Gardenia - yellowing leaves


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Hello all!

I've got a 4' or so gardenia tree that I picked up early this past summer. It had a few yellow leaves on it when I got it, but I put it into a nice ceramic pot, and placed it on my front porch where it seemed to do very well - the few yellow leaves fell off and everything was nice and green from that point onward. Skip ahead to mid October. It was starting to get a bit cold here. so I moved it inside, but now I've noticed that many of the leaves on the lower part of the branches are turning yellow and falling off, while the ends of the branches are still very green. Also, the buds have fallen off for the entire duration I've owned the plant (outside or inside) before they ever get a chance to flower. I didn't know what time of year it was supposed to flower, so I didn't think much of it.

I did a little research, and everything seems to point towards a magnesium deficiency, or maybe iron or manganese. I have a lawn fertilizer that has about 1% or so of those elements, is that enough? Or do I need something stronger? Something more specific to plants and not lawns?

Also, the plant does not get as much sun inside as it did when it was on the front porch, and I've been trying to water it about every other day or so. I've found some contradictory things regarding watering - some say it's bad to let the soil ever get dry, while others say that too much continuous watering is harmful.

It's a very gorgeous plant when healthy, and I want to do whatever I can to keep it alive while there are still a good portion of green leaves left. I'd hate to have it die on me before I even get a chance to see what these white flowers look like! I've never had a gardenia before and don't really know much about them, so any advice is greatly appreciated.
 
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It sounds as if you soil Ph is too high. Gardenias are very picky about their soil being alkaline and if this is the case the yellowing and dropping of leaves and blooms will be the result. Test your soil and if the Ph is above 6 then this is why you are having problems. When the soil is too alkaline the plant cannot uptake nutrients such as iron, magnesium and others. The optimum Ph would be about 5 - 5.5
 
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Hmm yeah that could very well be it. I simply took the soil it came with and added a little potting mix (the ceramic container I put it in was only slightly bigger than the pot it came in). How does one check soil pH? I'm only familiar with instruments that can read pH of a liquid. In addition, will something as simple as adding a dilute solution of pickle juice or other slightly acidic agent help, or do I need special soil/fertilizer with a lower pH? Thanks for the help
 
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Hmm yeah that could very well be it. I simply took the soil it came with and added a little potting mix (the ceramic container I put it in was only slightly bigger than the pot it came in). How does one check soil pH? I'm only familiar with instruments that can read pH of a liquid. In addition, will something as simple as adding a dilute solution of pickle juice or other slightly acidic agent help, or do I need special soil/fertilizer with a lower pH? Thanks for the help
I would go to WalMart or someplace and buy a cheap test kit. I guess the easiest and cheapest way to acidify soil is to use 2 TBS of vinegar per gallon of water but there are a lot of other ways too.
 
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Hey AppleDapples...we gotta get that Gardenia back in shape!! Is there any way you can post a close up picture of some of the yellow leaves? Leaves go yellow on Gardenias in different ways and each kind of yellowing is symptomatic of a specific condition. How old is the plant? This matters because older leaves, which are closer to the trunk, will eventually turn yellow and fall off so it might not mean anything. Can we get a close up picture of the soil? Watering every other day seems too much to me now that the plant is indoors. I water my gardenias once every 4 days or so. I usually wait until the top 1-2 inches of soil are dry before watering. Over watering definitely causes yellow leaves.

Your Gardenia not blooming is probably because of humidity, temperature, and light not being optimal for blooming. This is tricky now that it is indoors but is manageable. Put your Gardenia in front of a southern facing window where it just barely gets direct sunlight part of the day. You want to keep your humidity high..at least 60%. Place the plant on top of a tray of pebbles with water...but don't allow the water to reach the pot. Also, mist your Gardenia. I mist mine twice a day. Temperature...for Gardenias to bloom you do not want the night time temperature to get above 65 degrees. Buds will drop if you have high night time temperatures. I keep my Gardenias around 70 degrees during the day and 55 - 60 degrees at night.

Please..do not use lawn fertilizer on your gardenia!!! The fertilizer overwhelmingly recommended by Gardenia owners is Miracle-Grow Miracid. It's less than $10 a box and will last a couple years. Just follow the instructions. What Chuck says is true. You can use organic white vinegar to lower the ph of the soil but that can be tricky without knowing the exact ph of your soil. That kind of vinegar has a ph of around 2.5 which is really really acidic. If you don't know the ph of your soil, you could be making the soil far too acidic with the addition of vinegar. Plus, just adding vinegar will only lower the ph...it is not a fertilizer and will not benefit your plant.

