There’s something special in the tropical night air when gardenias are blooming. The fragrance of Gardenia jasminoides is aromatherapy at its best, and the flower one of nature’s exquisite gifts of beauty.
A member of the Rubiaceae family, this hardy tropical bush is a relative of coffee and grows in most regions of the country as a popular ornamental. Originally from southern Japan, Taiwan and eastern China, gardenias are now found around the world in tropical and mild temperate climates.
In Costa Rica, gardenias are readily available at leading nurseries and grow in most regions of the country, except for beach areas with salt breezes. They are a good choice for patios, porches and verandas, where you can enjoy the fragrant flowers in bloom.
Gardenias can be planted directly in the soil as freestanding specimens, as part of a shrubbery border or in large pots for terraces or apartments. This shrub likes acidic, fertile soil with lots of moisture. Red clay soil mixed with aged compost fertilizer is a good mix. Gardenias are heavy feeders and show signs of nutrient deficiencies when their leaves turn from dark green to pale yellow. Soluble fertilizers such as compost tea applied several times a year around the roots will keep your gardenias healthy and growing vigorously.
Like coffee plants, gardenias are susceptible to nematode attacks on the roots. Most nurseries graft their gardenias with the hardy species G. thunbergia, which is resistant to nematodes. Compost tea helps to prevent nematode attacks on the roots, because it contains natural fungi that prey on nematodes.
Small, soft-bodied insects attack the leaves and branches, and can be controlled using a solution of soapy water sprayed on the underside of the leaves and branches. Be sure to use a natural soap to make this solution. Sooty mold is another common fungal infection that attacks the leaves of many plants, including gardenias, and can be controlled by spraying a solution of Kilol, a product made from citrus seed oil extract. Check your local agricultural supply stores for these products, which come in handy when treating fungal infections on your garden plants.
Gardenia shrubs produce blossoms two to three years after planting and continue to bloom for a good portion of the year. The fragrant blossoms are ideal for cut flower arrangements, provided they receive adequate water. The flowers can also be soaked in massage oil to capture the gardenia fragrance.
Now’s a great time to plant gardenias and other ornamentals as the rains begin. This ensures they will establish a hardy root system before the next dry season rolls around.