Your soil may, or may not, be perfect for gardenias

Published on Wednesday, 17 May 2017 19:11 - Written by BY DEE BISHOP, Smith County Master Gardeners

Everyone who has ever “met” a gardenia in bloom wants one.

They are readily available, especially once they begin to bloom. Their enticing fragrance is addicting. We get them for our own only to watch as they slowly dwindle and die. Why? Why is it so hard for one person to grow a gardenia and so easy for another?

I remember my aunt had a huge bush in her hot, sunny front yard, and it thrived with only a dishpan of water once in a while. Why? After much research, I may have found some answers.

Gardenias need acid soil - a ph of 5-5.5. Some of you may have that low a ph, but most of us do not. Tyler has areas of clay and areas of deep sugar sand and areas in between. Our soils range from very acid to neutral, which is what I have. I have no trouble with azaleas, camellias and blueberries, but gardenias are another story. I know our water is pretty alkaline and when there is no rain, watering has been necessary. So, after watering day after day, year after year, our soil ph has begun to rise. If this continues, we will end up like the Dallas area with alkaline soils.

Back to gardenias - they prefer fairly acidic soils, lots of water and perfectly drained beds. What can be done to help them thrive? First, have your soil tested. Add sulfur to acidify it if needed. Dig in lots of peat moss and compost, making sure the bed is raised above soil level to insure good drainage.

Plant the gardenia like you do azaleas, with the root ball 1 to 1 1/2 inches above ground. Mulch with pine needles or pine bark mulch. Gardenias need full morning sun and afternoon shade. If you can provide these necessary conditions, your gardenia will thrive. I do believe that as you water over time, you will have to reapply sulfur. I think adding sulfur to azalea, camellia and blueberry beds will help them, too. Try these tips and see if we can grow beautiful gardenias, just like our grandmothers did.