Do-it-yourself ph soil testers are highly inaccurate. I have tried a couple and gotten wildly different results. If you want to reliably have your soil's ph tested, you want to send a sample to a cooperative extension. Here is a link to an interactive map where you can find your local county extension http://npic.orst.edu/pest/countyext.htm . If you only have one plant I wouldn't even bother. The Miracid fertilizer will take care of any issues you may be having ph wise anyway.

If you scroll down a couple posts in the indoor plant thread, a few below this post, you will see my Gardenia Flowering thread. There is a picture of one of my Gardenias flowering recently.


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Hey AppleDapples...we gotta get that Gardenia back in shape!! Is there any way you can post a close up picture of some of the yellow leaves? Leaves go yellow on Gardenias in different ways and each kind of yellowing is symptomatic of a specific condition. How old is the plant? This matters because older leaves, which are closer to the trunk, will eventually turn yellow and fall off so it might not mean anything. Can we get a close up picture of the soil? Watering every other day seems too much to me now that the plant is indoors. I water my gardenias once every 4 days or so. I usually wait until the top 1-2 inches of soil are dry before watering. Over watering definitely causes yellow leaves.

Your Gardenia not blooming is probably because of humidity, temperature, and light not being optimal for blooming. This is tricky now that it is indoors but is manageable. Put your Gardenia in front of a southern facing window where it just barely gets direct sunlight part of the day. You want to keep your humidity high..at least 60%. Place the plant on top of a tray of pebbles with water...but don't allow the water to reach the pot. Also, mist your Gardenia. I mist mine twice a day. Temperature...for Gardenias to bloom you do not want the night time temperature to get above 65 degrees. Buds will drop if you have high night time temperatures. I keep my Gardenias around 70 degrees during the day and 55 - 60 degrees at night.

Please..do not use lawn fertilizer on your gardenia!!! The fertilizer overwhelmingly recommended by Gardenia owners is Miracle-Grow Miracid. It's less than $10 a box and will last a couple years. Just follow the instructions. What Chuck says is true. You can use organic white vinegar to lower the ph of the soil but that can be tricky without knowing the exact ph of your soil. That kind of vinegar has a ph of around 2.5 which is really really acidic. If you don't know the ph of your soil, you could be making the soil far too acidic with the addition of vinegar. Plus, just adding vinegar will only lower the ph...it is not a fertilizer and will not benefit your plant.

Do-it-yourself ph soil testers are highly inaccurate. I have tried a couple and gotten wildly different results. If you want to reliably have your soil's ph tested, you want to send a sample to a cooperative extension. Here is a link to an interactive map where you can find your local county extension http://npic.orst.edu/pest/countyext.htm . If you only have one plant I wouldn't even bother. The Miracid fertilizer will take care of any issues you may be having ph wise anyway.

If you scroll down a couple posts in the indoor plant thread, a few below this post, you will see my Gardenia Flowering thread. There is a picture of one of my Gardenias flowering recently.


View attachment 9658

I'm not sure as so the exact age of the plant. I have only had it since late spring when I bought it. It was in the "forgotten/clearance/unloved" section of the garden section (and the only gardenia they had) and had about 10 yellow leaves on it. I immediately felt bad for it, bought it and brought it home. I think the yellow leaves that were on it when I first acquired the plant might have been due to just age of the leaves, because once I had it set up on my porch they seemed to fall off and didn't come back. This time I'm almost positive it's something I'm doing. There have been about 30 leaves that have yellowed or browned and fallen off in the past week or so.

It is currently facing a southerly window, although before that I had moved it around to a few different window options to see what the best light for it would be. I have since read that they do not like being moved about, so it's going to stay put where it is. Maybe moving it to different areas stressed the plant? As far as watering goes, I had been watering it once a day when it was outdoors, and it seemed to thrive (except the buds falling off, but that might be due to the fact that it was too hot overnight like you stated). After bringing it inside, I started watering it less - once every few days or so, or when I noticed the top layer of soil in the pot being dry to the touch - but then read an item about how I'm not supposed to let the soil get too dry between watering events. That's why I started to get confused about how much/little to water it.

I first noticed the yellow leaves about a few weeks after bringing it inside (after watering it on the every few days routine). Nothing had changed in the soil from it being outside, so I figured it had to be either a sun or water issue. So that's when I started to change up the watering routine and moving it around, which now I'm sure all those factors together only exacerbated the situation. If the soil weren't acidic enough, wouldn't it have not done well outside either? Or is it not uncommon for the soil pH to rise time, making it prosper fine outside but eventually do poorly indoors?

