You don’t have to go to Hawaii to enjoy the State’s traditional welcoming fragrant leis which are typically made of plumeria flowers. That’s because this tropical plant is easy to grow and care for in our more temperate climates. You do have to protect it in the winter time, and if you’ve ever grown one, then you know why they are worth the effort.
Plumeria, also commonly known as Frangipani, bears sweetly fragrant flowers. Even if they did not smell so good, they are also very beautiful! Plumeria trees are native to the Caribbean and Central America. Today they are popular world-wide, especially in areas where it doesn’t freeze. But cold weather doesn’t stop gardening enthusiasts living in colder climes from growing and enjoying this wonderful plant.
There are a several species of this member of the Oleander family which have been bred and hybridized to the point there are now over a 1000 different varieties, in all different colors and even fragrances.
In the tropics they grow as large shrubs or small trees, but because here we typically grow them in containers, their size is much reduced. Still, they can get large, and they tend to be top heavy. That’s because the branches are thick and full of milky sap, and a large plant in a small container can be easily toppled on a windy day.
Culture is rather easy. Grow in a large enough pot to help balance the size of the plant (or prune it so it is not so large). As mentioned above, they can get top heavy, and are more inclined to tip over if the container is too small. The container should have enough drainage holes to assure the soil does not stay wet. Use a well-drained potting medium. Some folks add calicined clay or expanded shale to provide drainage plus a little more weight to the container.
During growing season (spring – fall) water regularly, but do not allow the soil to stay saturated. They can be quite drought tolerant, but if you let it get too dry between waterings, you might sacrifice blooms. Try to keep the soil evenly moist, or allow it to barely dry between waterings. I have an older plant in a large clay pot whose roots have occupied most of the container. Thus, in the summer, I must water it nearly every day. It is worth the effort!
Fertilize them regularly with a complete water-soluble fertilizer, and perhaps supplement with slow-release fertilizers to compensate for nutrients being leached out due to regular watering.
It can take a couple of years for plumeria to bloom from cuttings (which root very easily in warmer weather), but once a plant has begun to bloom, it will reward you with fragrant blossoms every summer henceforth. The best location for plumerias are where you can enjoy their sweet fragrance, like on a patio, or along a walk or by the door.
They do need to be protected in the winter. I usually put mine in an unheated, unlit garage once the temperatures fall below 40 degrees, and bring it out after all danger of freezing weather is over. Unless they are kept in a greenhouse or sun porch, they will drop all their leaves and you should stop watering them to prevent rot. The thick, succulent stems may shrivel a bit, but don’t be concerned. Once growth begins in spring and watering resumes, they will swell and return to their former state.
When kept outside, pests are usually not a problem, but if kept inside or in a greenhouse, mealybugs and spider mites might bother your plants.
Because they are loved by so many people, there are societies devoted to this plant, including the Plumeria Society of America, Inc., which is located in Houston. I saw they are having a Plumeria Show and Sale in Rosenburg (near Houston) on July 26, 2014 – more information can be found on their website www.theplumeriasociety.org or on their Facebook page.