How to Grow Plumeria

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Known for its extraordinarily showy and fragrant blooms, plumeria (Plumeria spp.) is a broadly crowned tropical tree that can make a real statement in the landscape.

These plants are hardy in frost-free climates, but they can also grow in cooler locations by growing them in containers and bringing them indoors during the winter. Continue reading to learn how to grow plumeria – we take all the guesswork out of growing plumerias.

infographic showing how to plant plumeria cuttings from either hardwood or a branch tip.

Characteristics of Plumeria Plants

The small genus Plumeria contains around seven species that are native to the subtropical and tropical regions of the Americas. Commonly called frangipani, plumeria thrive in consistently warm climates, with more tropical conditions producing the best growth. Plumeria plants also perform well growing in containers.

Plumerias slowly form into small trees, growing around 20 feet tall at maturity. All plumeria plants eventually develop into a vase-like form. Only the branch ends of the greenish-gray, sausage-like branches fill with green and oval 12-inch deciduous leaves. The branches on plumeria plants are relatively weak and soft, easily breaking.

However, with plumeria plants, it’s all about the blooms. Plumerias flower starting in early summer through late fall, with clusters filling the ends of branch tips. Additionally, the plumeria flower is quite showy and fragrant with the waxy blooms that form into a pinwheel-shape. In fact, the eye-catching plumeria blooms are utilized in making Hawaiian leis.

When the flowers get pollinated by moths, butterflies, or other pollinators, plumeria plants produce 6- to 12-inch long, green seed pods. As the seed pods mature, they turn brown, split open, and reveal the paper-like seeds. In addition to cuttings, you can also use the seeds to grow an additional plumeria plant.

Pink plumeria flowers with some vegetable ties to help support the plumeria up. Here it is showing some good examples of how to grow plumeria properly with good support.

How to Propagate Plumeria

If you are lucky enough to own a plumeria or know someone who does, you can easily grow your own by growing a plumeria cutting. Plumeria cuttings are easy to propagate, and it’s the quickest method to getting your desired result: a flowering plumeria plant.

Many online plant sellers that handle plumeria trees sell small cuttings that are ready to plant once you receive them.

If you are patient, you can also grow plumeria from planting seeds. Planted seeds growing in preferred conditions have a high germination rate. You can plant fresh ripe seeds, or some online plant sellers handle fresh plumeria seed. You will have to be patient though because it can take three to five years before it produces its first flowers.

One of the problems with growing from seed is that you may not know exactly what color flower you may get. Plumeria flowers can be found in various colors, including white, red, pink, yellow, and bicolor. However, if various plumeria plants grow in the same general location and produce different colored plumeria flowers, you can’t be sure of what color plumeria flower your seed-grown plumeria plant will produce. It’s possible it was pollinated with pollen from another colored flower, and the ultimate result might be a bicolored bloom.

A dark red plumeria with some big droplets of water on it.

How to Grow Plumerias from Cuttings

Planting and growing plumeria cuttings is relatively basic. Best of all, you don’t have to be a gardening expert to experience success in propagating this tropical beauty. The biggest threat after you plant your plumeria cuttings is watering too much and not using soil with good drainage. Growing plumeria plants from cuttings, especially large ones, produce a sizable flowering plant quicker than growing seeds or smaller cuttings.

Best Time for Taking Cuttings

When it comes to the best time to take your plumeria cuttings, it’s best done in the warmer months of spring through summer. However, those living in climates experiencing warm winter weather can propagate plumeria cuttings year-round.

Plumeria plants go through a dormant stage during wintertime when their growth slows. During this time, the plumeria plant drops its foliage and becomes dormant until springtime. This is especially true for those that are raised in climates where winter brings cooler temperatures.

Taking a cutting during this time while the plumeria plant is taking a break from extensive growth may lead to a slower propagation rate or failure of the plumeria cutting to root.

A man trying to prune or cut a plumeria tree

Best Size for Plumeria Cuttings

When it comes to plumeria plants and the best size cutting to use, you have two vastly different choices that will root and produce new growth. Just about any length of plumeria cutting works well for growing another plumeria plant. The only difference between cuttings is when you plant your plumeria cuttings and prior potting treatment.

You can use cuttings from the branch tips or much larger hardwood cuttings to propagate plumeria plants. The area around the branch tips will still be bright green with immature growth and easily snipped from the plant. It’s best to plant these types of cuttings soon after cutting them from the mother plant. Branch tip cuttings are usually around 5 inches long. About 5 inches from the branch, you will likely see a transition to older hardwood as the branch takes on a greenish-gray coloration.

