How to Keep Plumeria Small

Plumeria are one of the most fragrant tropical plants you can grow at home, but it’s important to remember that they are trees, and can reach over 20 feet tall in ideal conditions. In this article, we’re going to talk all about how to keep plumeria small and prevent them from overpowering your garden.

From pruning to root restriction, there are plenty of ways to keep plumeria small, but there’s definitely a good way… and a bad way to do it.

How tall do plumeria grow?

Plumeria can reach 20ft, but the varieties we tend to grow in our gardens are shorter, so even at maturity will only reach 16ft. If that’s too big for you, there are some varieties that grow shorter, and some which have been selected as dwarf plumeria varieties, that typically reach 6ft. even after 10 years.

The shortest plumeria varieties to grow

The shortest plumeria varieties to grow are the dwarf cultivars:

  • Dwarf Singapore plumeria
  • Dwarf Watermelon plumeria (Chompp Phuang Roi)
  • Dwarf Nok plumeria (Duang Suree)
  • Napoli JJ plumeria
  • Dwarf Orange plumeria
  • Dwarf Deciduous plumeria

These dwarf plumerias grow to around 6ft. on average but without pruning will reach slightly taller at 10-12ft.

Dwarf plumeria varieties

1. Dwarf Singapore plumeria

Dwarf Singapore is a slow-growing plumeria, which slows right down after its first year and puts on just 6″ of growth per year, making it incredibly easy to manage. Its pale pink blooms are packed with fragrance, but this short dwarfed plumeria tree does tend to suffer from fungal problems due to high humidity in the dense canopy.

2. Dwarf Watermelon plumeria (Chompp Phuang Roi)

Watermelon Plumeria has an ultimate height of 12 feet. and are quite fast-growing but respond well to pruning with a more open structure than other dwarf varieties. Keep these bright pink frangipani plants pruned back each year, and remove inward-facing branches to provide aeration.

3. Dwarf Nok plumeria (Duang Suree)

Growing just 6″ per year, Dwarf Nok plumeria plants are easy to care for, and have thick leaves which are less susceptible to pests than some cultivars. The creamy flowers have sunburst coloring at their centers, and an intense sweet fragrance while they are in flower.

4. Napoli JJ plumeria

It’s the vivid pink rims to these creamy pink fragrant flowers that make Napoli JJ truly sing, with slow growth that is easy to manage and an ultimate height at maturity of around 12 feet tall, but significantly less when grown in containers, making it ideal for houseplant growers.

5. Dwarf Orange plumeria

Some plumeria trees just make you stop in your tracks, and Dwarf Orange is definitely one of them, with a distinctly peachy fragrance, its orange-petalled blooms have mysterious red undersides which are just captivating. Their canopies are very open and they tend to produce foliage towards the tips of branches rather than lower down, making them less likely to develop fungal problems as a result of humidity like other dwarf varieties.

6. Dwarf Deciduous plumeria

The citrusy scent of dwarf Deciduous plumerias is unique, but they are faster growing than other dwarf varieties, and thanks to their thinner leaves tend to suffer more from pest damage.

The upside of their thinner leaves is that they store less water, so need less frequent feeding through spring and summer.

How to Prune Plumeria into a Small Tree

When you start growing a plumeria plant, whether it’s from seed, or from a cutting (most store-bought plumerias are plumeria cuttings), it’s important to encourage the right shape early on.

Below, we’ll look at how and when to prune a plumeria tree:

Winter vs. summer pruning young plumeria

Youn plumeria trees need regular pruning at least once a year, following the age-old rule; prune in winter to promote growth; prune in summer to stall it.

By pruning in winter, or early spring you force the plant to regrow from old nodes, this is good practice as it helps create a bushier form, and more lateral growth, rather than vertical growth.

Pruning in summer stalls growth because plumeria trees are hardwired to start new shoots in spring, and slow down towards the end of the growing season. Summer is the ideal time to remove inward branches, prevent rubbing, and help to improve airflow inside the canopy.

How to Prune Mature Plumeria

Pruning mature plumeria trees requires a little bit of extra knowledge as they are less likely to grow from old wood than young branches when pruned wrong.

Having said that, plumeria are forgiving trees and will recover from almost all pruning, provided you don’t cut them right to the ground.

