How and When to Prune Gardenias

White gardenia flowers
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Gardenias are prized for their pleasing fragrance.

Thanks to its incredibly fragrant blooms, the common garden gardenia, also known as Gardenia jasminoides and cape jasmine, is a prized evergreen shrub in warm, humid portions of the southern United States. While pruning isn't a necessity for a gardenia shrub, this practice comes in handy if the plant becomes overgrown or if it starts to spread outwards, becoming thin in the middle. Pruning at the proper time helps maximize blooms for the next season.

Deadheading Gardenia Blooms

Removing or "deadheading" wilted gardenia flowers isn't a requirement, since this plant drops its dead flowers on its own. If you don't want to wait, however, deadheading helps the plant maintain a healthy appearance while refocusing its energy on new growth. Deadheading by slightly pruning the shrub can also help encourage more new growth, which leads to new blooms for next season.

To deadhead a gardenia by hand, inspect the plant once or twice a week once it's in bloom. Either pinch off the old, past-their-prime flowers on the stems beneath the bottom of each flower, or trim with clean pruning shears. If using shears, cut the stem beneath the spent flower back to just above a set of leaves farther down the stem. New stems will emerge from this area, making the shrub more full and lush.

Deadheading by cutting the flower stems down to a set of leaves also encourages the plant to create new growth down low after its oldest leaves drop from the bottom of the plant.

  • Note: To sanitize any type of garden shears, wipe the blades down with alcohol-based hand sanitizer. This helps prevent the spread of plant diseases. Sanitizing the shears at the end of each pruning day and again before the next cutting session ensures they're clean.

When to Prune Gardenias

Gardenia flower
credit: ANCHASA MITCHELL/iStock/GettyImages
Wait until the plant is done blooming to prune, in most cases.

While gardenias don't usually require maintenance pruning, a little trimming can help this shrub maintain its shape. The best time to prune a gardenia is after a full flush of blooms—in other words, when the plant is done blooming but while there is still time for new wood to develop. Avoid pruning the plant when autumn weather starts to turn colder, as this could greatly reduce the amount of new blooms next year. Some varieties of gardenia may bloom a second time in late summer or early fall; if yours do, you may want to wait until early spring to prune.

  • Gardenia is a plant that blooms both on old, established branches as well as on new, 1-year-old wood. So although badly timed pruning may reduce the number of blooms, it usually doesn't eliminate them entirely.

If the plant is overgrown and you prefer to cut it back just before it blooms or while it's blooming, this won't harm the plant, but it will reduce the number of blooms this season. If you're cutting it back while blooming, feel free to use the cut stems for an indoor floral arrangement or table centerpiece.

Gardenia shrubs may also be pruned in early spring, before the growing season starts, without affecting the number of summer blooms. Gardenias create buds on new growth late in summer. Avoid pruning when buds start to form on the tips of stems, as this will remove potential flowers.

How to Prune Gardenias

Gardenia flower
credit: ANCHASA MITCHELL/iStock/GettyImages
If you must prune while the plant is in bloom, save cut flowers for an indoor arrangement.

Prune gardenias to help them maintain their shape and to remove dead branches. Selectively trim away overgrown areas and twigs that stick out and have no leaves or branches protruding from them. Cut with hand bypass pruning shears, trimming away as little as possible each time. If the twigs you're trimming have offshoots or leaves farther down, cut to just above this area, as this will encourage more growth from these offshoots.

If the shrub gets a bit overgrown—blocking the walkway to the front door, for instance—it's time to a more intensive pruning. Cut unwieldy, somewhat horizontal branches back to just above another stem pointing upwards. This encourages vertical, rather than horizontal, growth. Feel free to cut far back on several heavy, leaning branches; you don't have to pick the first vertically pointed offshoot beneath the area you're pruning. Keep the plant's overall shape in mind to avoid making a drastic change. Also limit the cutting to less than 1/3 of the entire plant so it can recover easily. This type of pruning should only be done every few years or so on the typical gardenia, as it takes a while for them to become overgrown. Cutting away more than 1/3 of a gardenia shrub at any time affects its health, as it's harder for it to recover from an intense pruning.


Kathy Adams

Kathy Adams

Kathy Adams is an award-winning writer. She is an avid DIYer that is equally at home repurposing random objects into new, useful creations as she is at supporting community gardening efforts and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals. She's written numerous DIY articles for paint and decor companies, as well as for Black + Decker, Hunker, SFGate, Landlordology and others.