How do I get these gardenias back in shape?

aok27502February 8, 2009

I have four gardenia bushes that have been the victims of neglect. They are growing fine, but have become leggy and lack shape. At the moment, they also have some leaves that look rather dry and brittle. I think they got a touch of the recent cold we had, although I covered them.

I have no idea what variety they are, they were funeral home plants from when my mother died in 2002. I started with two, and when they produced offshoots I separated them and they've done well, although they don't bloom much. They get perhaps three hours of direct sun during the summer, otherwise they are in partial shade.

Is it OK to prune them rather drastically, and start over with shaping? How much can I safely cut off? I realize they may not bloom this year, but that is OK, since they don't much anyway. I would rather have them look a little neater, and work on the blooming issue later.

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From an old eHow article....

Prune occasionally. Unlike some bushes and shrubs, Gardenias actually donÂt require pruning for health, but rarther more for shape and basic maintenance. They do not need to be pruned annually.

Prune for size and shape. The real purpose of pruning a Gardenia is to remove any deadwood, and maintain the size and shape suitable for your garden. This also prevents your Gardenia from becoming too "leggy" and losing their fullness.

Gardenias set their flower buds for the following year during the fall. Prune after the blooms have wilted and faded away, usually mid to late summer to avoid cutting away the new buds.

Use sharp pruners to avoid ragged cuts. Ragged increases the chance of infection and disease.

Trim any type of branch. Unlike some shrubs which put forth blossoms only on new wood, you can prune both green (new) and brown (old) wood on a Gardenia, because the shrubs set buds on both, ensuring blooms will appear no matter where you prune.

Don't water immediately after pruning. Give the "cut" a few hours to seal over.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2009 at 1:49PM
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If I ignore the risk of cutting away the buds, which there are few of anyway, is there any danger in pruning them now? And how much can I prune? 25%? half? To the dirt? (I wouldn't do that). If I wait until fall, they will be terribly out of control. But I'm really concerned that I don't do them damage, as they are rather keepsake plants.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2009 at 4:31PM
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They would like more sun than 3 hours to do well, by the way.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2009 at 7:08PM
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The sun issue notwithstanding... since you have 4 of them - conduct an experiment and shape one of them back now until it either looks good to you (if 25% is within your comfort zone, go for it) or the plant simply isn't leggy anymore. You're in a warm enough zone to probably do no more "damage" than sacrifice some bloom.

If that works for you, prune the others back in the same manner mid to late summer after any blooms have faded. To preserve the legacy aspect of your plants, living with legginess for a few extra months seems a small price to pay.

The literature says that gardenias can be pruned as far back as you like but - ideally when they are dormant (depending upon where you live). This allows the stems to heal over when the plants aren't actively growing. Don't cut all the leaves off. Some leaves need to be left so the plant can produce food for the root system.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2009 at 11:24PM
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Thanks to both of you for the tips. As to the sun, I was reading old threads here, and I thought I read that they can handle some direct sun, but prefer partial shade. Perhaps I read that wrong. They grow well where they are, and the only place I have that is substantially more sun, I really can't enjoy them. I'd have to stand in the middle of the street.

I like the idea of making one of them a lab rat. I'll do that and see what happens. And you're right, small sacrifice for plants that are important to me.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2009 at 7:39AM
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Plants like gardenias (and azaleas and mountain laurel and pieris and many others) appreciate full morning sun and protection from the hot afternoon sun - that is their idea of partial shade - they want the shade in the afternoon.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2009 at 8:45AM
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karen__w(z7 Durham, NC)

My gardenias got a bad case of whitefly and sooty mold several years ago and in frustration I cut them back as far as I could with the tools I had at the time, from 5' tall to about 18". (It was a good thing I had limits -- I was pretty frustrated.) They grew back beautiful and healthy and two years later you couldn't tell they'd ever been pruned. I think it was late spring when they got whacked.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 5:12PM
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