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Why Are Gardenia Leaves Turning Yellow?

A healthy gardenia plant produces creamy white blooms and dark green, leathery leaves. Yellow leaves on your gardenia are a sign that something may be wrong in the environment you’ve set up for these plants.

To help you nurture your gardenias back to good health, I’ll answer why gardenia leaves turn yellow and what you can do about it.

There are a number of problems from nutritional deficiencies to watering issues or diseases that will manifest as yellowing leaves. Below, I’ll address each problem and offer actionable advice on how you can manage them.

Here’s why your gardenia leaves are turning yellow:

Watering Inconsistencies

The generally recommended rule for watering gardenia plants is 1 inch of water or rain per week. This isn’t a fail-proof guideline, so you must use your judgement in determining the watering needs of your gardenia.

First, understand that both underwatering and overwatering are problematic for this plant. And both can equally cause yellow leaves on your gardenia plants.

It’s good for the plant if the soil is damp, but soggy, watery or oversaturated potting mix is a no-no for gardenias.

To help you assess whether your gardenia needs water or not, either use a moisture probe or simply use your fingers.

Don’t water when the soil still feels damp but do water when it starts to go dry.

Besides making a correct assessment, the quality of your potting mix is also important.

Soil pH Imbalance

As acid-loving plants, gardenias thrive in soil with a pH between 5.0 and 6.5. If the soil is too acidic or too alkaline, nutritional uptake chains are disturbed and the yellowing of gardenia leaves can be observed.

You can use a pH meter to keep an eye on the pH level of the soil. Usually, the soil is too alkaline and you may need to use acidifying soil amendments formulated for acid-loving plants to bring down the pH value to the range preferred by this plant.

Lack of Sunlight

As plants that enjoy basking in the rays of the sun for at least 6-8 hours a day, gardenias do poorly in low light and their leaves can go pale because of the lack of sunlight.

Whether grown indoors or in your garden, find a suitable spot for your gardenias, where they can receive at least 6 hours of direct light.

Otherwise, photosynthesis cannot properly take place and the leaves of your gardenias will lose their dark green color.

If you notice your gardenia is not happy where you’ve positioned it, try changing its location to see if there’s an improvement.

Diseases & Pests

Another reason why the leaves on your gardenia turn yellow has to do with certain diseases that will attack the leaves specifically and certain pests whose sap-sucking activity can cause the leaves to turn yellow.

The diseases that most commonly cause yellow leaves in gardenia plants include the sooty mold and leaf spot disease. Both can also cause the leaves to turn black or brown, not just yellow.

Because these are fungal diseases that are difficult to eradicate, prevention is often the best solution. Prune your gardenias to encourage aeration and refrain from using dirty unsterilized tools to prevent passing on diseases from one plant to another.

Use plant fungicides to control the spread of an ongoing fungal infection, but you can also use them preventatively in a weaker formulation.

Neem oil can be a good and natural solution both to fungal leaf problems but also to pest issues.

Some pests will feed on the sap of the leaves leaving them yellow and lifeless. Several insects can attack gardenias including mealybugs, aphids, mites, and caterpillars.

Coating the leaves in neem oil or insecticidal soap will help kill them off and prevent them from coming back.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Apart from the factors above that cause the dark green leaves of the gardenia to turn yellow, nutritional deficiencies are also a possible underlying issue.

I mentioned how when the soil of the gardenia plant is too alkaline, the plant can have trouble absorbing nutrients.

But the explanation to nutritional deficiencies can simply be that they’ve been depleted from the soil, for example, when gardenias are grown in pots and they’re not planted in the garden.

A lack of magnesium and iron are the most common nutritional deficiencies to cause yellowing leaves in gardenia plants.

Apart from these, gardenias deficient in manganese and nitrogen can also have pale or yellow leaves.

Adding coffee grounds to the soil helps with nitrogen deficiencies, while Epsom salts improve magnesium deficiencies. Iron chelate and iron sulfate help overcome iron deficiencies.

Naturally, there’s no way for you to pin down the exact nutrient that’s missing for your gardenia.

What you can do instead is use balanced, good quality fertilizers or soil amendments and acidifiers that contain iron, magnesium, nitrogen and other beneficial nutrients.

Poor Drainage

Another aspect that’s often neglected by beginner gardeners is the quality of the potting mix. Gardenias need a well-draining potting mix to prevent the roots from sitting in water and root rot issues from emerging.

You can create your own gardenia-friendly potting mix with 2 parts peat moss, 1 part potting soil and 1 part sand or perlite. Manure added to the mix also helps to keep the mix rich in organic matter.

If the roots are rotting and are no longer able to absorb nutrients, the leaves of your gardenia will turn yellow, then brown, then eventually fall off.

Wrap-Up

As you can see, a few things can cause gardenia leaves to lose their dark green coloration and turn yellow.

Some of these things can be easily fixed by changing the location, the watering schedule or replacing the potting mix.

Other underlying issues may take some time to resolve (e.g. treatment of fungal diseases and insects that need repeat applications to work), while others can only be assessed by using professional tools (e.g. soil pH).

Because there are various things that can turn the leaves yellow on a gardenia plant and more than one can apply at the same time, it’s best to take a holistic approach.

Updated: July 21, 2021

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