Grow Beautiful Plumeria Anywhere: Everything You Need to Know

Grow Beautiful Plumeria Anywhere: Everything You Need to Know

You can grow beautiful plumeria anywhere, let me show you how.

If you find yourself reading this article, it’s likely because you love plumeria or you are curious about what plumeria is.  Continue reading and I will tell you everything you need to know to grow beautiful plumeria anywhere.  If you have seen an hawaiian lei around the neck of a hula dancer or newly arrived visitor to Hawaii, then you have seen plumeria.  

There has been a lot of hype surrounding this tropical flower and it is growing in popularity.  It isn’t a surprise as it’s easy to grow anywhere and the bloom payoff is shocking.  I hope that after reading this article about growing beautiful plumeria anywhere, you will give it a try yourself and let me know how it goes!

Heads up: My posts may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, you won’t pay a penny more, but I’ll get a small commission. Thanks!

Growing beautiful plumeria anywhere:

  1. General information about plumeria
  2. Growing conditions indoors vs. outdoors
  3. What you will need
  4. Planting instructions
  5. Plant growing & care
  6. Fertilizing
  7. Flowering
  8. Pruning
  9. Winter care
  10. Re-potting
  11. Problems
  12. Plumeria crafts, Haku lei and lei
  13. Summary

General information about growing plumeria

Plumeria rubra is a small, flowering, tree or shrub  native to the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South America to Brazil.  It is a member of the dogbane family (Apocynaceae) and known by its common name plumeria or frangipani.  It now freely grows in the Pacific Islands, Indonesia, and South Asia.  It is also known as the Hawaiian lei flower for its use in creating leis and Haku lei (crowns).

Plumeria can grow to 35 foot tall but is easily pruned to manage in a container indoors or on a balcony.  It has a leggy appearance with silvery, thin, gray bark and lush elliptical, elongated, dark, green leaves.  During blooming, plumeria sends out a blooming stalk called an inflorescence.  At the end of the inflorescence a snowball bouquet of flowers will unfurl.

Plumeria has an intoxicating fragrance that intensifies at night to attract its pollinator, the Sphinx moth.  The flowers of plumeria do not produce nectar.  The fragrance is a powerful ruse to trick the moth into checking every flower, pollinating as he goes.

Growing conditions: indoor vs. outdoor

I promised that I would teach you how to grow beautiful plumeria anywhere, so let’s get to it.  If you live in a climate where the temperature gets below 40 degrees F, your plumeria will have to be mobile.  That means you plant it in a container.  If you live in a tropical region and you likely don’t even own a jacket, you can plant your plumeria outdoors.

When starting a new cutting, you can use a 1 gallon container with good drainage holes in the bottom and a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight or use a grow light.  I’ll tell you the details below.

If you are starting a plumeria cutting in a tropical region, find a sunny spot with good drainage.  Plumeria will rot if it stands in water.

Key points to grow beautiful plumeria anywhere: Minimum of 6 hours of light, water when dry, container with good drainage.

What will you need to grow beautiful plumeria anywhere?

This explains how to grow plumeria from a cutting.  A cutting is a branch from a mother plant and will give you identical flowers.  Cuttings are performed with a sharp knife or pruning shears and are at least 12 inches long.  

After a cutting has been taken it will need to form a callous on the cut end before planting.  Let it sit in a dry spot out of the sun for a week to ten days.  Once the tip has dried over, it’s ready for planting.  If you purchase a cutting online, this will likely already be done and ready to be planted by the time you receive it.

Your container will need to be at least one gallon for a new cutting with good drainage holes in the bottom.  Plan for one cutting per container.

Cactus & succulent potting mix is a good choice as it has excellent drainage.  I have personally used potting soil and perlite at a ratio of 1:1.  That has always worked great for me and I didn’t have to buy cactus soil if I didn’t have it on hand.  You will also need powdered rooting hormone to help the plumeria establish a root system quickly.

