Finding out why your plumeria leaves are turning yellow can be a frustrating, and seemingly endless cycle as there are dozens of causes. In this article, we’ve pulled together every potential cause of yellow leaves in plumeria, including treatment and prevention plans for each.
All about plumeria & their natural cycle
Plumerias, commonly known as frangipani plants, of the Hawaiian lei flower, are fragrant tropical trees, which flower reliably indoors and outdoors in full sun, and with the right fertilizer.
In their natural habitat, plumerias lose their leaves in late autumn, and they will naturally turn yellow and drop from the plant. If this happens annually, it’s a sign of a happy healthy plant, enjoying its natural rhythm.
However, if your plumeria starts dropping leaves, or plumeria leaves turn yellow in spring or summer, this is cause for concern.
Here’s how to diagnose, prevent, and fix yellow leaves on plumeria trees.
Why are your plumeria leaves turning yellow?
Before we begin, here’s a list of all every cause of yellow plumeria leaves:
- Natural cycle
- Plumeria Rust
- Root rot
- Pest Infestation
- Frangipani Caterpillar
- Improper sunlight
- Root damage
- Soil conditions
- PH levels
- Plumeria care
- Lack of nutrition
- Mineral deposits
- Overwatering and underwatering
As you can see, there are many reasons that plumeria leaves turn yellow, and all of them can lead to fewer flowers, weaker fragrance, and sadly in extreme circumstances, dead plants.
By following the guide below, we’ll make sure it doesn’t come to that, and make sure every plumeria you grow is given the best care possible and can thrive to the best of its ability.
While most plumeria problems cause yellow leaves to some extent, there are two major symptoms that help us at least start to define what the problem, might be. Below, we talk about how to identify yellow leaves on plumeria, and what might be causing the problem:
Plumeria leaves turning yellow with brown spots
Plumeria leaves turning yellow with brown spots can be a few different things, but is usually the cause of a more defined problem, rather than an issue with care, or conditions.
Brown spots on plumeria leaves are typically a sign of pest infestation, fungal infection, or bacterial disease. Brown spots, either on the tips or edges of leaves are a sign of damage. this might be from overwatering or standing water on leaves.
Brown spots on p[lumeria leaves can also be caused by pests, eating leaves, or creating pin-pointed humidity where they lay eggs, or secrete mucus.
As plumeria leaves continue to develop, these brown spots spread into yellow rings, and join up to create completely yellow leaves.
The most common causes of plumeria leaf turning yellow with brown spots are:
- Plumeria Rust (early stages)
- Pest infestation
- Frangipani Caterpillar
- Spider mites
- Overwatering leaves, or standing water on leaves
Plumeria leaves yellow and curling
If your plumeria leaves are turning yellow and curling, this is most commonly associated with dry conditions, or problems with care, soil, or at the roots of a plumeria plant.
If you notice your leaves are brown on the edges, this is easily diagnosable as either wind shock, or sunburn. Both are unlikely but are easily treatable. If you see leaves puckering and curling though, this is more likely something that needs a clever bit of plumeria care to fix.
The most common causes of plumeria leaves turning yellow and curling are:
- Root rot
- Root damage
- Improper sunlight
- Lack of nutrition
- Soil conditions
- PH levels
- Mineral deposits
- Overwatering & underwatering
To help you find out the cause of your plumeria problem, we’ve broken down all of the possible causes of yellow leaves below.
How do you treat yellow leaves on Plumeria plants?
In this section, we’ve split the problems that cause yellow leaves on plumeria plants into three sections:
- Plumeria care
In each section, we look at how to identify the cause of yellow leaves, how to prevent them, and how to treat them.
There are a few different diseases that can cause yellow plumeria leaves, but most fall into the category of root rot, whether it’s fungal or bacterial, so in this section e focus on Plumeria Rust, and talk about how to identify plumeria root rot:
Plumeria rust is strictly an orange rusty leaf discolouration, rather than yellow leaves, but early signs are yellowing, or rusty spots on the upper side of the leaf, which usually indicate rust fungus growing on the under-side.
Before the upper side of the leaf is affected, there will be orange pustules on the underside of leaves.
If caught early, plumeria rust can be stopped in its tracks, but if left too late, it can lead to all leaves falling from the tree.
The prevent plumeria rust from forming, keep your plumeria in a bright space with good ventilation. Plumeria rust thrives in poorly ventilated and humid spaces.
