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Is there hope for a leafless gardenia?

Q I've had a gardenia for about three years, and it has never bloomed. Now it has lost most of its leaves, and I would like to save it.

- V. G., Springfield, Ill.

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A Gardenias (Gardenia jasminoides) aren't really good houseplants, says Larry Hodgson, author of "Houseplants for Dummies."

He calls them "florist plants" that you should enjoy while they're in bloom, then toss out. To get gardenias to thrive, you need two essential conditions that you don't find in every home - high humidity and cool night temperatures.

Without high humidity, flower buds dry up and fall off. Your air may well be too dry, so try running a room humidifier nearby. The cool night temperatures (about 50-65 degrees F.), are needed year round for bud formation So at night you may want to move your plant up against a north window or put it in the basement

Gardenias also need an acid growing mix to prevent yellowing and leaf drop. If possible, water with rain water or distilled water, as your tap water may be too hard (alkaline).

Occasionally apply an acidifying fertilizer (rhododendron fertilizer) that contains chelated iron. Gardenias also need very bright light to full sun.

Since your plant is already in decline, it may be too late to save it. Mr. Hodgson suggests cutting the plant back to about 6 inches high and following the care instructions he has given.

Then, as insurance, use the cut-off stems to make cuttings. Insert them into pots of moist artificial soil mix and seal in a plastic bag. Applying a bit of rooting hormone to the base of the cutting will help them root more quickly.

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Readers: Pose your questions and we'll seek out experts on home repairs, gardens, food, and family legal issues. Send queries to the Homefront Editor, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail home@csps.com

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