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Gardenias' Smell Casts Spell Over Gardeners
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Having lived all but two years of my life with alkaline soils and lots of water, I relished the opportunity to come to Mississippi a little over three years ago. The chance to finally grow azaleas, camellias and dogwoods was icing on the cake.
But there is another acid-loving plant that lures us to grow it, as well as it lures pests like the whitefly. The intoxicating fragrance of the gardenia can bring us to our knees. One picked blossom can give hours of enjoyment in your home or car.
Visiting your garden center while gardenias are in bloom is like going to a bakery when the loaves of bread just come out of the oven. Not even my treasured night jasmine can compete with the fragrance of the gardenia. It is curious to note that gardenias are in the same family as coffee and a gorgeous container flower called ixora.
In the South, the most popular use of the gardenia is as a free standing specimen. Another great and much overlooked use is as part of an informal border combined with azaleas or other evergreen shrubs such as hollies. Gardenias are also great in large containers on a patio or deck.
Many gardeners don't realize that we have variety choices. The most popular may be August Beauty, which reaches a height of 4 to 6 feet. I am kind of partial to one called Mystery, which may reach 8 feet. Both Mystery and August Beauty repeat bloom off and on through fall.
If you want shorter plants, you have two options. One called Veitchii reaches about 3 feet and Radicans is a dwarf variety reaching only 2 feet tall. Radicans looks different with pointed leaves and smaller but just as fragrant flowers. They make a nice border similar to dwarf yaupon. Radicans is sensitive to cold damage, so severe winters make knock back or even kill it.
Eastern exposure is ideal for a gardenia, so they get about six hours of sunlight followed by protection from the scorching sun. This can also help protect from the blustery winter winds. But I have seen some doing well on the west side in full sun.
If you have seen black sooty mold on your gardenia, it is probably the result of whiteflies secreting honey dew and then mold feeding on it. If you take care of the whiteflies, you take care of the sooty mold problem.
After planting your gardenias in a well-prepared bed, be sure to keep them well watered to get them established. The dryness of May has played havoc on many newly planted trees and shrubs. A recent trip to my garden center saw the irrigation aisles lined with shoppers.
Feed your gardenia with an azalea/camellia type fertilizer three or four times during the growing season. If your gardenia needs pruning, shape as desired after the main spring bloom.
If you don't have a gardenia, take time to get close and personal with a blossom and you will come under the spell of the smell.