Plumeria planting instructions

Gather what you will need:

  1. Start with a clean 1 gallon container and fill 3/4 of the way full with the potting mix.
  2. Use your plumeria cutting to push down into the soil making a hole that is slightly bigger than the cutting itself and about 2-3 inches deep.
  3. Brush the dirt off of your cutting and dip the cut tip in water to make it wet.
  4. Dip the wet tip into the rooting hormone powder. (Put some powder on a paper plate to dip plumeria, do not dip into your jar as you could contaminate it.)
  5. Gently place the cutting into the hole being careful not to disturb the rooting hormone powder.
  6. Push the soil in around the cutting so that it stands on its own.
  7. Fill in more potting soil for another 1-2 inches to give the cutting stability.
  8. Water thoroughly until water comes out of the bottom of your container.
  9. Place in the sun or under a grow light for a minimum of 6 hours per day.
  10. Wait for the magic.

Plumeria growing and care

Plumeria loves the sun, she is after all a tropical plant.  Give plumeria plenty of light and water when dry.  Do not let the soil get soggy, these cuttings are tender and will rot.  In a few weeks your plumeria cutting will become a plumeria plant with a root system forming.  

The cutting will become more stable in the pot as the roots take hold.  Keep your plumeria away from children and pets.  A flying ball can break a tender cutting as can a bump by a running dog.  I have lost a few this way myself.

Establishing a root system and growing leaves

Once the roots are established, your plumeria cutting will begin to make leaves.  The leaves on a tiny plumeria cutting are impressive.  Long, dark green, elongated leaves will emerge and cover your plant at the growing tip.  

Usually plumeria cuttings take a year to establish before they will bloom, but sometimes you get super lucky and get blooms your first year.  This has actually happened to me many times.  I kind of expect it!  How will you know what your plumeria is going to bloom? The plant will send out a bloom stalk called an inflorescence.  

Inflo, how a plumeria flowers

An inflorescence, (inflo for short in the plumeria community), is a long stalk that comes out of the plumeria with tiny, bumpy protrusions on it.  Each of these little bumps will become a flower with 5 petals in a star shape.  Once they all open and bloom, you will have a stalk with a bouquet at the end of it with many beautiful flowers.  This will amaze you as it always amazes me.

Flower inflorescence plumeria
Plumeria inflo: Photo credit D. Sutherland

Plumeria plants are deciduous meaning they drop their leaves in winter.  Once the days begin to shorten, you will notice your leaves turning yellow and falling off.  This is completely normal and expected.  When a leaf breaks off you will likely see the milky sap dripping on the plant.  This can be irritating to your skin, avoid touching it.  More about over-wintering plumeria later.

plumeria anatomy infographic
Plumeria infographic - Photo credit: D. Sutherland

After your plumeria cutting is secured in it’s pot, you will need to find a home for it to soak up the sun rays.  Choose a spot in the garden that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.  Alternatively under a grow light or on a balcony will also work as long as there is sunshine.  

Wind: protect your plants

Here is an important tip for you about keeping your plumeria outdoors.  Prepare for your plant to be blown over by the wind.  Those lovely long leaves act as sails in a whipping wind.  They will catch the wind and blow the plant over.  Especially if it’s in a 1 gallon pot that isn’t heavy enough to keep it flat when those leaves catch the wind.

Plumeria branches are delicate and will snap easily if knocked over or hit by a ball for example if sitting on a patio.  I always kept mine outdoors to take advantage of Florida being Florida.  I prevented these catastrophes by digging holes in the garden and sinking the pots in the holes.

Stabilize your plumeria

Pack the dirt around the pot as if you were planting it to give it stability.  Not only does this naturalize your plumeria to look as if it is growing in the garden but protects it from being damaged.  Trust me on this.  Plus the heat of the concrete patio dries out the plant faster requiring more watering. 

In Florida, after my cuttings established roots, I rarely had to water them.  Our natural rainfall was typically enough outside of really dry periods.  Watch your plant and your rainfall and don’t let the plumeria dry out completely, but don’t let it sit in water either.  It’s a dance.

Fertilizing plumeria for heavy blooms

Plumeria loves phosphate in her fertilizer! Give her lots of it and she will give you blooms for months.  Potassium is the middle part of the 3 digit code for fertilizers. When you read a label on plant fertilizers, there will be three numbers separated by dashes ie: 10-30-10.  These stand for Nitrogen-Phosphate-Potassium, read more about that here for clarification.

