Growing Plumeria Obsession

Beautiful Plumeria

Growing plumeria, also known as the Frangipani or Hawaiian Lei Flower, is easy throughout Central and South Florida. The fragrant, exotic tree favors hot, humid, tropical environments, and is easy to propagate from cuttings. Plumeria bursts forth with dozens of highly fragrant blooms from spring through fall before going dormant for the winter months. It comes in a variety of colors including yellow, pink, white, red, or variegated. Plumeria’s blooms grow in clusters on the tips of branches, and each bloom can last several weeks.

Although plumeria gained popularity as the welcome flower in Hawaii, the plumeria is native to Mexico, Central America, and Venezuela. William Hillebrand, a German biologist, brought the plumeria to Hawaii in 1860 and it thrived in the warm climate and volcanic soil.

Central and South Florida possess conditions perfect for growing these beautiful plants. Plumeria grows well in the sandy Florida “soil”, and it will thrive in gardens or containers as long as it receives full sun.

Lessons in Growing Plumeria

Before you purchase your first plumeria at the local nursery, pick out a planting area that has well-draining soil and gets a minimum of six hours of full sun daily. You’ll want to test the soil as plumeria likes a slightly acidic soil similar to hibiscus and roses.

If it’s your first foray into growing the plumeria, be forewarned that the frangipani is a deciduous plant. It can be startling to new growers when the plant drops all of its leaves in the late fall preparing for winter. It’s just going dormant.

Cuttings to grow plumeria

Plumeria are very easy to grow from cuttings. I’ve traded a lot of plumeria stalks–a 5-to-6 inch piece of the dormant plumeria plant. Most of the time I can just stick it in the ground in spring, and it will grow. I’ve paid $5 to $12 for plumeria stalks at the county fair and at garage sales, but you never can be sure exactly what color you may get. If you have your heart set on a specific color of plumeria, it’s best to deal with a grower. You will pay a little more (or a lot more depending on the rarity of the plant) but you will get a healthier cutting and a place to seek advice if your plant doesn’t grow as expected.

Dangers to plumeria

Cold weather is plumeria’s first villain. In Orlando, where some years we do get freezing weather, I keep my favorite specimens in pots so they can be moved to shelter.

The established plumeria tree likes to be left alone. They love Florida’s sandy soil and hot temperatures.

The Plumeria rust fungus (plumeria alba) is one reason plants may drop their leaves during the growing season.

Rust fungus spreads when spores land on moist or damp leaves. It’s easily identified by the orange spores on the bottoms or tops of leaves.
Plumeria Rust Infection

Controlling and treating the rust fungus requires removing and destroying severely infected leaves early in the season. The rust fungus doesn’t infect the stalks or the flowers of plumeria, but it will shorten the growing season by destroying the leaves. The rust fungus survives on fallen leaves and even on the ground surrounding the plant.

Bayer Advanced Disease Control for Roses, Flowers, & Shrubs is my favorite product for controlling rust fungus. 

Mix it according to the directions and apply via a pump sprayer to both the tops and bottom of the leaves late in the day. Be sure to remove any badly infected leaves and remove any lying on the ground below. You can also treat the ground around the plumeria to keep spores below from becoming airborne.

Growing healthy Plumeria

Plumeria requires a lot of phosphorous in fertilizer mixes and slightly acidic soil. Phosphorus is the 2nd number in the fertilizers NPK rating. Look for a brand with low nitrogen and high phosphorus like Nelson’s with a 5-30-5 rating, or a generic tropical fertilizer like you’d use on orchids.

Phosphorus helps plants convert other nutrients into usable building blocks. When garden soil has a phosphorus deficiency plants may look small or produce little or no flowers. There are several good brands on the market

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