Growing Plumeria is Easier Than You Think

The surprising ease of growing plumeria. Frangipani plants are typically grown from cuttings which root with amazing reliability. The trees are nearly indestructible, but there is a trick to getting them to flower.

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White-flowered plumeria bush with tree forms behind it on Maui.

Plumeria bush in foreground with trees behind at the Maui Tropical Plantation.

When I think of growing plumeria, I think of ladies sporting frangipani flowers behind their ears while vacationing in Hawaii. In fact, this was my first experience with this beautiful plant.

Tiny and I were in Maui celebrating his 40th birthday.  The frangipani tree outside the Bed and Breakfast we stayed at dropped blossoms on our rental car every day.  One morning, I plucked one of the whirlygig blooms from the car's hood and stuck it behind my ear.  I was a Hawaiian princess for the rest of the day.

White frangipani flowers.

Plumeria trees produce very sweet smelling flowers. You walk 30 feet away from the plant and still, the smell of the flowers comes calling! Perfumes are made of, and named after, this blossom because of its fragrance and popularity.

Other Frangipani/Plumeria Uses

Plants are most often sold as unrooted, leafless cuttings.  They look like sticks.  I was skeptical the first time I bought one home from Hawaii, but my doubts were unfounded.  That first cutting did so well that, when we returned to the island two years later, I bought another.  It's been a few years now, and both plants are thriving!

What You Can Expect from Your Frangipani Stick

Our first Frangipani plant after two years.

The same tree, after three years of growth, touching the eaves.  The pink flowers in front of it are swamp lilies.

In its native land, a mature plumeria tree can grow as tall as 40 feet and almost 20 feet wide. In the subtropics, it won't grow nearly as tall. The plants can be grown as shrubs, but are more often seen as trees with a single trunk and a branching structure which looks like an open umbrella when viewed from beneath.

Plumeria's dark green, leathery leaves are clustered at the tips of its branches. The flowers, which are 2-3 inches in diameter, appear in three different colors: white, yellow and pink. The blooming season is from late spring to late fall.

The leaves of most varieties shed completely in the fall, leaving the trees bare. There are a few evergreen cultivars.

Plumeria Care Tips

An Important  Reminder:

The lowest temperature this plant will survive is 32 degrees F. at USDA Zone 10a.

Plumeria requires a warm and humid climate, abundant sun and well-draining soil.  It is not, at all, cold hardy.

If you live in a frost-prone climate, plant it in a pot and take it indoors when temperatures drop below 60 degrees F.

Be sure to get it in before frost strikes. The branch tips are most vulnerable to cold damage. If you forget and leave the plant outdoors too late into the fall, watch it closely for frost damage.

Unlike with most other plants, you can't wait until spring to remove the damaged portions. Freezing leads to rot very quickly in plumeria trees.

Remove the damaged tissue as soon as you notice it. If you don't, the rot will spread downward to the root and kill the plant.

Remember not to water the plant when the leaves fall, water only when there are leaves on the plant. Keep it moist during hot weather, nearly dry the rest of the year.

Give it a fertilizer rich in nitrogen every two weeks during its growth and phosphorous rich fertilizer during the flowering season.

You can prune your plumeria tree right after it finishes flowering to keep it compact.

Growing Plumeria in a Pot

The flower stalks emerge from the very tips of the branches.

This can happen at any time during the growing season.

Bloom Secret:

Frangipani will only bloom where the stems have forked into Ys.

They are much like Brugmansias in this respect.

When you prune or take cuttings, remember not to cut below the Ys as removing these will reduce next season's flower show.

Making your cuts above the Ys will cause more branching and heavier bloom in seasons to come.

 Start a new plant in a 12-15 inch pot.  It will not need to be potted up for two years.  Once the plant is so large that it is threatening to tip the pot over, it is time to shift it into a larger pot.  To eliminate the tipping threat, choose a heavy container two sizes larger than the one your plumie is moving out of.

I have had great success using Miracle Grow potting mix.  This is what most of my potted plants, including the plumerias, are growing in.

The plants do tolerate some drought, but tend to drop their leaves when deprived of moisture.  Keep them moist for best growth and bloom.

I find that applying a slow-release granular fertilizer every three months during warm weather is the easiest way to keep them fed.

The more you water and feed a plumie, the faster it will grow and bloom.

Propagating a Plumie

Plumeria stem cuttings.
Potted plumeria cuttings.

Growing plumeria is addictive and you will soon be looking to propagate your frangipani plant. This is possible with stem cuttings or by sowing seeds.

If you plan to sow seeds, allow the seed heads to dry on the plants and later, when the pods split, you can sow the seeds in flats of warm, moist soil. Expect sprouts any time between 2 to 12 weeks later.

Water the seedlings moderately. When leaves appear, you can transplant them into individual pots.

If you intend to use stem cuttings, use stems that are either hard, semi ripe or soft.  I usually take 12-18 inch leafless cuttings, but anything from a 3 inch tip cutting to a 7 foot branch may be used. Cut off any leaves. A clean cut is prefered, and it is ideal to allow the cut end to dry for several days before planting the cuttings in shade. You can root them in pots or in the ground, whichever you prefer. 

Insert the cuttings six inches deep into coarse soil.  Once your cuttings leaf out, you can move them into direct sun.

  Growing Plumeria is not difficult as the plant needs extra care only during the winter.  In other seasons, it thrives pretty much on its own.

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