If you've ever received an authentic Hawaiian lei, you might be familiar with the fantastic fragrance of Plumeria (Plumeria spp.), also known as frangipani. The blossoms come from an evergreen shrub that grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 to 11 or in colder areas with some form of winter protection. The long-lasting bouquets will light up your home and can be grown in most parts of Texas as a beautiful container plant.
1. How to Plant
Most Texas gardeners will want to plant plumeria in containers. This makes it easy to provide protection on frosty winter nights, which is necessary in most parts of the state. However, plumeria also requires perfect drainage to succeed, which can be difficult to find anywhere, but especially in the clay soils of east Texas. Using a potting soil formulated for cactus gives plumeria the type of soil conditions it wants. A 5-gallon pot is OK start with, but eventually the plumeria needs a container at least 15 gallons in size, such as a half wine barrel is a good choice. Locate the planter where the top of the plant gets full sun for most of the day.
Plumerias have very specific water and fertilizer needs. You would think growing in tropical places such as Hawaii, plumeria would need buckets of water. They do need frequent irrigation, but the key is to allow the soil dry out completely between waterings. This will prevent fungal diseases from developing on the roots. As for fertilizer, they respond very well to heavy applications of phosphorus, but they do not need a lot of nitrogen. Choose a "bloom booster" fertilizer or other such product that has a relatively percentage of phosphorus, as represented by the middle positioned number on the package, such as the "50" in 10-50-10.
3. Seasonal Routine
Texas plumerias start growing whenever the weather stays above 60 degrees in spring. This is the time to begin fertilizing, which can continue every two or three weeks until the end of August. Cease fertilizing to allow summer's soft growth to harden a bit. This gives the plant a better chance of tolerating the coming frosts. If you live anywhere in Texas where winter temperatures regularly dip below 20 degrees, bring the potted plant indoors for the season. A garage, if not too cold, is another option, provided you do not place the pot on the cold concrete floor, which could damage the roots. The plant will become semi-dormant until spring.
4. Regional Considerations
In USDA zones 9 and 10 in southern Texas, such as in Houston, Galveston and San Antonio, plumerias can stay out year-round and, provided drainage is excellent, they can be planted in the ground. In USDA zone 8, including Austin, El Paso and Abilene, there are rare hard freezes can kill or damage plumerias; if you choose to take a chance, throw an old blanket or tarp over the plants on the coldest nights. Farther north in areas around Abilene, Amarillo and Lubbock, plumerias need indoor winter accommodations.
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