Plumeria leaves curling can be a sign of overwatering, but in most cases, it happens through no fault of the plumeria carer and should really be referred to as plumeria leaf stress more widely. The treatment of leaf curl in plumeria plants is really more about general care and prevention and keeping a close eye on your frangipani plants for pests, diseases and signs of stress.
Plumeria are tropical plants, with many potential threats to their health, but for all of their challenging needs, they give much more back in the way of heavenly scents and beautiful flowering.
So how do we treat plumeria leaves curling, and how do we prevent it? Like every question in the plant world, it comes back to their natural habitat.
All About Plumeria Leaf Stress
Plumeria leaf stress, also called plumeria leaf curl, is caused by a whole host of issues, which we’ll look at in detail later, but the most basic root of the cause is water – particularly when the weather turns cool.
Overwatering or under-watering plumeria plants will lead to weakened roots either through drought or through fungal rot at plumeria roots. When the roots are weakened they fail to carry the necessary nutrients to the foliage, which then fail to photosynthesise and lead to failed flowers and fallen leaves.
Leaves with too much water will curl, turn yellow, and begin attracting pests as they overfill their cells with chlorophyll which can sustain huge populations of spider mites. The spider mites can cause future fungal infections but, in this case, can be a sign of underlying issues.
When you notice a sticky substance called honeydew on your plumeria leaves, you might worry that the plant is overwatered, but it’s in fact more likely to be healthy. Honeydew is a natural product of plumeria, and its production is a sign that your plant is ready to send out intensely fragrant flowers, but if the leaves are overproducing honeydew, particularly in autumn when the weather turns cool, it might be a sign of under-watering or root rot, and an early sign that your plant is working too hard to sustain itself. If this is the case, the best course of action is to increase watering, and (oddly) to move the plant into more direct sunlight, so it can regulate its water better.
Why are my Plumeria Leaves Curling?
Curled leaves on plumeria most regularly start as a result of water-related stress. In their natural habitat frangipani are most commonly found in Hawaii (hence their more common name – Hawaiian Lai Plant) plumeria is in full sun but gets around 225 days of rainfall per year totalling over 30″ of rain per year.
In the US, there are fewer days of rain (around 120 days) but higher overall rainfall (40″), and this is accompanied by lower temperatures, so your plant is more likely to be subjected to cool dry spells, broken up by warm humid periods.
It is far easier to regulate your Plumeria’s watering routine for plants grown in containers, and much easier to prevent common plumeria pests and diseases. But, to maintain healthy foliage, it’s all about water.
What does Plumeria Leaf Curl look like?
Plumeria leaf curl, or Plumeria leaf stress, comes in two main types: curl and pucker. Both are easily confused but there are a few important visual differences between them.
Plumeria leaf pucker is the result of over acidified soil, or soil that drains too much. I know it might sound impossible, as we always advise well-drained soil for plumeria, but they can become too dry to the extent that they hold no water at all. There is one simple way to fix this problem and revive your soil, and it’s soaking and fertilizing, followed by a light mulch. The principle of fixing dry plumeria leaves is just to give it a kick start with renewed moisture.
For leaf curl, you’ll see leaves that are turning in on themselves, and leaves dropping off during the growing season, either spring or summer. Falling leaves in fall and winter are quite common and shouldn’t be a big cause for concern, as the plant is likely just responding to changing climates and turning dormant earlier in the year (particularly important for more Northerly states where climate change is rapidly affecting tropical plant collections).
If you see curling or dropping leaves in spring and summer, make sure to review the colour of the leaves, if they are yellow as they curl (especially if they have yellow spots) they are likely suffering from overwatering more generally, with issues like early signs of plumeria rust common alongside leaf curl.
What Causes Plumeria Leaf Stress?
Aside from overwatering, and extreme drought, there are only a few pests and diseases that cause plumeria leaf stress as a result of their damage. We’ll talk through a few of the most common below.
Pests causing Plumeria Leaf Stress:
Spider mites are sap sucking insects that thrive on dry plumeria. The sticky substance called honey dew that attracts them is typically higher in dry plants, and it’s easier for them to move around as they dislike moisture in soil, or on leaves.
The spider mites, particularly a big infestation of them, will weaken the plant and cause them to lose their vigour, as they feed on the sap and moisture from the leaf cells, which drains the colour from leaves. The best way to treat spider mites is neem oil, but read our article on treating spider mites on plumeria for more information.
Mealybugs are a really unsightly pest, often confused with spider mites as they both gather in white clusters. However, mealybugs are white in themselves, covered in secretions that make them distasteful to most predators, while spider mites surround their eggs in silk. Both look similar in large numbers, but mealy bugs will damage your plant in the same way a parasite would.
Again, the most natural way to control them would be ladybirds, but neem oil is an effective treatment for infestations.
Conditions Causing Plumeria Leaf Stress
Root rot is caused by fungal infection, or bacterial infection around plumeria roots. It is caused by overwatering, but can also occur in well cared for plumeria as a result of fungal spores spreading via insects, wind, and dirty watering cans.
