Gardenia season is here! Southern gardeners cherish the Gardenia because of its iconic fragrance, eye-catching blooms, and reliable evergreen foliage. However, many new varieties are capable of growing down to USDA Zone 7a. This means that the humble southern Gardenia is spreading to entirely new areas across the United States!
A Brief Gardenia History...
We tend to associate Gardenias with the South, but Chinese gardeners have bred Gardenias for thousands of years. They weren’t brought to the United States until 1762.
Dr. Alexander Garden was a physician and naturalist from Scotland. In 1758, Dr. Garden’s friend John Ellis visited a garden nearby London, where he observed a shrub with intoxicatingly fragrant, white blossoms. At the time, they believed it was a Jasmine variety. But Ellis didn’t believe that this was the case. Along with the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, Ellis cataloged the plant and named it after his friend, Alexander Garden. Hence, the birth of the Gardenia jasminoides species that we know of today.
Four years later, Alexander Garden planted the first Gardenia in America in his personal garden.
Standout Gardenia Varieties
We currently offer 6 different gardenia varieties, each unique in their own way. Regardless of the variety, though, they all feature the fantastic fragrance that everyone expects from Gardenias.
They're sorted below in order of shortest to tallest.
Dwarf Radicans Gardenia
The Dwarf Radicans Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides ‘Radicans’) is the shortest Gardenia of the bunch. This variety maxes out at 6-12″ tall and 2-3′ wide! Therefore, it opens up some unique options in the landscape. It’s a perfect choice for a foreground plant in a mixed garden bed, or even just as a groundcover.
This dwarf gardenia features petite semi-double, crisp-white blooms that pack the same powerful fragrance as larger varieties. These blooms usually span 2-3″ across, and appear in impressive numbers in early summer. Afterward, they have periodic reblooms through the end of the season and sometimes into fall.
The foliage is deep green and evergreen, however, some slight leaf yellowing is common in winter. Each leaf is long and spear-shaped, with a point on the end. Furthermore, it has a naturally rounded growth habit, so pruning is generally unnecessary for this low-maintenance beauty.
The Radicans is hardy from USDA Zones 8-11 but can handle slightly colder zones if planted next to the foundation of a home where it’s protected from harsh winds. Additionally, it grows best in slightly acidic soil, and in full sun to partial shade.
Hardy Daisy Gardenia
The Hardy Daisy Gardenia, or Kleim’s Hardy Daisy Gardenia, is a classic variety, so-named due to its cold-hardy nature and capability to survive into Zone 7a. Nowadays there are numerous other gardenia varieties capable of surviving in Zone 7a, but this one still earns its place in the landscape.
This gardenia reaches 2-3′ H x 2-3′ W. So it’s perfect in front of a hedgerow, as a border or foundation planting, in a mass planting, or in a container garden.
It produces single-form, waxy white blooms with golden centers beginning in late spring, with smaller reblooms through the end of summer. These blooms are five-petaled and quite fragrant, a very showy variety.
This variety is slow-growing and evergreen, with dark green foliage. Its leaves are rounded, with semi-deep veining and a slight gloss to them.
The Hardy Daisy Gardenia is hardy from USDA Zones 7-11 and thrives in acidic soil with good drainage. Full Sun to Partial direct sun provides for the most prolific blooms and foliage.
The Scentamazing Gardenia is a phenomenal selection from the Southern Living Plant Collection. In many ways, the Scentamazing is an improved version of the Hardy Daisy. It features the same cold-hardiness, and very similar single-form, crisp with blooms with gold centers. However, the Scentamazing tends to grow much more densely compared to the Hardy Daisy, and its leaves are brighter, with a highly glossy surface.
This variety has an initial large bloom in late spring and continues to have smaller reblooms into fall. It lives up to its name, with powerfully fragrant blossoms.
On average, the Scentamazing tends to grow a bit larger than the Hardy Daisy, between 2.5-3′ H x 2.5-3′ W. It’s ideal for foundation plantings, mass planting, mixed garden beds, informal hedges, or container gardens.