Hardwood cuttings may be a foot long or longer and may contain larger branched sections making the entire cutting several feet tall. When using a large, multi-branched plumeria cutting, you have the satisfaction of an instantaneous small tree-like plant.

However, regardless of the hardwood cutting’s size, make sure you allow the cut end to dry and scab over for three or four days before you plant. Place the cutting in an area out of the full sun that receives good air circulation. Once the cut end heals over, you may plant the cutting.

A woman using a long pruner or lopper to cut a long branch.

Tips for Taking Plumeria Cuttings

Depending on the size of the plumeria cutting, hand clippers are sufficient for cutting green immature growth. Whereas, loppers should be used to cut off larger and thicker branches of old-growth on a plumeria plant.

If you desire to grow a thick and bushy plant, you’ll need to prune a plumeria plant each spring. This is a great time to plant and grow plumeria cuttings that you needed to remove from the mother plant anyway. Each cut section usually develops three new branches, so you’ll probably have cuttings already starting to branch at around 12 inches long.

Cuts may be made anywhere along long branches or at a cross-section where multiple branches are growing. Plumeria aren’t fussy about where they are pruned. However, if you plan to grow a larger, multi-branched section, make sure the main branch supporting the plant is long enough. Remember, you’ll have to plant enough of the branch deep enough in the soil, so the cutting remains upright and doesn’t topple over because it’s too top-heavy.

Before actually taking your cuttings, make sure you use clean pruning tools. Otherwise, you may transfer unwanted pest or disease problems to the plumeria plant, as well as your cuttings. Sanitizing your tool’s blades is as easy as wiping them off with rubbing alcohol. Also, some people are allergic to the milky sap, so it’s a good idea to wear gloves when trimming plumeria plants.

If you are pruning from a tall plumeria tree, we recommend using long pole hedge trimmers and if you are trimming from a small plumeria tree, save yourself some effort by using a cordless pruner.

A sharpened pruner is a necessary tool for cuttings.

Planting Tips for Plumeria Cuttings

When selecting an appropriate container, make sure it has bottom drainage to prevent soggy conditions. Improperly drained soil may lead to root rot, which occurs with pots without bottom drain holes or heavy potting soil that retains too much water.

You can grow your cuttings in any type of container. That being said, soil in porous materials like terra cotta dries out faster than soil in plastic pots. Once the root system establishes itself, plumeria plants are relatively drought-tolerant.

Use a fertile, well-drained soil in the containers like a rich, lightweight potting mix. Many times, straight potting soil is too heavy and tends to retain too much water. However, you can lighten the potting soil mix by amending about half of the mixture with vermiculite or sterile sand.

Whether planting branch tips or a larger plumeria cutting, always plant the cut end into the potting mix.

If you are planting a branch tip that is around 5 inches long, plant about 2 inches of the end in the soil. Water the potting mix.

If you are planting a larger cutting or section containing multiple branched sections, you’ll need a larger container like a 3- to 5-gallon. You’ll also need to plant about 3- to 6-inches of the branch’s cut end into the soil. Firm up the soil up around the cutting’s base so that it will not topple over.

A plumeria cutting that has been planting in soil in a pot that is now in bloom.

For larger or branched cuttings, you may also need to insert a stake into the pot and use it to keep the plumeria cuttings upright. Use something flexible that won’t tear into the cutting like pantyhose or survey tape, and tie it around the plumeria cutting and the stake. This helps stabilize the cutting and keeps it growing upright. Once established, you can remove the stake from the plumeria.

You can also plant larger plumeria cuttings directly in the landscape, so they are growing in their permanent location. Select an area situated in full sun and has soil that drains well and doesn’t puddle with water. Plant enough of the branch into the soil so it remains upright, and use a stake to help stabilize the plumeria cutting if needed.

Some buds that are starting to sprout, but not yet in bloom.

How to Grow Plumerias from Seeds

Despite their showy and exotic good looks, plumeria plants propagate quite easily from seeds, and you don’t have to be a master gardener to grow healthy plants successfully. When seed pods split open, they reveal many light-colored, papery-thin seeds packed together. Only when the seed pod splits open are the seeds fully ripe and ready for propagating.

Use a seed-starting tray or small, 4-inch containers that drain and fill with a lightweight potting mix. Once filled, water the soil to settle it, which helps to keep the plumeria seed in place. Next, plant the plumeria seed, covering them with a thin 1/8-inch layer of soil. Mist the top of the soil with water to moisten the seed.

Plumeria seeds germinate the quickest when outdoor conditions are warm and sunny. When conditions are cooler and shadier, germination slows. So, place the containers in an outdoor location situated in full sun.  You should see the seeds begin sprouting in seven to 14 days.