Tools for keeping plumeria small

It’s essential that you have clean, sharp secateurs when pruning plumeria, and it’s best to keep varieties of pruning tools to hand.

I love the convenience of secateurs, but they can bruise young growth, so make sure you buy a good pair of bypass secateurs and avoid anvil secateurs which cut through by putting pressure on the underside of the cut.

Pruning scissors are useful for young shoots as produce cleaner cuts, but won’t usually cut through old wood.

For really tough growth, or if signs of infection have spread to the main stem, you’ll need a pruning saw which will give better control of your cut, and allow you to slice through on an angle to prevent water standing.

Where to cut to promote growth

New growth can come from anywhere that old leaves have fallen. These points are known as leaf nodes and contain hormones that allow the plant to create new branches.

Cut just above a node (also called a ‘leaf scar’) in winter or early spring, and a new branch should appear from that point when new growth emerges.

You can cut back to any green nodes in winter to promote new branches, even if it means cutting off all the growth from that year, but do this once every three years, rather than annually as it can put a lot of stress on the plant.

Where to cut to slow growth

Cutting between nodes, or cutting into old wood in summer will slow growth, and prevent new branches from forming. If they emerge simply pinch them out.

Aim to prune out any branches that grow inwards, and any vertical shoots to keep plumeria height limited. By pruning out vertical growth on young plumeria you can create a multi-stemmed tree which will be more goblet-shaped than canopy shaped and is ideal for pots and containers.


Notching is a really clever way to promote new growth if your tree has got too tall. Rather than cutting the entire tree down, you can trick it into thinking you’ve cut the top growth, by cutting a 2-3mm notch just above an old node along the main stem.

By doing this, you block the node’s ability to communicate with the plant above, indicating damage, which forces the tree into survival mode.

the result is that a new branch will appear below the notch, but the top growth will continue receiving water and nutrients from the roots. When the new shoot has grown and developed leaves you can then cut everything above off and, essentially, start again.

Plumeria care for smaller plants

As well as pruning there are a few things you can do to force a plumeria to stunt its own growth, but these are not advised. The below methods put a strain on plumeria plants and restrict their roots, and as we’ve looked at in previous articles, restricted plumeria roots are very likely to develop root rot.

With proper care and root pruning though, you should be able to keep plumeria small using the tricks below:

Plant plumeria in pots

Plumeria planted in pots have limited space for their roots, and are entirely t your mercy in terms of feeding, watering and light, so will only ever grow to the height they are allowed.

One problem with plumeria in pots is that while they might be small, they can grow leggy as they don’t have the root run to develop bushy growth, and instead grow quickly upwards and put on weak flowering displays.

To help manage this, keep your plumeria in its container for three years, then prune the roots back slightly, and pot up to a very slightly larger pot. You plumeria will cope here for another 2-3 years.

Plant plumeria in full sun

Planting plumeria in full sun is what these plants want in nature, and thankfully it can also help to slow their growth. Plumeria grown in shade put on vertical growth to search for the sunlight. When they are in full sun they slow their growth rate down slightly, making them easier to manage with a single annual prune.


How do you shape a plumeria tree?

Plumeria trees can be shaped any way you like, but for smaller gardens aim to prune plumeria into a goblet shape, by trimming the first vertical shoot from your cutting to promote side shoots, which will give you horizontal branches, rather than uprights.

Do plumerias like small pots?

Plumerias hate root restriction so should always be planted in a container at least 1″ bigger than their root ball. Ideally, plumeria want an extra 1-2″ of compost around the root ball to provide added nutrients as they mature, but for smaller plants, they can be slightly restricted.

Can you cut back plumeria?

Plumeria can be cut back to 1 foot above the ground, provided there are nodes and leaf scars that could become viable new branches. Do not cut plumeria back like hedges or shrubs though as this creates an overly bushy canopy that holds humidity.

How fast does plumeria grow?

Plumerias tend to grow at a rate of 1ft per year, but dwarf varieties are significantly slower, with some growing just 4″ per year. Obviously, the slower-growing varieties are easier to keep small.


Keeping plumeria small isn’t that difficult but does require regular maintenance and pruning, as well as finding the best position for your plumeria plants.

Learning how to prune is the most important aspect of how to keep plumeria small, so get to know your tools, and spend some time studying your plant before cutting it for the first time.

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