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Help everblooming Gardenia Veitchii

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Dear fellow gardeners
I’m wondering what or who has been eating my plant alive. The damage looks like white and black powder on the branches, more on the tops than the bottoms.
I can see very small white insects if I look closely but very few. Not sure if they do this or they are just random visitors.
My everblooming gardenia , 4 years old sitting in the pot, partial sun.
The buds turn dark and fall off

What can I do?
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Location: North Carolina zone 7
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I was hoping someone else would know because I’m not sure. To me it looks like sooty mold. It’s a combo of insects and fungus. Keep us posted on what you find out.
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