People are often amazed at the collection of plumeria I have growing on my patio. There is quite a mystique surrounding this Hawaiian tropical plant. The plumeria blooms can become enormous in size, their scent is hypnotic, and they attract the most wonderful creatures to a garden, including hummingbirds. You will see plumeria in Hawaiian leis, on wedding cakes and worn behind a woman’s ear or in her hair. Why wouldn’t you want to grow this wondrous plant? I will teach you how it can be done in almost any climate with the proper care and a lot of patience.
There are two methods of starting a new plumeria plant; rooting a cutting or starting from a seed. I will explain how to start a plumeria from a cutting or “stick” as many of my family call them. A cutting is a branch removed from the parent plant. This will give you an exact replica of the parent. Once you have started all of your cuttings it will look like a garden of sticks stuck in dirt. My husband laughed at my sticks the first year. Don’t worry, he didn’t get the last laugh!
Cuttings can be purchased on-line through nurseries in many parts of the country. I have purchased most of mine from South Florida, Hawaii and Texas. Buy from a reputable gardener that will provide you with a fresh cutting. Your cutting or stick as I will refer to it, will have a callus growing on the area where it was cut. This is the end you will be placing in the dirt.
Collect your materials before you start. You will need rooting hormone, water, soil mixture and a clean gallon pot with good drainage. The soil mixture I use is 2 parts gardening soil, 1 part perlite, and 1 part cactus and succulent potting mix. This is not an exact science. You want a light airy soil with good drainage as your end result. Mix your soil in the pot and use the handle of your shovel to make a hole about 3 inches deep. Take your cutting and dip the cut tip into the water, tap off extra, then into the rooting hormone. Next place your stick into the soil trying not to disturb the rooting hormone while doing so. Pack the soil in around the stick enough so that it will be able to stand upright. Water thoroughly and place the pot in indirect sunlight. After about a week, move it into the full sun.
The plumeria is a low maintenance plant. I find that the rainfall in my region is enough to support them except during periods of drought. I water them only when fertilizing during our rainy season. As a good rule of thumb, water them when they are dry. The leaves will get droopy if they are very thirsty. Water them to prevent leaf drop. The fertilizer to use is one that promotes blooming. The one to choose is the fertilizer with the high middle number. The numbers on a fertilizer indicate nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium respectfully. High nitrogen will give you a leggy plumeria. It will grow really tall and have a lot of leaves. While you want to promote leaf growth, you don’t want it to get so large that you can’t bring it in over the winter. I choose a fertilizer with a phosphorous of 50 or higher. During the summer months you can fertilize every two weeks. I rarely get to feed my plants this often but still get great blooms by feeding them once a month.
Once your plumeria has sprouted leaves and is getting taller, you’ll be anxious for flowers. Be patient with your new plant. It can take a plumeria cutting two years to produce blooms. Some of my plants bloomed their first year and some their third. In my experience though, two years is the standard time. Once they do start blooming, you’ll be amazed at the amount of flowers that come from a single “inflow” (blooming stalk). Pick them, there will be more! When a plumeria blooms, it creates more branches. When you have more branches, your plant can produce more blooms. Again, be patient, this day will come.
When fall begins to fade and the temperatures start to drop, you’ll need to prepare your plumeria for their winter nap. At this point, some of the leaves may have already dropped. I have had leaves stay on all winter, but this is rare. Find a place to store your plants that is dry and protected from frost. I have a top shelf in my garage that they sit on all winter. I have also bare rooted them after a couple years of growth and stacked them up in the garage. Be careful of the branches, they are fragile and can break off easily. There is no need to water them during this time. In spring, consider transplanting them into a larger pot for the upcoming growing season. I do this about every two years. Replace the soil mixture to keep it from being depleted of its nutrients before bringing them out into the sun.
If you live in hardiness zone 9 or higher you may be able to grow plumeria directly in your garden. Just be aware that it will not survive in temperatures dropping below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. I live in northern Florida and keep mine in pots so that they are movable in the winter months.
Plumeria is a beautiful plant and a pleasure to grow. Try growing one this year, you won’t be disappointed.