Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to Grow Plumeria

To become a full-fledged Master Gardener, we intern newbies are required to volunteer a certain number of hours to the community. As part of my volunteer hours, I, along with others, write and record "Out in the Yard with the Master Gardeners," brief radio spots broadcast on KVLU Public Radio. When I do those spots, I share them with you on the blog. Here's one on plumerias.

If you are charmed by the lovely flowers and heady fragrance of plumerias, spring is a good time to try your hand at growing this beauty. Plumerias are perhaps most closely identified as the flowers used in Hawaiian leis, although they are native to Mexico and Central America. As a tropical plant, it will require protection from frost or freeze in winter.

Plumerias will need at least 4 hours or sun to flower well. Although they can be grown in the ground in a sunny, sheltered spot with an overhang, planting them in a pot allows you to take them inside a garage or other sheltered spot when the temperature drops below 40 degrees.
Plumerias spend almost half a year in a dormant state, so don’t be surprised when they begin to drop leaves and turn into bare sticks. Water your plumeria to duplicate what it would experience in its native lands: a wet season followed by a dry season. During the growing season water frequently, especially during the heat of summer, but don’t let the soil stay soggy. Let it dry slightly between watering. When it starts to drop leaves in the fall, stop watering.

Plumeria seedling take 3 to 4 years to bloom, so unless you are patient, buy an established plant. Feed every other week with a fertilizer high in phosphorus, but stop feeding in September to allow the new growth to harden off before winter. Plumerias root easily; take cuttings sometime between February and May. Allow the new cutting to callous about 10 days before potting. Dip the cut end in a rooting hormone, place in potting soil and keep moist. Too much water can cause the cutting to rot, so pay attention to the moisture level.

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