Prune the plant to improve airflow, removing any branches that rub together, or are growing towards each other. Try to create an open canopy so air can move around inside the branches.
To treat plumeria rust, remove any affected leaves and burn them immediately. Fungal spores are quick to spread by rubbing against other leaves and can be spread by wind, moisture, or pests, so remove any leaves with visible spores immediately.
After removing rust fungus from plumeria, spray the plant with a diluted neem oil solution.
For more information, we have a full guide on how to identify, prevent, and treat plumeria rust.
A very common problem for plumeria is root rot. There are dozens of potential causes of root rot, but the treatment and signs are usually very similar.
Root rot is caused by funguses, bacterial growth, and stagnant water. Sometimes all three, and sometimes just one, but you can limit the likelihood of any of those problems through proper plumeria care.
If you suspect that root rot is the cause of your plumeria leaves turning yellow, tip the plant out of its pot, and check for any damp, squashy, or blackened roots. In severe cases, they will have a distinctly putrid odour.
To treat plumeria root rot, remove all affected roots as they will not recover, and if the fungal or bacterial infection is the cause, they should be removed before it spreads.
Remove your plumeria plant from its container, shake off the soil and wash the roots in diluted fungicides. This might seem extreme but doing its, then allowing the roots to dry out before repotting in fresh compost can be the difference between life and death for these tropical plants.
- Tip plumeria plants from their pots
- Shake off all soil
- Wash roots in a diluted fungicide
- Leave to dry for 5-10 minutes
- Re-pot in fresh compost
- Water once, then do not water again until the top inch of soil is dry
Most plumeria pest infestations lead to spotted leaf damage, with brown patches alter turning yellow. For some though, they can cause damaged roots which will need organic chemical treatments.
Pests are the most common cause of yellow spots on leaves in plumeria. Below, we run through the most common, and some of the less common causes of yellow plumeria leaves:
Scales are one of the most visually disturbing insects you can possibly find on plumeria leaves, and the first sign of them is usually leaves with tiny yellow spots, which spread out and eventually join up to cover the whole leaf with an even yellow.
When you look more closely you’ll see tiny, domed, insects that bare a striking resemblance to a prehistoric woodlouse. their mouths open to reveal a needle-like component which pierces the plant and sucks moisture. They secrete honeydew so are typically moved between plants with ants that harvest their sweet secretions.
Severe infestations will lead to stressed and almost entirely wilted plants, but if you catch them early they’re easy to deal with.
To treat scale, dip cotton swabs into pure rubbing alcohol and dab individual insects, or clusters of them, with the liquid. This dries out their exoskeleton and kills them instantly.
Take care to wash your plumeria after each treatment and it’s unlikely you’ll find them all in one go.
Like all caterpillars they feed heavily on the leaves of deciduous plants, making light work of frangipani trees. Each caterpillar can eat 3 mature leaves in a single day, so a bad infestation can quickly defoliate young trees.
Thankfully, frangipani caterpillars are easy to spot, and the best way to deal with them is to pick them off and dispose of them. How you get rid of them is up to you. The extreme option is to squish them, while some gardeners move them to less precious plants. My preferred method is to put them on the bird table, where they make a great snack for local wildlife.
Nematodes are confusing pests, because for most gardeners in recent years they have been promoted as a miracle cure for slugs, and other soil-bourn pests. That’s because there are a few different types of nematodes.
Don’t worry about the common pest control nematodes, as they won’t damage plumeria. In fact, out of 80,000 species of nematode, only around 2,500 are parasitic, and only a handful of those can damage crops.
Root lesion nematodes and dagger nematodes are the only genera which are likely to damage plumeria, but they’re frustratingly common in many gardens.
Symptoms of nematodes are hard to differentiate from root rot as the signs are almost identical; yellowing, or wilting leaves, and an overall loss of vigour.
There is virtually no treatment for nematodes as they are microscopic parasites. For plumeria being routinely damaged by nematodes, consider washing off its root ball and moving its position. Planting marigolds reportedly has a neutralising effect as nematodes seem to move away from their roots.
Thrips, also known as thunder flies, can cause a huge amount of damage to your crops, and to plumeria plants.
Thrips are tiny insects, which pierce the leaves of plants, particularly in spring, to eat the chlorophyll. This causes minor damage initially, but the broken plant tissue can harbour bacteria and funguses which discolour and turn yellow, leading to a spotty silvery, then yellow, leaf.
