Plumeria, Frangipani, P. "Carmen Alaina"
Photograph of 'P. 'Carmen Alaina'
Collected in Central Mexico .

Virtual International Plumeria Society

Frequently Asked Questions

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This section is a place for me to answer commonly asked questions. The questions are in no particular order. My answers are my own opinions based upon personal experiences growing Plumeria in containers in Houston, Texas and my experiences with, and observations about, Plumeria from my worldwide travel experiences. I will be continually adding to this list of questions.

- Rick -

  1. What kind of fertilizer do you use?
  2. What kind of containers do you use?
  3. How often should I water?
  4. What kind of soil do you use?
  5. How do I know when to water?
  6. I have heard Plumeria don't like wet feet. Should I use gravel in the bottom of the the pot for better drainage?
  7. Should I put anything on the top of the soil to reduce moisture loss?
  8. Do Plumeria need lots of sunlight?
  9. How hot is too hot for a Plumeria?
  10. I covered my Plumeria with a bed sheet (or plastic) but it still has freeze damage (or died). What did I do wrong?

"What kind of fertilizer do you use?" - I use two kinds of fertilizers, a time release and foliar. I apply the time release every month to give the Plumeria a continued supply of nitrogen. However, I do not depend on soil applied fertilizers as the sole source of fertilizer for the plant for two main reasons. First, Plumeria in containers are root bound and so do not have enough root structure to allow for strong tree growth. Second, to keep the soil in the pot moist enough during the hot growing season, I soak the pot daily to keep the center of the root ball wet, letting lots of water run through the pot and out the drain holes in the bottom of the container. The water draining out the bottom of the container leaches fertilizer out with it. That is why the time release works for me. It contumely replenishes the basic fertilizer needs. For an efficient, and cost effective source of additional fertilizer, I use a foliar fertilizer from Medina called Hasta Grow(although I think any quality foliar fertilizer would work well) for my regular feeding routine. I mix it according to the directions and spray a fine mist on both sides of the the leaves at least once a week. It is best to apply the foliar fertilizer late in the cool of the evening.
"What kind of containers do you use?" - I use only the black nursery containers. I do not recommend clay pots for two reasons. First they are porous and so moisture can get out through the pot walls, letting the roots dry out out quickly. In a clay pot it is hard to maintain sufficient moisture for the plant during the heavy growing season. I have a friend who has about 60 Plumeria. One day he came to me and asked if Plumeria do well in clay pots. I told him no. He said that is what he thought since he had inadvertently planted three trees in clay pots and they and not shown sufficient growth in two years. Second, because the pot walls are porous, the roots of the Plumeria can become embedded in the pot walls making it impossible to replant a mature Plumeria into a larger pot without destroying the root ball.
"How often should I water?" - Begin watering as soon as the trees come out for the summer. Water once when they come out and then not again until they begin to leaf out. Water more often as the trees grow more leaves. By the end of the summer, the days are hot and the trees are full of leaves, by then the trees may need to be watered twice per day.
"What kind of soil do you use?" - I prefer soilless planting media for my potted Plumeria. I use Sta-Green brand All Purpose Potting Mix from Lowe's. I use it for everything including planting cuttings. If you desire a better understanding of soiless growing media, I recommend this article.Soilless Media. If you want to make sure you have selected the same soil I am using, look on the back and see that it contains AquaGuard(R). To learn more about AquaGuard(R), go here. Why AquaGuard is helpful.
"How do you know when to water?" - If I am not sure when to water, I use a soil moisture meter to check the moisture in the soil. I use one from Wall-Mart but, they are all about the same and can be purchased at most any gardening store. The moisture meter is a gauge with a metal probe sticking out the bottom. When the probe is stuck into the soil, then meter indicates the amount of moisture. when the meter needle is all the way to the right (green area) there is plenty of water. If it is to the left (red) there is not enough water. Sticking the probe deep into the soil can give you an idea of moisture deep into the pot. To see how consistent your watering is, try sticking the meter sideways through one of the drain holes in the bottom of the pot.
I have heard Plumeria don't like wet feet. Should I use gravel in the bottom of the the pot for better drainage? - No, save the room for soil. The Plumeria needs all the soil it can get. If the soil in the pot has good drainage, no additional materials are needed at the bottom of the pot. Selecting proper soil is VERY important.
Should I put anything on the top of the soil to reduce moisture loss? - It is not necessary to put anything on the top of the soil to hold the moisture. Good soil holds moisture and releases it as necessary. The loss of moisture from the top of the pot is not significant.
Do Plumeria need lots of sunlight? - Plumerias do best in full sun. However, growing Plumerias in pots is very stressful for the tree. Keep an eye on the trees that are in full sun. If the leaves turn a bit yellow in places that are exposed to the sun and stay green in areas where the leave is covered by another leaf, the tree is running out of water. Partial shade may help this problem.
How hot is too hot for a Plumeria? - I don't know. I have seen Plumeria growing in many hot places including all over the Middle East. The all look very healthy even though the humidity is often very low and the temperatures VERY high (like 130 F in the shade). A Plumeria that has sufficient water seems to be able to thrive in even the most inhospitable hot climates.
I covered my Plumeria with a bed sheet (or plastic) but it still has freeze damage (or died). What did I do wrong?? - Plumerias have NO frost or freeze tolerance. Any part of the tree that gets at or below 32 degrees F (0C) is dead. Because of this, special care must be taken to protect Plumerias if freezing weather (potential to go near or below freezing temperatures) is expected. Simply covering the tree with a sheet or plastic, or even both, is not enough. Here is why. All plants (assuming there is no sun to warm their parts directly, are at the temperature of the air around them. If the temperature of the surrounding air increases, the temperature of the plant parts increase. If the air temperature decreases, the temperature of the plant parts decrease. (Note: there are some exceptions to this for Plumerias in the growing mode but, the explanation of that is for another time and place) As the temperature of the surrounding air changes up or down, plant parts with low mass and high area exposed to the air, leaves for example, will change temperature quickly and the difference between the plant part temperature and the surrounding air temperature is very small. In other words the plant part temperature responds quickly to surrounding air temperature changes. When the surrounding air temperature reaches freezing, the leaf temperature is at a freezing temperature only a little while later. If the plant part has high mass and a small area exposed to the freezing temperature, for example the trunk, it takes longer for the freezing surrounding air to bring the trunk down to a freezing temperature. Because there is some “heat” built in the trunk mass the trunk with the same exposure as the leaf, will survive longer. As you might expect, the leaves go first, then the branch tips, then the small branches and then finally the trunk. When the trunk dies, the tree is dead. So, how does the bed sheet, (or plastic) help? Putting a cover over the Plumeria reduces the air circulation around the tree. This slows the rate at which the heat is removed from the tree parts so at freezing temperatures it takes a covered tree longer to freeze than an uncovered tree. But, in the end, given enough time, the covered and the uncovered trees will freeze to death.