Plumeria loves her phosphate, so give it to her!  Find a liquid or powder reconstituted fertilizer that has a low first number (nitrogen) and a high middle number (phosphate) and feed her every two weeks.  I recommend Hawaiian Bud & Bloom for a 50 phosphate!  This product has a good price point and will give you a load of soluble phosphate.  This formula is absorbed by the leaves and the roots.  (High nitrogen will make your plant grow leggy.)

Key points to grow beautiful plumeria anywhere: Fertilize every 2 weeks during the growing season (spring/summer) with a high phosphate (middle number) fertilizer.

Plumeria flowering and making seeds

I explained earlier that some plumeria may take over a year to flower for the first time when grown from cuttings.  This takes even longer if grown by seed.  However, I’ve been lucky and had almost every cutting bloom the first year, yay!

When your plumeria flowers and is pollinated, it may produce a seed pod.  This is very exciting, to me anyway.  These seed pods look like big green beans.  They will hang there after a flower stalk has wilted away for up to 9 months maturing.  A seed pod taken early will be useless.  Let it ripen until it is brown and papery in appearance.

Collecting plumeria seeds

If you want to collect the seeds, wait until the pods open naturally.  Inside are helicopter-like seeds that will disperse in the wind if you aren’t there to grab them.  To prevent this, put a small mesh bag over the pod or a nylon stocking to collect the seeds if they open unattended while still permitting air flow to the pod.

Plumeria seeds generally germinate in a week but are a mystery until they flower.  You will get something different than the mother plant.  Maybe a new variety!  This is exciting if you have the patience that it takes to grow a plumeria from seed and waiting years for blooms.  

Growing plumeria from seed takes time and patience

We all have limits to our patience and mine can run rather short with my flowers.  I hate waiting more than a year for flowers.  I prefer cuttings and more instant gratification.  Also, with cuttings, you know your flowers will be identical to the mother plant.

Key points to grow beautiful plumeria anywhere: Plumeria will flower it’s second year, sometimes it’s first year after planting a cutting.  Seed pods will develop if the plant was pollinated.  They take 9 months to mature and will be a new variety from the mother plant.

Peach and pink plumeria

Pruning plumeria

You will likely not need to prune your plumeria plant for a few years if starting from seed or a cutting.  Here are tips on pruning plumeria for when you do eventually prune as it is necessary in many cases.

In my personal experience in growing plumeria outside in pots in North Florida, growth was about a foot a year with biweekly fertilizer of a low nitrogen count.  This is great progress because you will want your plant to start looking more plant or tree-like and less like a garden of sticks sticking out of the dirt.

At one point I called it my stick garden when I had 10 plumeria cuttings in pots, leafless, but standing tall.  It doesn’t do much for the garden aesthetic early on, but give her a month and she will look plant-like again.

Pruning benefits

In order to keep your potted plumeria manageable, you will need to prune at some point.  Not to mention that pruning will give you more branches and a fuller plant.

In the picture below, you will see an area marked as a callous.  That is where the plumeria tree was pruned and healed over.  This is what the cut-end of your cutting should look like before planting.  

You will notice that on three sides of that callous is a branch.  When you cut the growing tip off, the plant will branch at that area forming 2 or more new branches.  If you plan this well, you can achieve a full, bushy plumeria and lose the “stick” appearance.  More branches also equal more chances to bloom.  

After your first year of growing and letting the roots get nicely established, cut your plumeria with sharp pruning shears for a clean cut.  (Make sure you always clean your pruners before and after use so that you do not spread plant diseases)  Do this in Spring as the plant wakes up and begins to grow again.

Broken branches

Should you have an accident and your plumeria tree lose a branch due to trauma, don’t fret.  Take the branch that was broken off and if you have at least 12 inches, you can plant it as a cutting.  To do this, make a sharp cut at the broken tip, let the branch dry out and callous over the cut end.  Plant as usual.

