Q: Two years ago I brought back a cutting of plumeria from Hawaii. It is in the shape of a capital “Y”. It rooted successfully and produced large green leaves at the end of each point of the “Y” but that is it. It has gotten quite tall and requires extra support since it no longer can support itself. My concern is this: as new growth comes the old leaves die off and it is bare except for a few leaves at each point. It looks rather odd. It stays outside all summer and does well. It goes dormant in the winter. Will it ever bloom? I really would like to see a hearty bush.
A: Since you’ve been to Hawaii, you recognize that plumeria is the shrub which produces the flowers from which lei’s are made. In nature, plumeria is a tree but it is cultivated and pruned to a bush form in Hawaii to make flower harvesting easier. Even temperatures in the forties can harm it, so plumeria definitely can’t grow outdoors permanently in Atlanta. The flower fragrance, however, is so tempting that hobbyists have devised a couple of tricks that will help you “lei” this problem to rest.
Since plumeria goes dormant and loses its leaves in winter, you can keep it indoors in a cool room or basement. There is no need to keep it in a lighted spot – only keep it above forty degrees F. To initiate dormancy, cut off all the leaves now (and in late October other years). Next spring, take it outdoors when nighttime and daytime temperatures average 65 degrees. Put it in a location that gets 4 – 6 hours of direct sun in the morning but shade in the afternoon. Fertilize it with a product which is high in phosphorus, like Greenlight Superbloom. Be very careful not to let the plumeria dry out during the summer. If it is in a small pot, you may need to move it to larger quarters. To reduce its size and support needs next spring, consider cutting off both of the “Y” branches and rooting them in moist sand. You’ll quickly have two more plants to play with or to share with friends.