Plumeria (Frangipani), also known as the Lei flower, is native to warm tropical areas of the Pacific Islands, Caribbean, South America, and Mexico. Plumeria can grow to be large shrubs or even small trees in mild areas of the U.S. In tropical regions, plumeria may reach a height of 30'-40' and half as wide. Their thick, widely spaced branches are round or pointed, and their fleshy leaves gather in clusters near the tips of the branches.
Sensitive to cold, leaves tend to fall in early winter since they're deciduous. In colder climates, they should be grown in containers. They make beautiful potted plants for the patio or greenhouse. When temperatures dip into the low 40s, they may be stored in their containers inside the home where temperatures are kept above freezing. As soon as temperatures rise outdoors, they can be brought out and planted again. They will resume growth, leaf out, and begin to grow as if nothing happened.
The real payoff comes during the early summer through the early fall months, when very fragrant clusters of showy, waxy flowers provide the makings for your own Hawaiian Lei. There's absolutely nothing like the sweet fragrance of plumeria. It's a mix of jasmine, citrus, spices, gardenia, and other indescribable scents. These flowers are treasured by the Polynesian islanders for their durability, fragrances, and colors of white, yellow, pink, red, and multiple pastels. Flowering can last up to three months at a time, producing new blooms every day. Once picked, a bloom can last for several days without wilting if kept in water.
- Sprouting Time: Three-to-four inch leaves appear in June or July. Most often, this occurs only after they've been outside in the hot summer. Once they sprout, they grow fast!
- Cutting Preparation: These cuttings must be planted immediately. Do not re-cut the end of the cuttings. Plant the flat end of the cuttings down.
- Pot Size: Use 6" pots with drainage holes to start. Gradually increase one pot size per year in the spring. Once they're in a 5-gal. pot, they'll grow 4'-5' high with multiple bushy branches.
- Soil: Use a regular potting mix that's fast draining. Dirt premixed with perlite and sand is best.
- Watering: Water upon planting and every two weeks until 3"-4" leaves appear. Plumeria definitely likes to dry out in between watering, especially during the rooting stage as it encourages roots to form. Next the leaves come. After leafing out, you can water them once or twice a week while they're outside in the hot summer sun.
- Fertilizer: Use a well-balanced, high-bloom fertilizer every time you water except in the winter dormant period. Plumeria are heavy feeders.
- Temperature Zones 10 -11: When nights stay above 45°-50°F, place plants outside and leave them there all summer long — the hotter the better. They like a change in the day-to-night temperatures to grow so they can bloom properly. When temperatures drop below 45°-50°F in the autumn, bring plants inside. If you live where nights rarely drop below 40°F, leave plants outside all year.
- Lighting: In the summer growing season, the more sun the better. Inside in fall and winter, any lighting is sufficient.
- Dormancy: During the winter months inside the home, plants usually drop their leaves December to March. Water only once a month during this period, as their roots are inactive. New leaves will reappear in the spring as they prepare to go outside again. Once they're outside, more frequent watering can resume.
- Pruning: Wear gloves. After 2-3 years, you can make your own cuttings by simply pruning off your own branches. Simply cut a 10"-12" branch. Let it dry out for two weeks and plant it. The best time to do this is March to May. Sap may cause skin rash or irritation.
- Blooming: This period starts in its second year, from July to October.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why won't my plant bloom?
A: Root-bound plants don't bloom well. In a small pot, they need to be moved up to at least a 10" pot or larger. In addition, make sure that you place them outside in the summer for half a day in the sun and feed them weekly. Blooms should appear that same summer. For newly planted cuttings, start with a 6" pot and move up to a 10" pot next spring. Newly planted cuttings may not bloom until the second summer.
Q: How do you make your own cuttings?
A: After 2-3 years, you can make your own cuttings by simply pruning off your own branches. Simply cut a 10"-12" branch. Let it dry out for two weeks and plant it. This is not necessary, but is well worthwhile as your original plant will also form two to three new branches every time you do it. Plus you'll have another plant! The best time to do this is March-May.
Q: My plant lost its leaves… help!
A: During the winter months inside the home, plants usually drop their leaves December-March. Water only once a month during this period, as their roots are inactive. New leaves will reappear in the spring as they prepare to go outside again. Once they're outside, more frequent watering can resume.
Q: How can you prevent root rot while starting?
A: Don't re-cut the bottom end, and always leave 2"-3" of soil below the bottom after sticking it into the pot. Never allow a catch dish for water to have standing water in it. Start with a 6" pot and no larger so soil dries out fast. Water only every 2-3 weeks until you get 2"-3" leaves. Once they root and leaf out a normal watering pattern can occur.