Bonus plumeria tip for inexpensive cuttings online

Hurricane plumeria cuttings

If you want to get the best prices on plumeria cuttings online, look on Etsy and Ebay after a hurricane passes through Florida.  Florida plumeria sellers will be selling cuttings that have been broken off the plants in the storm.  Because of the chaos of a hurricane, these broken branches are usually a mystery as to which mother plant they came from.

You can purchase “mystery” plumeria cuttings and just wait for the surprise when it flowers.  These mystery cuttings are sold at a deep discount.  Hurricanes are tragic, but a part of our lives here in Florida.  Help a Florida grower recover by purchasing hurricane plumeria cuttings!

Key points to grow beautiful plumeria anywhere: Prune plumeria to keep the size manageable and to create new cuttings for new plants.  Prune in early spring before growth begins.

 

plumeria anatomy infographic

Plumeria winter care

I have over-wintered plumeria plants many times and it’s very easy to do.  Before you go out and buy 10 plumeria cuttings this year, be sure to have the space to store those sticks when winter comes.  There are two different methods that I have successfully used and will describe here.

Once the temperatures are expected to drop below 40-45 degrees your plumeria needs to come inside for protection. You will know this time is coming as your plumeria plant will begin to yellow and drop its leaves.  I let the leaves naturally drop off and throw them away.  If the temperature drops, bring them in regardless of if they have leaves or not.  Do not let them freeze.  These tropical girls HATE the cold and will give up and not tolerate it.

Two methods for storing plumeria

Method 1:  Bring the entire container inside and store it in an area that will not get below 45 degrees.  Here in North Florida, that space was my insulated garage.  I would bring the pots in and store them on a shelf up off of the cold cement floor.  You could also put a blanket over them carefully.  If you do this, place bamboo stakes taller than the plant so that the “cover” doesn’t rest on the branches.

Method 2: I have used this method when short on storage space for 10 gallon pots.  After your plumeria has dropped its leaves you can gently bare root the plant.  Do this as you would any plant that you were re-potting.  Start to loosen the soil around the edges of the pot by using your hands and running them between the soil and the pot.  If you have a flexible nursery pot (what I always used), you can squeeze the outside of the pot to loosen the soil/roots.

Once you are able to remove the plant from the pot, gently grab the base of the trunk and pull it out of the pot being extremely careful of the tender root systems.  Gently remove the soil by shaking and using your hands to break it up.  Get the plant down to bare roots brushing with a soft broom or duster to get the dirt cleaned off.

Prepare a box or container that is breathable (no sealed plastic bins unless you create airflow).  Pour a layer of perlite in the bottom as a cushion and to absorb any moisture.  You do not want your plants to rot while in storage.  

I’ve read differing opinions on watering plumeria during winter storage.  Some say to do it occasionally but I never have.  Especially when you bare root store them, there is no way to water them.  I don’t do it.  I put them in the garage and forget about them until Spring.

Storing your plumeria indoors

If you don’t have a garage that is warm enough, a closet or storage room inside will do.  Your plumeria do not need light or fertilizer.  They just need to hibernate until the weather is tolerable again.  Just be sure to put them somewhere that they won’t be bumped into or need to be disturbed.

Spring wake up call

When the temperature is back above 45 degrees, gently bring them back to life.  Start by putting them in indirect light for a week in the house or outdoors where there is no direct sun.  Give them a good drink of water to get the juices flowing and to get the sleepy sand out of their eyes.

Once you see green growth on the tips, you can start fertilizing them and start the show over again.

Key points to grow beautiful plumeria anywhere : There are 2 methods for winter storage.  Put plumeria in winter storage before the temperature drops below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

White plumeria flowers

Re-potting plumeria

After a year or two of heavy growth, your plumeria “tree” will likely need re-potting to give those roots more room to grow.  This is also necessary if your plant grows by leaps and bounds and the small 1 gallon container can no longer hold it up.  Re-potting your plumeria in a new pot should be done in late winter before it’s time to wake her back up in Spring.

To re-pot your plumeria follow the instructions above under “Winter care” for bare rooting the plant except for one difference.  You do not need to completely bare root the plant from the soil.  You can leave the root ball intact and work your fingers into it, spreading the roots out to help them to grow into the bigger pot.