Fallen leaves with fungal spores on them are also common causes of rot.
When rot sets in the treatment is extreme, requiring repotting your plumeria entirely, and cutting out any affected roots in the process.
Plumeria in low light will suffer from high humidity, which will attract funguses that cause leaf curl. Yellowing leaves or blackened areas should be removed as soon as they are spotted and either burned or disposed of in the trash immediately.
We’ve written a full guide to plumeria rust control and how rust affects plumeria, which will give you more detailed information on how to treat this disease, but if you find signs of rust, like orange-brown leaves that are starting to curl, you need to act fast. Cut back any affected growth, destroy it and treat the remaining foliage with fungicides.
How to prevent Plumeria Leaves Curling
Location, location, location. Plumeria need the best possible conditions to prevent this simple issue. They should be in bright light, but not direct sun if indoors, and never directly next to a radiator or heating unit as they will dry out and crisp up faster than they can cope with.
Plumeria are resilient plants but if they are overheated, or under-humidified they will dry out quickly and it will take a lot of work to recover their frazzled appearance.
Conversely, overwatered plumeria need to be moved into brighter areas, but avoiding direct light indoors as they will be more likely to require more water that way. Regulating their water so that they are having an absolute maximum of 1-2 drinks per week is a good guide. If the soil is drying out faster than 4 days, they should be moved slightly further from heat sources. If they are drying out slower than 10 days, then you should consider repotting them into free draining compost, and moving them into brighter positions.
How to Treat Plumeria Leaf Curl
The best treatments for leaf curl are preventions. To treat existing leaf curl at home, you’ll need to do some gardening. As above, repotting your plumeria will help you achieve a healthier plant, and should be done every 2-3 years anyway, but removing affected leaves can reduce stress on the rest of the plant and speed up recovery.
There are some great products you can buy online or in garden centres though, which will help to reduce the chances of curling leaves though.
Rock Phosphate fertilizers are primarily targeted at flowering health, but in plumeria they support regular sap and essential oil production as well as encourage blooming, which in turn regulates internal moisture levels. For a one size fits all fertilizer for plumeria it’s a great natural and vegan fertilizer for plumeria that pretty much guarantees fragrant flowers. It won’t do much to prevent disease though, so should be used part of an annual care routine, rather than your only choice.
Down to Earth are a great brand, using recyclable and compostable packaging, that keeps your conscience clean too.
Dr Earth’s gentle tropical feed targets foliage, but has a pretty even N-P-K so does a good job at supporting roots, flowers and leaves all in one go. Because it’s a gentle feed, it’s versatile too, either for use as a mixed liquid feed or a soil additive.
Because it can be used a liquid feed when mixed, its actually pretty good at indirectly preventing common sap sucking insects like spider mites, simply by encouraging you to water more regularly, and keeping the soil evenly moist.
Now, I’ve said in other articles for Plumeria 101, that I personally prefer Nitrogen-rich fertilizers, because they provide more balanced plant health, and even though they might not support blooming directly, they give a better environment in the soil. I found The Grow Co’s liquid fertilizer recently and I love it. It’s such a great store cupboard staple, for mixed-use across all house pants, providing light fertilizing that can be used regularly, so you don’t even have to worry too much about overfeeding.
Most liquid feeds, especially diluted ones, are over-concentrated and can lead to crisping leaves that get quickly overwhelmed by nutrients that they simply can’t use fast enough.
For stronger roots, stronger leaves, and a gentle boost to your flowers, this is a genuinely great tropical fertilizer.
Nelson are a famous name in the plumeria world for a reason. They make products that work, but a word of caution for Nelson, is that timing is everything. Nelson’s packaging suggests using it every 14 days, but it is an incredibly strong Phosphate feed. Personally, I’d suggest using it in spring, and using something gentler through summer, then stopping entirely in autumn.
To prevent plumeria leaves curl, and give them a good general health boost, Nelson is probably the most trusted by collectors.
Plumeria Leaf Curl FAQs
How often should you water plumeria?
Plumeria should be watered on average once every 7-10 days, but for plumeria in full sun this can increase to once every 4-5 days. Plumeria in light shade might need less, but the only true way to know is to feel the soil. When it’s dry, it’s time to water; if it’s moist, don’t water of feed your plant.
What does it means when a plant’s leaves start to curl?
Plumeria leaves curling is a sign of stress. This stress is typically caused by a failure to carry nutrients to the leaves. This can be caused by funguses attacking the roots, or fungal or bacterial infections in the stem, but sometimes is as simple as your prized plumeria being too close to a radiator.
Plumeria are wonderful plants, worth every moment of stress, but you do need to know how to tackle their most common problems before you take on the commitment of this exceptional tropical plant.
Leaf curl is one of the most important signs that plumeria give you to tell you they need help. It might not be immediately obvious what the problem is, but hopefully our guide to plumeria leaves curling helps you identify the problem next time it happens to you.