Indoor gardenia shedding leaves and growing more!

viktoria5July 2, 2010

I have a gardenia I got as a gift on this last Women's Day. It's in a 6" plastic pot inside a clay pot (I was told not to transplant it yet and wait for it to finish blooming). It is in a South-facing window and it is about 15 inches tall and as wide.

Here's the thing. It survived, with ongoing problems. So far, it gave me four blooms. In time (after it almost died from lack of humidity), I have learned to water it right (water sparingly but often, which in my case means twice a day), so humidity seems not to be an issue anymore. However, two weeks ago, just as it seemed to feel at home, it spontaneously dropped about half its leaves, which yellowed almost overnight. I know what you all think--typical gardenia horror story. Not!

As soon as the leaves dried and dropped, the plant went into overproduction mode. Branches started producing secondary branches, and a bunch of new shoots grew directly out of the soil. New leaves all over the place! Nothing is falling off it anymore either.

What is going on with my gardenia? I am trying to take a universal approach, which is that living beings fight off whatever ails them, and in this case, the plant just needed to get rid of old tissue so it can save the energy of carrying it and invest it instead in growing new tissue. Makes me think of my silver maples!

Is this looking up or an ill omen? The new growth looks healthy, although a few branches do have those typical leaves that are a bit paler with darker veins (planning on soaking peat moss and watering with that to give it some more acid; also planning on watering with water other than tap water). Also, the new leaves are quite larger than the old ones.

Please, tell me whether this is good or bad, and if this is good, what I can do to help my gardenia finally establish and live happily ever after.

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

no clue where you are.. but its summer.. why arent your house plants out in the yard ...

nor have you told us how big it is ... so we cant tell you whether the pot is an issue ...

and i never heard of this version of gardening:

I am trying to take a universal approach, which is that living beings fight off whatever ails them, and in this case, the plant just needed to get rid of old tissue so it can save the energy of carrying it and invest it instead in growing new tissue.


most likely.. one way or another.. you are most likely.. KILLING IT WITH TOO MUCH LOVE .. and per the above.. i dont know how the plant is going to fight you off.. if in fact... you MIGHT be the problem.. one way or another ...

all my house plants are out.. on the north side of the house.. where they get summer time temps.. air.. humidity ... and rain water ... plus a drink now and then ....

in my zone.. they will start coming indoors in sept or so .... and they may be repotted at that time ...

your leaf issue.. sounds more like a lack of light issue.. rather than a nutrient deficiency .... have you considered that the high sun angle of summer is not giving your plant the same light as the low declination of winter sun????

a pic might also give us better clues ...

all that said [tongue in cheek, i hope you know] ... it is a flowering shrub.. it is not a house plant ... and as such.. extremely short lived ..... and i have found.. with such.. if it spends 5 months outside .... there is a small chance that you will be able to nurse it along for the long run ....

good luck!!!!


ps: you ruled out humidity as a problem.. did you think the air conditioner [as compared to the furnace] now might be a problem?????

    Bookmark   July 2, 2010 at 3:37PM
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Thanks for your reply, Ken.

As mentioned in my latest post, the gardenia is about fifteen inches wide and as tall.

I think you misunderstood my approach to this particular problem for a way of gardening. Since I don't have much experience, especially with finicky plants like this, I was just trying to guess what may be happening to my plant, that's all. If I really thought that that is happening, I wouldn't have posted here in the first place.

I don't know about killing it, but the plant did start having problems right away, as soon as I got it. I suspect it was already affected by a lack of light and water by the time I got it. So, I think under these circumstances, it is only normal to try to care for a plant and see if it can survive and eventually thrive. What you call killing may just be saving...

I don't think I am the only one keeping plants inside the house during the summer. For one thing, many plants, especially exotic ones, are better off not being exposed to uneven weather as is the case here right now (last week, it was terribly cold and this week, we have the hottest, wettest weather) as well as being protected from predators, like the neighbour's cat. Also, the window where it is offers better conditions than most parts of my yard, and the only spot it would be fine is exposed to the kids in the street who are very fond of chopping off flower heads with scissors just because they can, so I will not put it there. I have lost many a flower this way, and talking to their parents doesn't seem to have any result ("Oh, come on, they're just kids! They don't mean no harm!").

That said, light levels are about the same now as they are in winter. It is hard to explain, but I have deciduous trees around my house and my neighbour's house is a bit in the way of the winter sun. These conditions even out the summer/winter light levels directly hitting the plant--only the number of hours of sunlight and the angle change, but that would be the same outside as well. That window is actually the best for plants. I only wish it were larger.

I did try another spot which gets more sun, but within a few days, the tip of the top leaves burned, so if anything, there is too much sunlight and not too little.

I don't think the air conditioner is a problem. We don't use it much as we have steady temperatures in the house, thanks to the silver maples shielding us. Only when the weather gets really hot do we turn it on, and even at that, just long enough to bring the temperature down to a comfortable level. So, all in all, I only use A/C a few hours a week, and it doesn't blow directly on the plant either.