Add potting mix to your new container and then add the plumeria with the root ball attached.  Gently place it in the new container and add more potting mix around the sides pushing it in and giving it stability.

Water thoroughly until you see water coming from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.  Voila! Now your plumeria can become more like a plumeria tree and less like a stick in the dirt.

Key points to grow beautiful plumeria anywhere: Re-pot in late winter during hibernation into a larger, clean pot.

Plumeria problems and pests

Surprisingly here in North Florida, land of the bird-sized mosquitos, nothing has bothered my plumeria plants.  The biggest problems here are soggy roots and wind knocking them over.  However, plumeria do have insect enemies such as white flies, mealybugs, and spider mites.

I refrain from pesticides in my garden as I have herbs and food growing there.  These types of pests can generally be controlled with removal.  A good spraying with the hose will knock them off of the plant or you can manually remove pests with your hands. I like to use a homemade mix of water and a couple drops of Dawn dish washing liquid (blue stuff) in a spray bottle.  A good harsh spraying will knock them off and the dish soap acts as a surfactant to keep it on the leaves.

Watch for belly crawlers: snails & slugs

I have read that snails and slugs will also eat plumeria but have not had this problem surprisingly.  It’s likely because they love to eat my dahlias instead.  Snails and slugs can be trapped using a shallow container buried to the rim in the garden near the plants.  Fill it with beer and refresh the beer as needed.  Check your trap periodically and remove the dead snails and slugs.  You can also use Diatomaceous earth to repel these belly crawlers.

Another problem is rot.  I have had plumeria branches rot before.  You will know this as they start to wither or shrivel and when gently squeezed, they are squishy and soft.  Cut the soft part off into an area of healthy plant and hope for the best.  Sometimes this becomes systemic and will kill the plant.  I have always tried to watch for this and remove any infected branches early.

Key points to grow beautiful plumeria anywhere: Watch for pests on your plumeria and treat immediately.

Plumeria tree growing in South Florida in the ground

Plumeria crafts

Once you get your plumeria tree growing and blooming, you could make a Haku lei or lei crown! How exciting!! Here are instructions online for creating these fun flower crafts with the hundreds of blooms you will have.  A Haku Lei is a crown of flowers and leaves braided and worn on the head.  

The lei is a flower necklace worn to commemorate special occasions and is worn on May Day on the first day of May each year.  Why not make your own and bring a bit of the tropics to your part of the world.  Read here to discover how to make your own DIY plumeria lei.

Everything you need to know to grow beautiful plumeria anywhere

Hopefully after reading this article, I have fulfilled my promise of telling you everything I know about growing plumeria from cuttings.  This may seem like a lot of information to digest, but the plumeria plant is very easy to manage and grow successfully if you follow the above tips.

The key points to remember are:

  • Well draining potting soil mix and container
  • Healthy plumeria cutting with a callous at the cut tip
  • Safe location from wind
  • Fertilizer 10-50-10 or other high phosphate fertilizer every 2 weeks
  • Water when dry, do not let it stay soggy in that container
  • Watch for pests and treat immediately
  • Bring plumeria inside before temperatures drop below 45 degrees
  • Store in a dry, spot for the winter

Final thoughts

If you have enjoyed learning everything you need to know about how to grow beautiful plumeria anywhere, please subscribe to my newsletter and be the first to see new articles, freebies,  events, and promotions as part of my Garden Club.  I only use your email to email and never share your information with others.  Thanks for visiting the Garden of Aquarius.

Plumeria growing guide

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2 Replies to “Grow Beautiful Plumeria Anywhere: Everything You Need to Know”

  1. Where do you garden? I am in St.Augustine and am having a heck of a time getting used to the environment here (soil, heat and humidity)

    1. Hi Cindy, I’m close by in Jacksonville, FL. Where did you move here from? Our “soil” (it’s really sand) takes some getting used to. Check out my Dahlias and Zinnias in a Florida Garden article. My zinnias and cosmos were 6 feet tall this year, they love the sand and the humidity. The good news is the growing season is almost year-round. My Gerbera daisies never stop blooming during the winter. Hang in there!

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