What’s really fascinating about thrips is that the wider species contains herbivores, carnivores and omnivores in equal measure, so one unusual way to control damaging thrips is to release predatory thrips into the garden, which eat the herbivorous thrips.
Whiteflies work on plumeria just as blackflies do on broad beans. they congregate on plumeria stems and suck the sap from young shoots before it even reaches the leaves.
Whitefly is very noticeable as they gather together, causing clumps of insects around the base of leaves, or on the younger part of plumeria stems.
As the problem persists, your plumeria will look weaker, and leaves turn yellow as they can’t carry carbon or nutrients to their leaves, leading to a lack of chlorophyll production.
Treating whitefly is simple – spray them with a high-pressure hose, and they fall to the floor. This won’t completely eradicate the problem, but it will reduce it.
To treat your plant after you have dealt with a whitefly infestation, spray it with a diluted neem oil solution (an organic pesticide) to kill off any remaining pests.
Visually, the damage done by mites is very similar to that done by mealybugs, or thrips, but as they eat deeper into the plant tissue, they cause darker lesions, creating yellow-red spots across entire leaves. These rarely kill a plumeria, but if left unchecked can create fungal problems, particularly if you water or mist plumeria leaves.
Spider mites, mealy bugs, and thrips can all be controlled using organic neem oil or rubbing alcohol. For more details on treatment and prevention, see our guide to getting rid of spider mites on plumeria.
Infestation and diseases are common causes of plumeria leaves turning yellow, but despite all our best efforts, the biggest reason for yellow leaves is usually plumeria care.
Plumeria are very picky about their conditions, and need the following to be just right:
- Bright but indirect light
- Regular watering, but never damp
- Good ventilation, but some humidity
- Regular feeding, but low nitrogen in summer
- Slightly acidic soil that retains moisture, but drains
If you get that right, you should have any of the problems below, but sometimes, these fragrant tropical plants just decide they don’t like something about their care. Below, we’ll help you fix whatever problem is making your plumeria leaves yellow:
Plumeria is a tropical plant so to be healthy plants they need a lot of bright sunlight, even though they should ideally be kept slightly out of the direct afternoon rays.
Light is essential to photosynthesis and has a direct relationship with the fresh green foliage you ideally want on your small tree.
Yellowing leaves, if you notice it happening gradually, are most likely caused by improper sunlight.
Too much sunlight and your frangipani can quickly frazzle, leading to yellow, then brown, then dropped leaves.
Too little sunlight and a plumeria can fail to photosynthesise, causing yellow leaves as photosynthesis isn’t enough to promote chlorophyll production.
The only way to fix a problem with light levels is to move your plumeria plant. If it is outdoors in full sun, move your plant indoors for a few weeks and see if that makes a difference.
For indoor plants, move them to a slightly more shaded part of the room until they show signs of recovery.
Root damage can include root rot, which we describe in detail above, but as plumeria plants mature they need just as much carer at their roots as they do above the soil level.
Damaged or restricted plumeria roots can cause leaves to turn yellow as they will have grown beyond the capabilities and nutrients in the potting soil.
Signs include roots emerging from the base of a pot, or root bound plumeria, which have started to spiral around the edge of the container.
Check your plumeria plant’s root thoroughly every year to see if it needs potting-on before the growing season.
If roots are spiralling or growing out of the drainage holes, reive them by shaking off spent compost, and trimming the roots. then, re-pot your plant in a slightly larger container, with fresh soil.
To trim plumeria roots:
- Check for large, fleshy roots, or excessively long fibrous roots wrapped around the edge of the root ball.
- Trim these with clean secateurs.
- Shake off any soil around the edge of the plant, then evenly trim the external roots by about 1cm where they are easy to access.
- This promotes new root growth, and younger roots have more nutrient grabbing power.
- Repot your plant in a slightly larger container, with fresh compost.
Lack of nutrition
As plumeria mature, they become very hungry plants, so as well as repotting into fresh potting soil every 2-3 years, they should be fed with a liquid feed every two weeks through the growing season.
Plumeria that is left to their own devices will quickly show yellowing leaves. this can sometimes appear in as little as two weeks if they are used to regular feeding, as their roots adapt to take up what nutrients they are used to.
If your yellowing plumeria plant is caused by a nutrient deficiency it will appear evenly yellow, with weak, lacklustre leaves that look ready to drop.
To treat nutrient deficiency and promote healthy new growth and bright green leaves in your plumeria, no matter their age, follow our guide to plumeria fertilizers which teaches you everything you need to know about the essential nutrients for strong healthy tropical plants.
