Plumerias are one of the most rewarding tropical plants you can grow, and despite their preference for warm, tropical climates, plumeria care is actually pretty straightforward, no matter where you live in the world.
At Plumeria 101 we want to give you all the tools and tips, so you know how to grow plumeria for yourself, with all the joy of the fragrant flowers that come along with these unique flowering trees.
In this article, we’re going to talk through some of the most basic plumeria care tips, and provide a full guide on how to propagate plumeria seeds into a mature and healthy plumeria tree.
What is Plumeria?
Plumerias are small trees, with fragrant flowers, typically reaching around 6m after around twenty years. Thanks to their slow-growing habit, they make excellent houseplants and can be easily trained into beautiful trees for containers on the patio too.
These tropical plants bloom in summer, producing the iconic flowers used in traditional Hawaiian leis. Plumeria is also known as frangipani thanks to its intoxicating apricot fragrance, which fills the air on warm summer days.
What is Plumeria’s Natural Habitat?
As you might have guessed, plumeria, also known as frangipani or the Hawaiian lei tree, is native to tropical Central America, Mexico, the Bahamas, and Hawaii.
They grow best in partial shade as low-growing trees, creating the understory to taller trees whose canopies provide dappled sunlight and limit their water supply.
These tropical climates are famous for very warm climates in early summer, fantastic drainage, and humid, but well-ventilated conditions. So, like many tropical house plants, they thrive best in bright conditions, but not in full sun. Enjoy generous watering, but should always be left to dry out between drinks, and don’t like holding water on their leaves.
Plumeria Growing & Care Instructions
Where to plant plumeria
Plumeria should be planted in bright, but indirect light. If you live in zones 10-12 it’s possible to grow plumeria outdoors in the soil all year round with no real consideration for its care aside from watering, but for most of us in the Northern hemisphere, growing plumeria takes a little bit more work.
First, we need to find the best spot for plumeria trees, so we’ll look at light and soil, as well as how to grow plumeria in pots:
Temperature and Light conditions for Plumeria
We’ve got a full guide to finding the right light for plumeria here, as there are some subtle differences depending on other conditions.
As a basic guide though, if you grow plumeria in the garden, provide it with dappled shade or away from the direct afternoon sun. Try to ensure that the ambient temperature never drops below 50F, as Plumeria can suffer over winter and will struggle to recover if there is any slight risk of frost.
Soil conditions for Plumeria
Plumerias need fast-draining soil with high nutrient levels, and just enough space for their root system to develop without sitting in water.
Always try to provide plumeria plants with hand-mixed compost, including a host material, a drainage additive, and a nutrient-rich element for moisture retention. Using a fast-draining soil like a cactus mix, in combination with a nutrient-rich potting soil is a great base when mixed with perlite or vermiculite to aid drainage.
Whether you’re planting plumeria in the garden or in a container, you should always plant their root ball so the soil surface is at the same depth as it was in the previous pot. This helps drainage and allows rain to spread evenly and filter down into the soil without forming puddles, or spilling away.
Read our article about soil for plumeria for a more in-depth guide to caring for these exciting trees.
Growing Plumeria in pots
Potted plumeria plants need more feeding than plumeria planted outdoors, but it provides a much easier way to manage and maintain the health of these small trees for most gardeners in milder climates.
Growing plumeria plants in pots mean you can grow plumeria indoors in their dormant season over winter, and into the garden for the active growing season. It also helps with watering as you retain better control over how and when they are watered and fed.
For the best plumeria pots, use black plastic pots. they keep light away from the root system and help retain moisture. Terracotta pots can be used as decorative outer pots for a neater display, but allow moisture to seem out, and can develop molds and fungus that later spread to the root system.
How to Care for Plumeria: Ultimate Plumeria Care Guide
Plumeria care involves a bit more maintenance than most house plants, but when you find the right balance it becomes automatic. You’ll build habits and a relationship with these fragrant trees like no other houseplant, and the reward is well worth the effort.