Thanks for your good wishes, Ken. Let's wait to see if someone else has anything useful to say.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2010 at 5:58PM
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Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA

Gardenias, there are many varieties, are mostly subtropical. There are even some varieties which survive here (zone 7) outside all year. But, the most common 'florist' type (Gardenia jasminoides 'Veitchii') is probably a zone 8 plant. Well established plants in the ground can take a fair amount of sun.

When kept in containers 'up North', they are not the easiest of 'houseplants'. I would more likely classify them as 'patio plants'. They benefit from warm, bright (part sun), humid conditions during the summer season with somewhat acid soil and diluted fertilizer occasionally -- so outdoors in a partly-shady spot is best. In winter they like bright, HUMID and COOL conditions (night temps into the 40s to 60s). They are not particularly fond of warm, dry, low-light conditions in winter, which is what you will find in most homes. This will cause leaf-drop or browned leaf tips and they may be plagued by bugs too (mites, whitefly, etc.)

As far as your plant goes, it's hard to say. It could possibly be root-bound and the soil may be getting overly dry. Or there may be a build-up of salts in the soil. All that coupled with low humidity and low light. A six-inch pot sounds rather small for a 15" plant to me. You might unpot it and see if the roots have filled the medium. If so, repot to larger size immediately and then soak the entire plant in a bucket for a half hour or so, then let drain.

Again, setting the plant outside (in shade at this point) for the summer would probably be the best thing for it (summer sun will totally fry it). It will benefit from the humidity. If you can't do that, at least take it to the sink and mist it every day for a while, or set up a humidifier close to it. I would not expect many blooms until it gets favorable growing conditions -- light and humidity are key.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2010 at 9:30AM
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Thanks for your input, Dave.

When I first got the gardenia, it was extremely hard to water. I watered it and the water spilled straight out the hole at the bottom, yet the soil stayed dry. So I soaked it much like you suggest. That did help renew the absorption of the soil, but eventually, the same problem came back. So, I do think the soil it is in has something to do with the troubles my gardenia has been having.

I should also mention that I had tiny black flies around it and some leaves had small holes. I started handpicking the flies, but it was impossible to get rid of them all, although I managed to keep the population down to just a few. Now that the plant is showing new growth, there are no flies around it anymore. This is a great mystery to me as I did not do anything to fix the fly issue except for handpicking them.

I think the light level in that window is already optimal for a gardenia kept as a houseplant. It is quite close to full sun as the only sun that doesn't shine through it is the sinking evening sun. As for humidity, I believe we have a balanced atmosphere, not humid but not dry either (probably around 50%). Does the gardenia need more wet than that? And if so, do you think misting could fix it?

I am training it now to live on only one watering per day. So far so good. I still give it as much water but in one big dose and not two small ones. But I think that the soil is wrong and the waterings will never really achieve their goal. The plant does have slight buildup/deficiency symptoms (two-tone leaves). I have been using tapwater that stayed on the counter for a day to let the chlorine evaporate, but it isn't enough as there is also fluoride in the water which doesn't evaporate. So your guess about salt buildup sounds very plausible to me. Do you know if there is anything I can do to correct this? Obviously, I would have to change the soil, but the new soil would also be prone to buildups after a while, right?

I am thinking it may be a good idea to transplant it and sacrifice the half-dozen buds it has now. Better to go without flowers for a little while than lose the plant out of fear for the flowers... I have an eight-inch clay pot. Would that be large enough? Also, since this is a plant that likes humidity, wouldn't it be better off in plastic?

Thanks again for your help.

P.S.: I also have an orchid in the same window, the kind that likes to be root-bound. The leaves are pretty (no browning at the tips) and it is blooming twice as much as when I bought it. I believe orchids like more or less the same conditions as gardenias. So, if the orchid is doing great in that environment and the gardenia is not doing that great, my guess is that the problems it has been having are not related to heat, light and humidity, but rather to the soil, the water and/or the pot. Does that make sense?

    Bookmark   July 7, 2010 at 12:42PM
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You are absolutely right. It is Water.
Gardenias must dry out between waterings in a pot.
The water is suppose to go right through the pot when you water it. They need excellent drainage or the roots rot.

Go to Walmart, or any discount store and buy a moisture meter for 2.50.
Home Depot or any place they sell plant supplies sells it.

DO NOT change the pot now.
Wait til next spring.
ONLY water when the moisture meter states it is DRY.
Stick the meter down in the ROOTS of the plant once a day and see when it is Dry.
Put the gardenia right next to your orchid.
They both love similar conditions.
If you insist on torturing your gardenia and keeping it in the house instead of outside under the big tree in it's pot, put it in the bathroom a couple times a week and run the shower and let it get the humidity that way.
GOod luck with your plant.
Stop fretting over it so much, they are very hardy plants.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2010 at 1:06AM
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