This variety thrives from USDA Zones 7-10. Like other gardenias, it prefers rich, slightly acidic soil with good drainage, and Full Sun to Part Shade exposure.
The Jubilation Gardenia is another tremendous gardenia variety from the Southern Living Plant Collection! This selection reaches 3-4′ H x 3′ W so it feels right at home in foundation plantings, as a medium-height element in a mixed garden bed, as a mass planting, in an informal hedge, and in container gardens.
Its foliage is notably dense, upright, and rounded, requiring very little pruning. Additionally, this is a fast-growing variety in favorable conditions. The individual leaves are elongated, evergreen, and dark green, with an attractive gloss.
The Jubilation Gardenia has crisp white, double flowers with a strong fragrance. These dynamite flowers start appearing in large numbers in late spring and reappear periodically through fall. Moreover, each bloom lasts about 5 days on the plant, but they also make for fantastic cut flowers.
This variety is noted for being disease and pest resistant, as well as heat tolerant.
August Beauty Gardenia
The August Beauty Gardenia is ideal for taller gardenia applications such as privacy hedges or large specimens. It reaches a mature height of 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide with a moderate growth rate, between 13-24″ of growth yearly. Therefore, it’s a great choice if you want a large gardenia shrub more quickly than some slow-growing varieties.
This gardenia grows in a naturally rounded habit, so trimming is generally unnecessary. Although, feel free to trim it into a somewhat uniform hedge after the bloom season has ended.
The blooms are large, traditionally about 3-3.5 inches across. They’re quite fragrant, double-form, and very white. Additionally, it has a long bloom season that begins in late spring with smaller reblooms going into the fall.
The foliage remains nicely evergreen all year long. Its leaves are dark green, elliptical, and quite glossy, with rich veining. This is a very consistent variety.
The August Beauty Gardenia is hardy from USDA Zones 8-11, but like most varieties, can handle slightly colder zones if planted against the foundation of a home.
The August Beauty can be trained into a tree-form or even an espalier. It also makes for a great container plant, specimen, or mixed garden bed variety.
Frost Proof Gardenia
The Frost Proof Gardenia has the greatest size potential of these varieties, reaching an average mature size of 5′ H x 4′ W. However, it is also slow-growing. This means that it will grow traditionally about 6-12″ yearly.
It’s worth noting that there’s a misconception about this variety due to its name. The Frost Proof Gardenia is NOT frost-proof as a whole. The name refers to the Frost Proof’s ability to withstand unexpected late-season freezes in spring without affecting bloom production. It is hardy from USDA Zones 7-11, though, making it more cold-hardy than many conventional gardenia varieties.
The blooms of the Frost Proof Gardenia are semi-double and quite white, with a golden center once the bloom is fully opened. These flowers appear in early summer and rebloom through the end of summer.
The leaves are slender, pointed, and dark green, with a glossy sheen. This foliage is quite dense and provides ample coverage when used as a medium-height privacy hedge. Otherwise, it’s great as a specimen, container planting, or in a mixed garden bed.
Gardenia Care Tips
Gardenias require acidic soil to thrive. If your soil pH is too high (too alkaline) your Gardenia will struggle. One sign that your soil may be too alkaline is yellow leaves on your Gardenia. Use a soil acidifier, such as elemental sulfur, to safely lower the pH of the soil around your plant.
Gardenias like steady moisture, but they don't like to be soggy. Provide supplementary water 2-3 times per week during the first and second growing season to ensure that they don't dry out. If your soil dries quickly, you may need to water even more frequently. If your soil holds water well, you may need to water less often. Additionally, lay 3-4 inches of mulch around the base of your plant to help retain moisture between waterings.
Provide Full Sun for your Gardenias. They need sun to produce blooms and dense, attractive foliage. Allow for at least 4-5 hours of direct sun daily. However, gardeners in hot climates should consider planting theirs where they will receive all-morning sun and afternoon shade.