What Is African Gardenia: Tips On Caring For African Gardenias

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Mitriostigma isn’t a gardenia but it sure has many of the famous plant’s attributes. Mitriostigma gardenia plants are also known as African gardenias. What is African gardenia? An ever blooming, fabulously scented, non-hardy houseplant or warm climate patio plant. If you are looking for consistent lovely blooms, evergreen, shiny leaves and fun little orange fruits, try growing African gardenias.

What is African Gardenia?

A very unique and fairly hard plant to find is Mitriostigma axillare. This plant can become a small tree in its habit but is a small bush in container situations. One of the most important things about caring for African gardenias is their intolerance to soggy soil. These plants also prefer indirect light or even partial shade since they grow in forested areas where taller plant species dapple the light.

African gardenia is found in coastal and dune forests from the Eastern Cape to Mozambique. This evergreen shrub has grayish brown bark with green markings, arrow-shaped glossy leaves, and the much praised 5-petaled white scented blooms. The one-inch flowers densely pack the leaf axils and may be present much of the year. In fact, the latter part of the scientific name, axillare, refers to the location of the flowers.

Spent flowers turn into a smooth elliptical berry with an orange rind-like skin. The fruit lends another name to the plant, dwarf loquat. Mitriostigma gardenia plants are hardy in United States Department of Agriculture zones 10 to 11 but are perfectly suited to the indoors or in a greenhouse.

Growing African Gardenias

African gardenia can be hard to get your hands on. It is not widely available in nursery catalogues, but if you do run into someone with the plant, you can start your own with summer cuttings or ripe fruit seeds.

Collect seeds from orange healthy fruits and plant them immediately in a moist flat. Transplant seedlings when they are several inches tall. Fertilize with liquid food at every watering and keep the plants in moderate light.

The cuttings should be inserted into a pot with sterile compost, kept moist and in indirect light. Usually, the cutting will root in about 4 weeks and can then be transplanted and grown on using good African gardenia care tips.

Caring for African Gardenias

Mitriostigma does well in good purchased potting soil mixed with some sand. If planted in a container, make sure there are good drainage holes. If planted in the ground outdoors, amend the soil with plenty of compost and choose a location with shelter from noon time sun. Pick its location wisely, as African gardenia produces a large taproot which makes relocating the plant difficult.

African gardenia care should include feeding with liquid plant food at every watering from spring through late summer.

Move plants indoors in cool climates by early fall. In the winter when the plant is blooming, feed once per month with a high phosphorus plant food. Be sure to leech to soil often to prevent the buildup of fertilizer salts.

Caring for African gardenias is quite easy, as they don’t have any significant pest or disease issues. As long as you keep the soil a bit on the dry side and protect the plant from harsh sun rays, you will have a long lived scented bloomer in your home or landscape.

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The gardenia is a tender evergreen shrub with amazingly fragrant flowers and shiny, dark-green leaves. It’s native to the tropics and needs a bit of extra care to grow its best. Here’s how to plant, grow, and care for gardenias in your garden!

About Gardenias

The main species of gardenia (also known as “cape jasmine”) grown in North American gardens is a native of the tropical regions of East Asia, including southern China and Taiwan. In this part of the world, the plant has been used for centuries in herbal medicine. Its yellow fruit was traditionally used to make a dye, which could then be used to color food and clothing.

Gardenias are known to be a bit of a challenge for gardeners. Frankly, the plant is picky and often needs more attention than other flowering shrubs. It prefers fairly acidic soil (a pH of 5.0 to 6.0), likes a tropical climate (but suffers in too much direct sun), and doesn’t transplant well. Nevertheless, with a little extra work, a gardenia can be a wonderful addition to a suitable garden.

If you happen to live within a hardiness zone colder than Zone 7, you’re not out of luck when it comes to gardenias! They can also be grown indoors in pots. Put them outside during the warm days of summer and take them indoors for the cooler seasons.

There are many varieties of gardenias to choose from, depending on what you’re looking for. There are compact plants that only grow 3 to 4 feet tall and there are giants that grow up to 8 feet in diameter. Some bloom early in the summer and some bloom later. Some varieties have only a few huge blossoms and others have many small blooms. There’s something for everyone!


When to Plant Gardenias

  • Generally, the best time to plant gardenias is in the fall. In areas that get a light frost, plant gardenias at least 6 weeks prior to your local fall frost date.
  • In cooler regions (Zones 7), it’s best to plant in the spring, as this will ensure that the gardenia has plenty of time to settle in before winter.

Choosing and Preparing a Planting Site

  • Consider the strong fragrance of the gardenia’s flowers when choosing a planting site. While their scent is enjoyable in passing, it may become overbearing if the shrub is planted near a window or frequently traveled area!
  • Gardenias appreciate a tropical climate, but may suffer in full sun at the height of summer.
    • In warm regions (Zones 8+), select a spot that gets morning sun and light afternoon shade, but that avoids the harsh midday sun.
    • In cooler areas, select a spot that gets full to partial sun.
  • Choose a sheltered spot where the gardenia will protected from cold winds in the winter.
  • Gardenias require a low soil pH (acidic) of between 5.0 and 6.0 to grow well.
  • Soil should be rich and moist, but well-draining. To increase the fertility of the soil, add aged manure or compost to the site before planting.

