Gardenia sp. – No one can deny the sweet, distinct fragrance of gardenias that cloak southerners in the warm late spring. This leads to high demand in residential properties and the synonymous bewilderment by those who journey to their local nursery and dig their spade in with great expectations.
Size/Habit/Lifetime: Being such a cultivated plant, many varieties are available that produce slightly different statures and shape. Member of the Rubiaceae family, relative of coffee and ixora. Generally, 4-6′ tall by 4-6′ wide dense evergreen shrub.
Culture: Zone 7b-1o. Its northern limits, shown below from IFAS, may exhibit die back to the ground in harsh winters, but according to Dirr, not killed entirely unless temperatures drop below -3 F. Transplants well from container, but requires specific soils and location. Success in form and flowering requires acidic, well-drained, high in organic matter soils. Full sun to partial shade is acceptable but beware of full sun in hot summer months as well as harsh winter winds.
Leaf/Stem: Simple, oppositely arranged leaves 2-4″ long, half as wide as long. Color is a magnificent deep, lustrous green on top with persistent veins puncturing from above and protruding underneath. Slightly dull, less dark green below. Watch for yellowing of leaves, prominent sign of nutrient deficiency. Stem grayish brown.
Flower/Fruit: Flowers are perfect, having male and female organs, rose-like with 6-7 petals, more in double bloom varieties. Color is soft, ivory white towards golden brown before desiccation.Sized 2-3.5″ in May, June, and/or July. (Depending on location)
Use: Medium texture with oval to round shape, can be planted successfully as a hedge if well maintained. Specimen plantings or grove like use is common. Locating near the house or your favorite garden visit spot is almost necessary. Too many cultivars to list. ‘August Beauty’ and ‘Mystery’ are very common with double flowers, tall and upright, averaging 5′ tall. ‘Miami Supreme’ is common in Florida, often grafted, with dark green foliage. ‘Radicans’ (pictured below) is a dwarf, small leaved creeping variety, great for massing as a 2′ to 3′ ground cover.
Notable Facts: The largest downfall to this species is its susceptibility to pests. Powdery mildew, aphids, canker, scales, thrips, and a host of other problems can haunt your garden. Most of these problems can be relieved with care from hand soaps or organic sprays. Just make sure to have proper maintenance specs or time out of you week to manage this.
James Wheeler is a student of Landscape Architecture and Botany at the University of Florida and a contributing writer to Landscape Invocation.