Gardenia Tree vs. Bush: What’s the Difference?

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: November 24, 2022
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Gardenias are beautiful and fragrant plants that can add a touch of elegance to any garden. They produce inherently lovely blooms, and the fragrance can be quite strong! In most cases, gardeners and floral arrangers use gardenias as topiary shrubs. 

Is there a difference between gardenia trees and bushes, or are they the same? In this article, we’ll explore the world of gardenias and explain whether a gardenia is a tree, a bush, or both. We’ll also discuss their differences and how to care for them. Let’s dive in! 

Gardenia: A Tree Or Bush? 

Gardenia tree and bush are the same plant; appearance and cultivation are the only differences.

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Though gardenia is technically a shrub or bush, most gardeners often refer to it as a tree. As a matter of fact, it is possible for a gardenia plant to be shaped as a topiary tree. This is because it’s a multi-stemmed shrub, but you can produce a braided gardenia or a miniature flowering tree through training and pruning.

Gardenia Tree vs. Bush: Description

Gardenia leaves are oppositely arranged in pairs or groups of three along the branches.

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Gardenias are evergreen shrubs or small trees that can grow to be 1 – 10 feet tall, but this depends on the cultivar. For instance, some gardenia cultivars can be as tall as humans, but others can only grow to a height of up to 4 ft. Gardenias typically have a spread equal to their height. The foliage of healthy shrubs is glossy and dark green. The leaves can grow up to about 1.2 – 9 inches long with a width between 0.6 and 3.1 inches. Gardenia leaves are oppositely arranged in pairs or groups of three along the branches. They can be elliptic, oblong-lanceolate, obovate, or ovate-oblong in shape.

Gardenia trees and bush flowers can bloom in a variety of ways, depending on the cultivar. They are funnel-shaped and can bloom solitary or in small clusters, arising from the ends of the stems. Though the leaves are glossy, the white flowers have a matte texture and waxy surface. They can reach four inches in diameter. Gardenias bloom in spring and summer, while some cultivars bloom during fall.

Gardenia Tree vs. Bush: Classification and Origin

Gardenia is a genus of more than 120 species of evergreen flowering plants in the Rubiaceae coffee family.

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Gardenia is a genus of more than 120 species of evergreen flowering plants in the Rubiaceae coffee family. This shrub is native to tropical and subtropical regions of Southeast Asia, including China, Japan, and Taiwan. The genus is classified as a small tree or a shrub and was named by Carl Linnaeus and John Ellis after Alexander Garden, a Scottish-born naturalist. Of all the species in the Gardenia genus, Gardenia jasminoides is the most well-known. Gardenia jasminoides are prized for their beautiful white or cream-colored flowers with strong, sweet fragrances. Their scent makes them a desirable choice for cut flowers and corsages. They are also popular as ornamental plants, even though they are not the easiest shrubs to grow. 

Here are other notable gardenia species: 

  • Gardenia thunbergia (Tree gardenia)
  • Gardenia taitensis (Tahitian gardenia)
  • Gardenia ternifolia (Wild gardenia)

Key Differences Between Gardenia Tree vs. Bush

Now that you know that gardenia trees and gardenia bushes are the same species, you might be curious about the distinction between the two. Let’s look at the main differences that make their respective names call them. 

Gardenia Tree vs. Bush: Appearance

Both gardenia trees and bushes bloom simultaneously.

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When grown as a tree, a gardenia tree has similar characteristics to a gardenia bush. The leaf’s sizes, colors, and heights are all very similar. Both gardenia trees and bushes bloom at the same time. They have similar beautiful, fragrant flowers that reach their peak in the summertime. Gardenia trees or bushes grow best in Zones 8 to 11. Some varieties are hardy in Zone 7, while others in Zone 6

However, their shape differs. This difference is brought about by the method of cultivation and not by the species of the plant itself. The gardenia bush grows naturally and has many branches with no growth restrictions. It is a multiple-stemmed bush that can be trained as standard or topiary tree forms. This can be done by braiding the tender stems of the shrub when it’s still young and supporting them to produce a slender trunk. Alternatively, you can choose the most upright stem and train it as a tree trunk. 

Gardenia Tree vs. Bush: Cultivation 

If you don’t mind spending extra time caring for your plant, a gardenia tree is a great option.

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Another key difference that sets apart a gardenia tree from a gardenia bush is how they are cultivated. As mentioned, gardenia bushes have several branches that grow naturally and unrestricted. This means they require minimal attention, making them easy to maintain.

In contrast, gardenia trees require more attention and care. Garden tree cultivation must start when the bush is young. To encourage the development of a strong, single trunk, you will need to remove the thinner stems growing from the base of the plant. Once the tree has been shaped to your liking, you will need to continue pruning it regularly to prevent it from becoming overgrown. This means cultivating gardenia trees is labor-intensive for gardeners. But if you are willing to go the extra mile, you will be rewarded with a beautiful and elegant tree that can become the centerpiece of your garden. If you are looking for a low-maintenance plant, choose a gardenia bush. But if you don’t mind spending extra time caring for your plant, a gardenia tree is a great option.

How to Care For Gardenia Trees and Bushes

Gardenia trees and bushes are popular ornamental plants. However, they require more care compared to other plants. You should keep a few things in mind to maintain their beautiful appearance. Here are some tips on how to care for your gardenia tree or bush.

Choosing the Right Soil

Selecting the correct type of soil is essential to ensure your gardenia tree or bush thrives. Gardenias prefer acidic soil that is rich in organic matter. If your soil is too alkaline, adding sulfur can lower the pH levels. You can also make your acidic potting mix by mixing two parts of peat moss with part of perlite or sand. Moreover, gardenias prefer well-drained soils, so make sure to amend your soil with organic matter such as compost or bark chips to help with drainage.

Watering and Mulching

Gardenias require consistent watering, especially during the summer when they are actively growing. Be sure to water it regularly to keep the soil moist but not soggy. They require about an inch of water per week, so check the soil before watering to see if it is dry. Water the plant until the soil is saturated and the water starts running out of the drainage holes. Allow the soil to dry out slowly before watering again to prevent root rot. Mulching can also help to retain moisture in the soil and protect the roots from extreme temperatures.

Choosing the Right Spot

Choose to place your gardenia bush or tree in a place with enough light. Gardenias need at least four hours of sunlight daily, though they will tolerate some partial shade. If you live in an area with harsh summers, planting your gardenia in a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade is best. You can also grow gardenias in pots and bring them outdoors when the sun shines. This will protect the plant from the intense heat of the midday sun.

Fertilizing

Fertilizing is essential for growing gardenias. They are heavy feeders and require regular fertilization to produce healthy growth and blooms. You can use a rich-in-acid fertilizer with a balanced nutrient ratio. Apply fertilizer during spring and repeat the process at the end of June.

How To Prune Gardenia Trees

Pruning your gardenia tree can be daunting if you’ve never done it before, but with a little bit of know-how, you can have this job done in no time. The first step is to remove any dead, diseased, or damaged wood with a sharp pair of pruning shears. Next, thin out the canopy to allow more light and air circulation, and prevent pest or disease problems. Finally, shape the gardenia tree by pruning any straggly growth. Gardenias are typically pruned right after the blooms have faded in summer.

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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on real estate, nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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