How to Plant Gardenias

Gardenias do not transplant well and respond poorly to root damage. Because of this, handle the plant with care during planting!

  • Dig a hole that is twice as wide and a bit deeper than the root ball.
  • Put a couple of inches of fresh soil in the bottom of the hole.
  • Place the gardenia in the hole so that the top of the root ball is even with the soil surface.
  • Fill in with soil around the root ball.
  • Water deeply.
  • Add 2 to 4 inches of pine straw or compost around the plant, leaving bare soil right around the stem to allow for air flow.

How to Care for Gardenias

  • Gardenias grow and bloom best when temperatures during the day are between 65 and 70ᵒF (18 to 21°C) and night temperatures are between 60 and 65ᵒF (15 to 18°C).
  • Keep watering consistent. Gardenias will suffer if they dry out or are overwatered.
  • Gardenias enjoy high humidity. Mist with water during dry spells.
  • Fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons and azaleas a couple of times during spring and summer. Do not fertilize in the fall, as this can cause a spurt of frost-tender growth.
  • Routinely remove faded flowers to encourage more blooms.
  • Bud drop can be caused by low humidity, over- or under-watering, insufficient light, and high temperatures.

How to Prune Gardenias

  • Prune younger plants only to keep the plant nicely shaped.
  • Prune back the new growth of established plants by two thirds after flowering.

How to Propagate Gardenias

  1. In early spring, take a 4 inch stem cutting just below a leaf.
  2. Dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone.
  3. Put the cutting into a pot with a mix of perlite and potting soil.
  4. Keep the soil moist.
  5. Transplant the cutting into a bigger pot after it has rooted.

Growing African Gardenias - How To Care For Mitriostigma Gardenia Plants - garden

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Hardiness Zone 10
Bloom Season Everbloomer
Sun Requirement Full Sun, Partial Sun
Grows to 10-20"
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I am so impressed with Logees shipping time, careful packing, and quality of plants! I bought this little gardenia friend just a few months back and he shot up and out, once in a new clay pot. I didn't think I would get any blooms until next year, but lo and behold it, has started to bloom! He faces South in a window but I've took him outside on warmer sunny days to bask on the front steps. The flowers are small but very fragrant! And the description and care on Logee's is exact. I have a little leaf crinkling from not enough humidity indoors, and I'll work on that in the Winter months, but for now, the plant is healthy, happy and setting buds. (Posted on 7/21/2019)

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The flowers are quite simple, five white petals surrounding a yellow center and wonderfully fragrant.

The Worst Place For Your Gardenia

Like most of you, Grumpy loves a gardenia. If there is a plant on Earth whose flowers emit a more powerfully sweet scent, I haven't smelled it. Thus, I have a gardenia in my yard, my next-door neighbor does too, as does just about everybody else up and down the street.

From observing this, I have come to the following conclusion. There are many places to plant a gardenia, but the absolute worst is right in front of your house. The photo above shows the reason.

A gardenia bush typically opens its main flush of blooms over several weeks in late spring and early summer. Flowers unfurl alabaster white into perfectly shaped corsages. The problem is, blooms don't stay white for long. After a week or so, the oldest blooms turn yellow and then brown and remain on the shrub even as new flowers open. The photo reflects the result. Is the gardenia half-alive or half-dead? It doesn't really matter—it's not an attractive sight and surely not one you want to occupy a featured spot in front of the house.

You could pick off the blooms as soon as they start to fade, but who really does that? A really bored person, that's who. Thus, it behooves all of us to select a place for gardenia where we don't have to do that—maybe the backyard, the side yard, or a courtyard. Any place but out front. That way, we get to enjoy the weeks of perfume without worrying that the neighbors think we don't take pride.

WATCH: Grumpy Gardener's Guide to Gardenias

I'm sure many of you reading this already have gardenias planted out front. No need to feel ashamed and wear bags over your heads. You can always move the plants to a better spot this fall. Or don't. But if you choose the latter, be prepared to field questions like this: "Why is your gardenia dying?"

How to Plant

The best times to plant gardenias are fall and spring when temperatures are moderate. Like camellias, gardenias like to be planted a little high. The soil should drain fast but retain water, as well condition it with plenty of organic matter such as peat moss or ground bark. Dig a hole that is twice as wide and just as deep as the plant's root-ball. Firmly pack 3-4 inches of soil at the bottom of the hole and set the root-ball about 1 inch higher than the surrounding soil to help ensure adequate drainage. Then, gently taper the soil up to the top of the exposed root-ball. Mulch plants with pine straw or chopped leaves. Gardenias do not like to be disturbed once they are established so it's best to hand-pull weeds instead of cultivating around the root zone.

Maintain a temperature between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the daytime and between 60 and 62 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Gardenias do not set flower buds when temperatures are above 65 degrees at night and drop buds that have already formed, according to the Encyclopedia of Houseplants. They also fail to set buds and may drop existing buds if the mercury rises above 70 during the daytime. Missouri Botanical Garden advises that temperature below 60 degrees can result in malformed buds.

Mist frequently or provide pebble trays to raise the humidity level near the gardenia. Low humidity also causes buds to drop and failure to bloom.

Watch the video: Care Tips for Indoor Gardenia Plants

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