My apartment (so far) is about 60-65 degrees during the day, and maybe 55-60 at night, as I haven't yet turned the heat on for the winter, but I have not been misting the plant at all. I have a sprayer I can use, I assume I just apply some mist to the leaves? I mixed in a little pickle juice with the last watering, and thanks to your comments I will NOT add the lawn fertilizer haha.

I have included a few pictures. One is of the plant overall (minus the 30 or so leaves that have already browned and fallen off) and the other is of the soil in the pot, with a few of the leaves as examples. You can see that the leaves at the ends of all the branches are still nice and green, and even look like new growth leaves are existent, but the leaves on the branches closer to the trunk seem to be the problem area.

Thanks again for all the help everyone, and excellent flowers Java Guy!! Hopefully I'll be able to get there someday with this one.
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Ill get back with you on this later today. It can be fixed (y)
 
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That sounds absolutely gorgeous. I have no trees that I've raised on my own, but I can imagine how awesome it feels to watch it grow from small to big. I love the look of Gardenias. :)
 
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AppleDapples...there are a few things you can do immediately to help the situation.

First: I don't see a humidity tray underneath the pot. If you do not solve the humidity issue with your gardenia it will die. There is no way around that and one of the main reasons they do not survive indoors over the winter. You have got to get some sort of tray that you can fill with pebbles / small rocks and water and place that plant on. Misting is also very important for gardenias. A simple spray bottle works great. Mist it in the morning and if you can in the evening as well.

Second: You have got to feed that gardenia plant food specific for acid loving plants. There is no doubt in my mind that the compost your gardenia is in is nutrient deficient. I bought a holly over the summer from the same rack you bought your gardenia..the discarded soon to be dead discount rack. I can see in your soil picture it is the same kind of soil I came across..mainly composted pine bark with some green time release food which I highly doubt is plant specific. If the plant was in better condition I would suggest re-potting it in fresh soil but that can wait until spring. The Miracle-Gro Miracid I suggested is $5. Your next watering should be that or some other acid loving plant food.

Third: Don't move the plant again. I see you have come to that conclusion already. The next time you move that plant should be in the spring when you put it back outside.

Last, and most important, is the watering. Reading online can be confusing regarding watering plants. I am going to give you my advice and show you what I do with my gardenias. If the top layer of the soil is dry to the touch it does not necessarily mean it needs water. It depends on how deep it is dry. I stick my index finger into the soil up to the second knuckle. If it comes out dry, then I water. Remember, the majority of the roots are deeper in the pot. It may be dry on the surface but the soil in the pot is still wet. For me it comes out to watering every 4th day but that is not a rule. It depends on how much sun there was during the period as that dries the soil sooner. The finger check is the way to go.

This is the soil my gardenias are in 2 days after I watered them. I don't have to stick my finger in to know it doesn't need to be watered yet..it's obviously still moist. I will post a picture of the soil right before I water it in a few days so you can see how dry I let mine get. If you want to look here AppleDapples, https://www.gardening-forums.com/threads/indoor-plant-maintenance.6478/ you can see the condition of my gardenias. They are not the greatest in the world but I have grown them from seed and am proud nonetheless.

20151108_123210.jpg


Roots need oxygen. Watering indoors during the winter is trickier than outdoors in the summer. I give my gardenias a little help getting oxygen to the roots. I take a bamboo skewer (anything like a chopstick would work) and I run it through the soil to the bottom of the pot in quarters (4 times). This makes a hole which allows more oxygen deeper into the soil and helps the soil dry more evenly. Don't wiggle the stick...you don't want to disturb the roots. Just stick it in and pull it out.



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Lucky one of my smaller gardenias from cuttings soil was a good example of what I am talking about as far as depth of dryness and watering. The top 1/4 inch or so of soil is dry. I moved the soil away about 2 inches (second knuckle) to the roots to show that the soil is still moist further down. I may water these tomorrow.


DRY ON TOP
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STILL MOIST 2 INCHES DOWN BY THE ROOTS
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Sometimes the appearance of the yellow leaves is alarming. But come to think of it, when the yellow leaves fall off, the small leaves will come out. So it is just a cycle that the plant passes through. However, when there are no young leaves developing and the leaves continue to turn yellow, check the sunlight and fertilizer. The best to revive the withering leaves is by watering it with the water you used to rinse fish and meat from the market.
 
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AppleDapples...there are a few things you can do immediately to help the situation.

First: I don't see a humidity tray underneath the pot. If you do not solve the humidity issue with your gardenia it will die. There is no way around that and one of the main reasons they do not survive indoors over the winter. You have got to get some sort of tray that you can fill with pebbles / small rocks and water and place that plant on. Misting is also very important for gardenias. A simple spray bottle works great. Mist it in the morning and if you can in the evening as well.