Plumeria needs well-draining soil, so excess water isn’t left sitting in containers for too long. This is especially important for young plumeria plants, which can sit in excess water if their pot is too large. This creates a reservoir of stagnant water at the base of each pot, where moisture can’t escape, and there are no roots to take in nutrients from the water.
If your plumeria tree is sitting in water, or the soil is not properly drained it can become host to fungus spores which are just one of many problems that are indicated by plumeria’s yellowing leaves.
Like other tropical plants, plumeria like free draining soil with high nutrient levels.
If yellowing leaves are caused by poor soil conditions, consider re-potting your tropical plants, and making sure the new potting soil is free draining, with just enough moisture retention to host nutrients from liquid feeds.
Plumeria requires just the right soil pH, which can be heavily affected by tap water, as calcium and mineral deposits left from drained tap water can gather on roots, causing a complete failure to uptake any other nutrients.
The signs of yellowing leaves caused by mineral deposits are similar to the symp[toms of underfeeding. while the cause is different, the impact is the same. Minerals block nutrient uptake. This causes weak, thin leaves with not enough water content, and not enough chlorophyll.
Mineral deposits gather slowly but are hard to detect. The best way to fix the problem is to use filtered, or even distilled water, but most gardeners use rainwater as a cheaper alternative. Calcium in drinking water might be great for us, but when plants don’t use it, it builds up and changes soil pH.
Use the right water, and if you notice signs of the problem, flush the pot out by watering until it runs through the drainage holes, and keep going for a minute.
Don’t worry, if you do this just once, and then let your plant dry out before watering again it won’t cause common problems caused by overwatering plumeria.
It might seem obvious, but one often undiagnosed cause of yellow plumeria leaves is Acclimation. So many gardeners move plants in and out of their homes in spring without any hardening off period. Remember that indoor and outdoor conditions aren’t just separated by temperatures in winter. Ventilation, humidity, mineral levels in water from rain, and nighttime fluctuations all affect plants.
When you move your plumeria plant from indoors in spring, give it time to get used to the outdoors. Move it out for a few hours each afternoon for a week, then leave it out until the evening the next week. After two weeks, you should be able to leave your plants out, right through the night, without any problem.
If your plumeria has yellow leaves from acclimation, there’s no point starting the hardening off process again. Instead, just feed it well, and if the leaves are too dry, give them a gentle mist in the morning so excess moisture can evaporate through the afternoon.
Other problems with plumeria turning yellow
Plumeria stems turning yellow
If you notice your plumeria stem turning yellow, this is usually a sign of plumeria rust, and typically follows yellow leaves.
If your plumeria stem is turning yellow, but the leaves seem fine, check the root system for any signs of rot as it can be a sign of damp soil and quickly become a more serious case of plumeria stem rot.
Read our previous article or a more detailed article on plumeria stem rot.
Natural life cycle
It’s important that we’re not all doom and gloom and about yellow plumeria leaves. Remember that plumeria can simply lose their leaves in autumn, and all healthy plumeria plants should lose their leaves once a year when they go dormant for winter.
We published a great article recently to help you learn more about preparing plumeria for winter dormancy. Check it out if you’re worried about how your plants are changing when the growing season is over.
Should I take yellow leaves off a plumeria?
Yellow leaves should always be removed from a plumeria. They can spoil the look of an otherwise healthy avoid the risk of fungal disease or pest infestations spreading from one yellow leaf to another, remove yellow leaves when you spot them.
Can you overwater plumeria?
Plumerias like to be well watered, and well-fed in the growing season, through spring and summer, and even early autumn, but should never be left in damp soil, and should only be watered when the top inch of soil is dry to touch. Never water a plumeria in winter.
How do you revive a plumeria plant?
Plumerias that have become pot bound can wilt easily. To revive your plumeria plant, remove it from its growing container, and trim its roots, then give it a slightly larger pot. This revives plumerias quickly as they strive to end out new roots, and this creates new top growth from stronger, younger rootstock.
At plumeria 101, we want to make these beautiful tropical plants accessible to everybody, and don’t believe they should have the reputation they have as high-maintenance plants.
When you know the signs of plumeria diseases, and find your rhythm of watering and fertilising, plumeria care becomes second nature. Now you know why your plumeria leaves are turning yellow, you’re one step closer to becoming a master plumeria grower.