Plumeria are small tropical trees with fragrant flowers. Nothing says dreamy afternoons by the beach and the gentle lapping of waves in the bay like these warm-toned flowers (traditionally used in Hawaiian leis). Learn how to plant, grow, and care for plumeria plants.
Also known as frangipani, Plumeria is a genus of flowering tropical shrubs and small trees. Most are deciduous, but a few species are evergreen. They are found naturally in Mexico and Central America but have been exported to many tropical areas, including Hawaii, the South Pacific, and Southeast Asia.
Leaves of plumeria grow in clusters at the tips of the branches and are alternate. They are elongated, with prominent veining, and can be either rounded or pointed at the tip. Flowering begins in early summer and continues into autumn.
Blooms can be in any color you might consider tropical, from soft white to coral, pink, yellow, orange, and pastel hues. Each flower has five waxy petals that typically overlap. The original native color is white with small yellow centers.
The flowers are fragrant, even more so at night, to attract their pollinator, the nocturnal sphinx moth. Check this page from the University of Wisconsin Extension for detailed information about frangipani flowering.
You may be familiar with plumeria blooms as a common ingredient in leis. They have long been incorporated into this traditional offering of love and peace but are not native to Hawaii or the Pacific islands.
Plumerias can be shrub or small tree sized, with smooth, thin grey bark and an open branching habit. They are tolerant of salt and wind but not cold.
Plumerias are tropical and won’t tolerate any freezing temperatures. If that’s not your location, don’t worry. They can be grown well in large containers, as long as you can rustle up the muscle to move them inside in autumn–when temps reach the 40s–and back outside in spring. They make great sunroom or patio plants. Whether in a container or in the ground, they prefer fertile, well-draining soil and full sun.
Plumeria may be purchased at nurseries in spring and summer; however, they may not be offered if you live farther north. Rooted cuttings can be purchased online. Expect a plant grown from a cutting to bloom in 1 to 3 years.
When to Plant Plumerias
If you are planting your new frangipani out into a bed, do so in late spring, early summer, or early autumn. Deciduous varieties, in particular, need to be planted early enough to establish their root systems before going dormant for the winter.
How to Plant Plumerias
Plumeria can be planted in the ground for warm climate gardeners, in planters, or in containers that are seasonally buried in the ground and dug up in fall.
Especially for containers, good drainage is essential. Sitting in wet soil can cause root rot.
Plant outdoors in the same manner as other shrubs. Prepare the site by digging a wide, saucer-shaped hole.
Place the plumeria in the hole after cutting any girdling roots. Adjust the height to match the new soil level with the old potted level.
Backfill with native soil and topdress with compost. Tamp in lightly but firmly to avoid large air voids. Mulch to suppress weeds and condition the soil.
Water in well, and then again weekly if rainfall was insufficient. Once the shrub is established, it should only need watering during dry periods.
Plumerias planted in containers need an excellent draining potting mix. Try using potting soil intended for palms or cacti, or make your own by adding perlite to regular potting mix.
Bright, warm sunshine, good drainage, and frequent admiration are all your plumeria needs to make fragrant, gorgeous blooms.
Plumerias enjoy tropical conditions. Water deeply with periods in between to allow the soil to slightly dry.
Plumeria can be fertilized with a high phosphorus fertilizer–bloom booster–during the growing season.
Prune plumeria for size and shape in late winter.
Container-grown plumerias will need repotting as they grow. Don’t plant a small one-foot-tall shrub in a ten-gallon container. The roots won’t be able to adequately use the moisture in the soil, and wet, soggy conditions could result. Instead, upgrade one pot size each time.
Plumerias in containers must be brought inside to overwinter if you live in an area where it freezes. As the day gets shorter and the sunlight lessens, your deciduous plumeria will go dormant. The leaves will turn yellow and fall off. Don’t worry, that’s okay. You can speed this up by snipping the petioles.
Once dormant, store in any location–light or no light–that will remain above 40 degrees.
Although they should not need watering while dormant, do still check. Dry winter air can cause dormant plants to die of desiccation as the soil in the pot dries too much. The soil should feel neutral, not bone dry, and not damp. Add a little water if needed.
In spring, once temperatures have warmed, reintroduce your plumeria to the outdoors. Begin watering again, but take care to adjust. Your plant won’t use much water until it sprouts new leaves.
P. rubra ‘Aztec gold’ blooms in dreamy yellow-peach colors with large 3-4 inch flowers.
P. rubra ‘Candy Stripe’ forms pinwheel blossoms in a kaleidoscope of fuchsia, orange, yellow and white.
P. rubra ‘Vera Cruz Rose’ is another deciduous variety with highly overlapped and folded petals that transition from light pink to white with deep golden centers.
P. alba is an evergreen with white flowers, yellow centers, and striking foliage.
Plumeria flowers don’t produce nectar. Their strong scent, especially at night, tricks the sphinx moth into popping by for a visit. Finding no nectar, the disappointed moth moves from flower to flower, ever hopeful but never finding dinner. Poor moth!
The genus Plumeria was named after the 17th-century botanist Charles Plumier, who traveled to the New World cataloging and bringing back many plant samples.
Plumeria alba is the national flower of Nicaragua.