View attachment 9683
The chopstick holes are a great idea - I will start doing that immediately. Regarding the humidity tray, do you have a picture of a setup you use? I assume the tray with water and rocks acts like a basic humidifier, creating water vapor around the plant as it evaporates? Does it have to be directly under the plant, or can it be next to the pot? Just curious about your setup because I can't think of any type of tray I have offhand that would be functional while keeping the pot steady and stable on top of it. (I have cats that like to find things that aren't stable and knock them over one way or another). Are those white things aeration pebbles in your photos? I was thinking about getting some when I first got the plant, along with a few other plants (I have a really nice exotic angel plant I bought at the same time) but I couldn't find them.

Your cuttings look fantastic! It's very impressive that you grew them from seed. I have only grown herbs and veggies and a few fruits from seed so far, but I'd like to get more into it. The shine to the gardenia leaves is what attracted me to the plant in the first place. Even with the yellow leaves on it when I first got mine in the left to die section of the store, it still looked glossy and popped more than the plants around it.
 
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AppleDapples, first the tray issue. I just use the basic plastic saucers you can buy at any store that sells plants for a $1 or so. They are the ones you set your plants in to catch any water coming out of the drainage holes. To be honest though, any thing would work, even a pie pan. You just need something that you can put rocks and water in and set your plant on. Don't worry, it is stable. As for the rocks, you can use anything. I have 2 types. I bought a big bag of river gravel from the garden center for $7 earlier in the summer and used that for most of my plants. I ran out and of course the garden center ran out so I bought a more expensive bag of decorative rocks for the same price (much smaller bag though :(). You could use anything for that as well, even marbles if you happened to have a bunch. You just need something that you can spread out even and set your plant on. Below are some pictures of mine. And yes, the purpose of this is so that as the water evaporates, you raise the humidity of the plant. Look at the right side of the top picture. You can see my humidity is 76%...that's just from these trays and misting twice a day.

MAKE SURE THE WATER IS JUST BELOW THE BOTTOM OF THE POT. YOU DON'T WANT WATER SEEPING UP INTO THE DRAINAGE HOLE.
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RIVER GRAVEL

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DECORATIVE ROCKS
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Now for the soil question. Those white things are perlite and pumice. They help with drainage and aeration of your soil. It's too late to add any of that to your gardenia. It would be mixed in with the soil. Your plant has the same pine bark compost that a cotoneaster I bought from Lowes was in. It's not very good but as long as you are watching your watering, feeding your plant, getting it some decent light, and getting that humidity up, it will do for now. Once you get your plant healthy it will be strong enough for a re-potting in some good soil.

AppleDapples, Gardenias are some of the most difficult things to grow indoors. Most people don't even try. They buy them in the spring already flowering and throw them away in the fall when all the flowers are gone. That's why they cost so much to buy. They require a lot of attention and extra care. They also reward you with loads of satisfaction .
 
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It has been a few weeks, so I thought I would post an update.

I have been using the Miracid solution every other watering event (so about once a week), and after each watering event I use the chopstick to aerate the soil (4 holes - try to put them in roughly the same spot every time so as not to damage roots). In addition, I have added the water tray, seems to work well. I managed to find one at Lowes that was the perfect size, and even had a pile of loose gravel I unearthed out of my front flower bed that is perfect for the humidifier setup. I also mist the leaves as often as possible - usually once a day or so.

The results seem to be mostly positive! I see a few new growth leaves budding from the branches, and there are a few green buds that haven't yet flowered. I'm still not sure when/how often they are supposed to flower, but while these haven't flowered, they haven't turned brown and fallen off either, so I suppose that's progress!

I still see a few leaves turning yellow/brown here and there, but not nearly at the rate they were earlier. I have picked all the dead ones off to get a better idea of how many and how fast are dying off now that I have applied your advice. I did notice that some of the leaves seem to have some white/yellow specs on the underside. My girlfriend suggested they might be mites? They don't appear to move, but I don't really know what else they could be either. There also does not appear to be any webbing or anything between the leaves, which is the only indicator I know to look for to identify spider mites. I did not notice them on the underside of the dead leaves, but maybe they move on once the leaf starts to die? I will keep an eye on the green leaves they are currently on and see if these too turn yellow. I hadn't noticed these when they were outside, but I guess I wasn't really looking at the undersides of the leaves too closely. If they are mites, what is the proper way to get rid of them without harming the plant? Is there something specific that causes their onset, and is there something that can be done to prevent them once they are gone? With all the progress in bringing this gardenia back from the brink, I'd hate to lose it now to some pests.
 

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