Native to the American Tropics, plumerias are fabulous additions to the home garden, whether grown in containers or, where winter hardy, the ground. The source of flowers for Hawaiian leis, they range in size from compact shrubs rarely exceeding 4 ft. in height to small, rounded trees that reach 30 ft. Showy clusters of flowers up to 6 in. across appear atop large, leathery, oblong leaves for months on end. The waxy, five-petaled blooms may be star shaped, saucer shaped, or pinwheel shaped. They exhibit a dizzying range of colors and patterns. Most are highly fragrant. Propagation is easy by seeds or tip cuttings. Named selections represent the species Plumeria obtusa, Plumeria rubra, or hybrids of the two. Here are some of our favorites:
'Aztec Gold'. Buttercup- yellow shading to white at petal edges.
'Candy Stripe'. Vibrant blooms suffused with white and pink; petals are marked with bright yellow on upper surfaces, striped red and white beneath. 'Smith's Candystripe' is similar but more fragrant.
'Carmen'. Pink and white with yellow center and red band on the reverse.
'Celadine' ('Hawaiian Yellow'). Yellow with white petal margins. Especially sturdy plant.
'Cerise'. Bright magenta, star-shaped blossoms.
'Daisy Wilcox'. Extra-large blossoms with yellow centers and pale pink petals aging to white.
'Dean Conklin'. Salmon with orange center.
'Dwarf Singapore Pink'. Palest pink, darker at the edges with yellow center. Dwarf plant.
'Guillot Sunset'. Pink-and-white bicolor with orange center.
'Intense Rainbow'. Yellow blending to pink.
'Kauka Wilder'. Combination of reds and yellows gives blossoms an overall rich orange color. Very sweet fragrance.
'Kimo'. First orange plumeria. Starts orange-yellow changing to apricot-orange with red bands on front and back.
'Mary Moragne'. Rose-pink and white with orange veins.
'Pink Parfait'. Large reddish pink blooms.
'Scott Pratt'. Dark, velvety red with fine purple-black veins and darker bands on the reverse.
Plumerias thrive in either acid or alkaline soil that contains lots of organic matter. Good drainage is a must. They have big appetites while actively growing, so feed regularly during this time with a bloom-booster fertilizer that's relatively high in phosphorus and low in nitrogen, with added iron and magnesium. Let the soil go dry between thorough waterings. Established plants in the ground require very little water. Plumerias enjoy hot weather but also tolerate brief frosts. Can be left outdoors for winter only in the Tropical South. Fortunately, they do great in containersbut they can quickly become rootbound. When you see roots protruding from the drainage hole, remove the plant, prune off roots that tightly encircle the root ball, and replant in a larger pot.
Few insects and diseases affect plumerias. The most common, a fungus called plumeria rust, causes orange pustules on the undersides of leaves. Leaves then develop black blotches and drop prematurely. Control rust by promptly removing and throwing away any diseased leaves. Then spray healthy foliage with neem oil.
Almost all plumerias go through an annual dormant period lasting one to several months in which they drop their leaves. Though this is a resting phase not related to temperature, gardeners outside of the Tropical South can easily make it coincide with winter. When nights start to cool in fall, stop watering. Leaves will turn yellow and drop. Move plumerias into a cool room or garage. No water or light is needed until you take them out in spring.