertilizer applications.

      There is information in my article “Care Of Gardenias” pertaining to proper pruning, proper fertilizing, and the different types of gardenias.

      I hope this information is helpful,


  13. Hello Kurt, Its January here in Florida and I have a gardenia plant that’s loosing it’s leaves and the plants leaves are turning brown. It’s located under a cage in the elements. Any suggestions to bring it back to life? Not sure if the cold weather we have been having has caused distress. Should I move it under the lanai or do something else. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you, Terri

    1. Terri,
      It sounds like your Gardenia has received stress from cold weather damage. The leaves turning brown and dropping off is a sign of the combination of low temperatures, with extreme cold winds. It should still be alive and new leaves should eventually grow back.

      If it is in a pot move it now to a location where it is protected from the wind. If it is in the ground build some type of protection for it, do not transplant it until after the winter season ends and new leaves have completely grown back.

      Do Not prune it right now, wait until spring to do any pruning. Do Not cut it way back when pruning, only light pruning is recommended for Gardenias, as explained in my article. Wait until spring to give it any fertilizer.

      Keep the root system moist by watering it on a regular schedule. Make sure it is getting lots of direct sun.


  14. I have a Gardenia plant that was in a pot for two years. Last winter I had one beautiful bloom.

    We winter in Florida and the plant was alone last summer and did well in its pot. My brother-in-law is a Master Gardener and he said it had to go in the ground. I dug a hole twice the size of the root ball and put peat moss and planting soil in the hole. The root ball was just about an inch above the ground. I filled in the sides with 3″ of mulch, (not touching the plant.) I fertilize with Gardenia fertilizer and will do that one more time before I leave.

    Is there anything else I can do to make sure it stays healthy while I’m gone? I know the summer is the rainy season in Florida so I’m hoping it gets enough water.

    Thank you for any advise you can give me!


  15. My gardenia had a lot of buds but they turned black and fell off before blooming. I have it planted in sandy soil, not full sun but about 6 hrs a day. I recently purchased it from Home Depot and it appeared very healthy. Any ideas for me.. I am in the fort myers area thanks in advance for your thoughts

    1. Deirdre,
      Your Gardenia might have an insect problem or a disease problem. It can be treated with insect and disease control, but proper inspection from a professional would be the best way to find out exactly what is happening. Gardenias do need to be in full sun to do their best.

      Since you purchased it from Home Depot not long ago, you might want to go back to them and tell them about it. They could have had a bad batch, or it received the problem while at their garden center. Usually they guarantee their plants up to a year and would most likely replace it for you, or give you your money back.


  16. My. Beautiful gardenia is in a big pot on deck and bloomed all summer I am going to cut back some but what do I do for cold weather here in Atlanta Georgia (I do have garage)

    1. Sandi,
      I would not prune your gardenia at this time of the year since pruning initiates new growth, which will be damaged by the cold weather, and it can be severely hurt the plant. Wait until spring when winter has ended, and after it’s first bloom. Do Not cut gardenias way back, only do light pruning to keep their natural shape.

      For protection from wind during cold weather, it would be good to move it into your garage. However, if it is too heavy to be moved try to use something to put around it to block the wind.

      For cold protection cover it with proper material such as cloth, sheets, blankets, burlap, or covering specifically made for plants found at nurseries. This applies to any cold sensitive plants. Never use plastic for cold protection.


  17. I have an older gardenia bush there are white spots on the bottom of the leaves, the top is dark, and the edges are turning brown and curling. Would prefer to not use poison on it, also have old camillias 10 ft tall with white spots under the leaves. are they related problems? What should i spray on them?

    1. Will,
      The problem could possibly be insects Scales. They are usually found on the undersides of leaves and on the stems. They are white and somewhat powdery. They are prone to Gardenias and Camellias. It could also be a disease problem that is effecting them.

      Since I can’t visually inspect them in person, It would be best to treat them for both.

      For the insect problem you can spray them with a Horticultural oil such as a Parafinic oil. It is natural and has almost no toxicity like poisons have. Mix 5-10 Tsp. per gallon of water. Spray wetting the entire surfaces of branches,limbs, leaves top and undersides.

      For disease spray them thoroughly with liquid Fungicide.


  18. I live in Miami-Dade and have a very productive Miami Supreme gardenia about 20 years old. It has three major blooms a year as well as some small ones. It has grown to about 15 feet tall and has about the same drip diameter. Major trimming is necessary, but it is hard to find a time when it is not blooming or developing buds. In particular, during the October time period it was blooming strongly. January was free of blooms and buds but seems to be the wrong time according to recommendations.

    It really needs to be trimmed back substantially. I don’t know which to do, trim it while blooming or waiting till January/February.

    1. David,
      I DO NOT recommend trimming it “way back” as in cutting it down to the base. No more than 1/3 of the plant should be removed. Pruning Gardenias should be done only to shape the plant. Cutting it down too far will reduce flowering and hurt it’s growth.

      Pruning before October 1st. is done, so for the following year (new season) the blooms are not reduced. We are now in a new year approaching the first season. If it has no new blooms on it right now and your area is in early springtime then prune it.

      I live in the Tampa Bay area and we are still experiencing very cold weather, some areas freezing temperatures. For us in this area it is better to wait until the second week of March. However, I would think in your area winter should most likely be over and early spring is arriving.


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