Dried plumeria seeds

How to Care for Plumeria

Growing plumeria plants in their preferred conditions produce healthy and problem-free growth. Plumerias aren’t too fussy about their care and are relatively maintenance-free, once established in the planting site or container.

When you grow plumerias in their preferred light and soil conditions with the appropriate feeding and watering times, the plant produces its best growth.

Sun Requirements

Regardless of whether you are growing plumerias in the landscape or containers, they’ll put on the quickest and healthiest growth when located in full sun. Although tolerant to some shade, growth is slower when you grow plumerias under conditions with less light.

If you grow plumerias in pots and you regularly experience frosts and freezes during winter, you’ll need to bring the plant into a bright and warm and sheltered location for protection. These are tropical plants that won’t survive conditions that are too cold.

If you are bringing it indoor, you’ll need to situate the plumeria plant in an indoor location receiving bright light. A sunny indoor room works well, as does placing the container near a south-facing window.  Windows on the south side of the house receive the most amount of natural sunlight and warmth.

Some new buds forming from a prior cutting.

Fertilizer Requirements

Whether you are growing your plumeria cuttings in containers or planted it directly in the landscape, they’ll need periodic feedings. In both instances, wait until new growth starts appearing in spring before you apply fertilizer.

Feeding Plumerias in Containers

For plumerias grown in containers, use a general-purpose, water-soluble blend applied according to package directions. You can apply the fertilizer at the same time you water, watering until it runs from the bottom drain holes. Feed the plumeria around every six weeks through the growing season.

However, stop fertilizing the plumeria in fall when the plant goes into dormancy. During this time, the plant stops its active growth, so there’s no need to continue fertilizing. Once spring arrives and the plumeria starts growing again, you can restart the feedings.

Additionally, many types of potting mixes contain a slow-release fertilizer incorporated into the soil. The product slowly breaks down when you water, feeding the plumeria. This alleviates the need for additional fertilizer applications. Slow-release pellets usually continue working for three months before you’ll need to reapply the product. 

Feeding Plumerias in the Landscape

If you planted your plumeria cutting directly in the landscape, you could use a general-purpose granular blend like a 1-3-1; you can check out our recommended plumeria fertilizers here. Follow package directions on amounts and spread evenly under the plumeria’s canopy, being sure not to butt the product against the trunk to prevent burning. Once applied, water the fertilizer into the soil.

Feed plumeria growing in the landscape every month to six weeks during the growing season while the plant is actively growing. Cease fertilizing in fall when the plumeria begins going through its dormant stage.

In the foreground are two white and yellow plumeria flowers

How Often to Water Plumeria

Once the roots establish themselves into the planting site, plumeria are relatively tolerant to drought conditions. They aren’t demanding when it comes to water and are forgiving if you forget your watering chores for several weeks.

Watering Cutting in Pots

When it comes to watering newly planted cuttings, water immediately after planting and if growing in containers, water until it runs from the pot’s bottom drain holes. New roots should establish themselves into the container’s soil in about eight weeks.

Continue watering container-grown plumeria weekly, depending on your local weather conditions. Feel the soil and if the top several inches are dry, apply water. Plumeria won’t tolerate soggy conditions, so make sure the soil doesn’t remain saturated continuously, or you may have problems with rot. If the bottom of the cutting starts feeling mushy and collapsing, the plumeria cutting has developed rot and will most likely die.

Watering Plumerias Started from Seeds

When propagating plumeria seeds, it’s necessary to keep the soil moist, not soggy for the seeds to germinate and grow properly. Since it can take up to two weeks and sometimes even longer for plumeria seeds to germinate, you don’t want a heavy flush of water dislodging them from the soil.

Using a spray bottle filled with water and misting the soil until it’s saturated keeps the seeds securely in place and well-watered. Depending on local weather conditions, you may have to mist the seeds daily. If you notice the top of the soil starts to dry out, apply water. However, like plumeria cuttings, you don’t want to keep the soil soggy, or the seeds will rot and never germinate.

A plumeria plant in a container sitting outside in the rain

Watering Plumerias Planted in the Landscape

Until the plumeria cuttings establish themselves in the landscape in about two months, water deeply several times each week. Since established plumeria are relatively drought-tolerant, you will probably only need to water once per week once the plants have taken root in their permanent location.

Plumeria roots are relatively shallow, so it won’t take much water to thoroughly drench the entire root system. Of course, if your outdoor conditions are rainy, you won’t need to carry out your water chores. Plumeria plants often receive an adequate amount of water from outdoor conditions, cutting down the need for supplemental applications.

Happy Planting!

About the author: Carley Miller is a horticultural expert at TheGreenPinky. She previously owned a landscaping business for 25 years and worked at a local garden center for 10 years. Read More

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