Plumeria watering is different at each growth stage. For example, plumeria cuttings should be watered only when the soil dries out, and increased humidity is actually helpful to their development.
A young plumeria plant will need regular watering, but should never be left sitting in damp soil, so it’s best to water them when the top inch of soil has dried out, and avoid watering their leaves at any point.
Mature plumeria plants need slightly more watering, especially in spring when they have a flourish of new green leaves emerging. If the soil is too dry, pests will be attracted to the emerging shoots and can cause many problems. If the soil is too wet, fungal infections can take hold in the branch tips (black tip fungus).
For a full guide on how, and when, to water plumeria, and help in finding the right humidity for plumeria, read our article on plumeria water requirements and overwatering plumeria.
Plumeria need high potassium and phosphorous, but low nitrogen fertilizers to produce the most fragrant flowers, but as young plants, more balanced fertilizers help them establish roots more quickly as nitrogen is key to this growth stage.
In spring and early summer, plumerias should be watered whenever their soil surface is dry to the touch and fed every 2 to 3 weeks. This encourages bigger, brighter blooms, but when flowers drop, and temperatures fall in autumn, stop fertilizing.
Plumeria has a dormant period which we’ll cover below, and they should not be fed during late fall or winter at all. Read our full guide to plumeria fertilizers here.
We’ve published a full guide to pruning plumeria for more detailed information, but the basics of pruning are the same no matter what plant you’re growing:
- Always remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches.
- Prune in winter to encourage new growth in spring.
- Prune in summer to restrict growth.
Plumeria has a range of different pruning needs, with young shoots needing more delicate care, and larger branches that should be pruned out to improve airflow, so you’ll need a combination of tools in your kit for the best plumeria care.
Pruning saws, a sharp knife, and sharp secateurs are the must-have tools for plumeria pruning.
Plumeria Winter Care and Dormancy
When temperatures begin to drop in late fall, and there is a risk of anything below 50F, plumeria should be brought indoors, or wrapped in horticultural fleece.
As temperatures fall below 65F, their leaves will naturally fall off as these small fragrant trees prepare themselves for winter dormancy. During this time they should not be watered, misted, or fed at all as their roots are completely inactive and will simply rot in standing water.
Read our full guide on plumeria winter care for a step-by-step plan for taking your precious frangipani plants through winter to encourage new roots to develop in spring, with new shoots and fresh green leaves.
How to Propagate Plumeria
Plumeria can be propagated in two ways; from seed, and from cuttings. Unlike rhizomatous and tuberous perennials, they can’t simply be divided, so they need to be taken s greenwood cuttings in late spring, or have their seeds harvested and prepared for sowing.
For a comprehensive guide on how to take plumeria cuttings, read our step-by-step instructions.
Propagating Plumeria from Seed
Before we talk about growing plumeria from seed, it’s important to mention that plumeria seed is very difficult to come by. You are unlikely to find plumeria seeds in your local nursery, so look around online for online seed companies that specialize in tropical plants.
Here is a great place to find rare and common plumeria seeds, and the sellers are passionate about what they do. If, however, you want more of a challenge, you can harvest plumeria seeds from your own frangipani plants and prepare them for sowing yourself. Here’s how:
- Plumerias need to be pollinated in order to flower. In their natural habitat, this means allowing them to be pollinated by butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds who are attracted by their highly fragrant and nectar-rich flowers.
- If you’re growing Plumeria indoors, or in a garden where pollination is unlikely, use a very fine paintbrush to brush the pollen at the center of each flower from one flower to the next.
- NOTE: Many plumeria cultivars are sterile and will produce non-viable seeds. Check the variety you’re growing online for information about viability.
- Once the flowers are pollinated, they fade, and fall from the plant, leaving the beginnings of a seed pod behind.
- As the seed pod develops it looks like a ripe, green, pea pod. Now you have to wait.
- Wait until the seed pods are dry and ready to burst open. Harvesting these seed pods too early will lead to failure.
- When the seed pods are starting to dry, place a breathable bag, or pantyhose around them to capture the seeds when they drop, and check every few days so you don’t miss it.
- Once you have seeds, that’s it – they’re ready to sow.
Now you know how to prepare plumeria seeds, it’s time to sow and propagate plumeria from seed. Freshly harvested seeds will grow faster, but it’s important to moisten seeds bought online before sowing.
How to sow plumeria seeds:
- Plumeria seeds are best planted straight away when they fall from the plant and are very easy to germinate.
- If your seeds have been bought online, soak them in lukewarm water for 6 hours before sowing to revitalize them.
- Fill 3″ pots with sandy seed compost (or mix sieved compost with perlite).
- Push the swollen end of the seed into the soil, leaving the thin part sticking slightly out of the soil.
- .Water your plumeria seeds well (this adds moisture, and improves contact with the soil)
- Place your seed pots in a warm spot (65F at least) and cover.
- Heated propagators are perfect for this.
- Germination usually takes around7-14 days, but can take up to 4 weeks, so be patient.
- Once they have germinated, keep the soil moist but not damp, and wait until roots appear, and you have your first leaves.
- Plant your plumeria.
Common Plumeria Problems (Plumeria Pests & Diseases)
Plumerias are tropical plants, with highly fragrant flowers, and a generous supply of nectar. This makes them incredibly attractive the pests like spider mites and mealybug regardless of how well you look after them.
Along with a wealth of pest problems, plumeria plants are picky about their conditions, such as their light, water, humidity, or temperature. Finding the right conditions can help them thrive, but black tip fungus and plumeria rust are often spread by pests, so it’s important to know how to diagnose and treat these common diseases.
We’ve put together some incredibly in-depth articles on common Plumeria pests and diseases, from over-watering to black tip fungus. Links to the most common problems are below:
- Plumeria leaves curling
- Overwatering plumeria plants
- Plumeria rust
- Black tip fungus
- Spider mites
- Plumeria stem rot
Is plumeria poisonous?
All parts of the plumeria plant are mildly toxic to pets and humans with mild stomach upset being the most common symptom of plumeria poisoning. In most cases, there is no risk to life from ingesting a small amount of plumeria leaf, bark, or plumeria flowers. For people with pre-existing skin conditions, plumeria sap and nectar can cause rashes and skin irritation.
Are coffee grounds good for plumeria?
Coffee grounds are a brilliant source of slow-release nutrients, but most importantly they gently acidify the soil. Plumerias need slightly acidic soil to thrive and commonly suffer from nutrient deficiencies if the soil is not acidic enough. Occasionally sprinkling used coffee ground around the base of plumeria plants is a great way to use this waste product.
How long does it take plumeria to bloom?
Plumeria grown from cuttings can take between one and three years to flower for the first time, while plumeria grown from seed can take up to five years to produce their first blooms. While it might seem a long time to wait, their flowers are so intoxicatingly fragrant that it is truly worth the wait.
How many times a year do plumerias bloom?
Plumerias that are grown indoors, or in milder climates, will begin flowering in early summer and can flower for up to two months. they will usually only flower once a year. Plumeria grown in their natural habitat can flower almost all year round, with a small break for natural dormancy in the cooler winter months.
Final Thoughts on Plumeria Growth & Care
We are big fans of plumeria at Plumeria 101, as you might have guessed, but we won’t rest until everyone knows about these incredible tropical plants. Plumeria is still seen as an unusual and difficult plant to grow in cultivation, but when you know how to grow plumeria properly, they’re perfect house plants, and great outdoors through spring and summer in most climates.
Plumeria care really comes down to three factors: heat, light, and moisture. If you get those right, then you’ll have healthy a plumeria plant for years to come, whether you’re growing from plumeria seeds, or finding the right spot for a potted plumeria on the patio.
Remember, no matter what the problem, we’ll always have the answer at Plumeria 101.