Friday, December 14, 2012

Caring for Frangipanis

My frangipani (otherwise known as Plumeria) is one of my favourite plants. I got it from the nursery about 8 or 9 years ago when it was only about half its current height. Back then it was only a trunk with 2 branches. We put it in a dark coloured pot right outside our front door which is north facing, which in our case is very sunny and sheltered from the wind, so it’s in a very warm position.

Vistors to our place at this time of the year always marvel at how well it’s doing and how much they love it. This is probably because so many have tried growing them but have been unsuccessful. The flowers give off a lovely sweet fragrance at night in the summer producing a real tropical atmosphere on those warm summer nights.

A couple of years ago we noticed it had stopped flowering and didn’t seem to be doing so well so I concluded it must be root-bound and needed re-potting. The leaves also seemed to be under attack by some kind of parasite. So after hunting everywhere for a bigger version of the same style of pot I undertook the difficult task of getting it out of it’s existing pot and into the new one without damaging it.

It’s deciduous, so I waited until it lost all it’s leaves and then at the first sign of new growth I repotted it making sure I used a good quality potting mix. It didn't flower much the first year after doing this but this year it’s getting ready to bloom all over.

One thing we’ve learned is that the plant will not branch off and produce new limbs unless it flowers first. And it won’t flower unless it’s happy in it’s position and getting enough nutrition. So we feed it with slow release 'plant food spikes' which we just poke into the soil. Each new limb has the potential for growing a flower head. The picture at the top shows one flower head which can produce as many as 40 individual flowers. They only produce a maximum of one flower head per limb, per year.

So my objective has been to encourage as much flowering as possible. My frangipani is now a 12 pointer and 8 of those 12 limb ends have produced flower heads this year, which I think is the best it’s ever done, so re-potting it has certainly helped.

What this means is that next year it will grow 8 new limbs meaning that next year it will be a 20 pointer, each with the potential to produce a flower head.

This photo (left) shows how after the flower head has formed, the limb that has flowered then branches off in 2 directions. You can see 2 new limbs beginning to form at the base of the flower head. Next year each of these limbs which might grow several inches long, in turn has the potential to flower.

Some of our female friends, particularly the pacific islanders like to pluck off one or two flowers and wear them in their hair.

It really is a beautiful plant — if you can get it to grow right.


Update Dec 2018

My frangipani plant was originally in the perfect place, but because a nearby tree kept growing bigger, the shadow it cast eventually started impacting the amount of light and heat the frangipani was getting. As a result it stopped flowering for 2 seasons in a row, despite my feeding it as usual.

I realised I needed to either find a new position for the frangipani or remove the tree that was casting the shadow. I decided to move it. So the main criteria for the new location were: 1. North facing in full sun (Southern Hemisphere), 2. Against a wall – creating a sun trap. It's pretty simple — it just likes it HOT!

Interestingly, by the time I first realised it wasn't going to flower last year (the second year in a row), that was when I decided to move it, which was still early summer when it was just putting forth new leaves. However, it was too late to have any effect that season as it would not immediately start flowering. This year, however, having sat in it’s new position since last summer, it has sprung into life with 9 flower heads forming, which is almost 50% of its 20 tips. You can see 2 of the flower heads forming in the pic below.

I believe the black ceramic pot it’s in helps to draw in and retain the heat which also  leads me to draw the following conclusion: That the plant decides, even before it starts shooting leaves (during spring) whether or not there is sufficient light and heat to flower. It’s usually evident quite early on in summer when the new leaves have just sprouted whether or not it’s going to flower that year.

Due to there being 9 flower heads this year, each limb with flowers will branch off turning it from a 20 pointer to a 29 pointer for next season.


  1. hey brother Dave,
    nice looking Plumeria.
    Plumeria was my Senior class flower for High School.
    hope you and the rest of your family is doing well.
    take care and see you in the cyberspace neigbourhood.
    best regards

  2. Hey Jonno, nice of you to drop by my brother.
    Yes the plumerias/frangipanis are giving off a beautiful perfume at the moment.
    Shame you can't record smells on the computer.

  3. HI Dave, Love these flowers. & their fragrances..
    I love reading your blog so inspiring. i have started up gardening again. But all done in pots as I rent,
    it is comical now.
    But my Dad told me a story once. when he was old enough to drive his first car. His mum had a frangipani in her garden. he accidentally reversed over it. So he tried to fix it with sticky tape. all went well til she went to water her garden. LOLs.. So do these just grow from a cutting.? Can you do the same with Hibsicus?

  4. Hi Gabe, Thanks for visiting my blog. Nice to hear you're getting out into the garden again. As regards cuttings from frangipanis, yes, it can be done, although I've never actually tried it myself. From what I understand you need a reasonably long piece of stalk which you poke into some potting mix. You need to keep it well staked so it won't move. A bit of rooting hormone probably wouldn't hurt to get it started. Not sure about hibiscus though.

  5. Hi I have had 4 frangipani plants but are now down to one�� I have tried everything to get it to flower but the only sign I had was a couple of years ago when it decided to do it in April! It ran out of energy and they never opened. I live in blenheim, it stays outside in summer and inside the other months. I fertilize it and repoted it but still it won't flower. It's about 4 feet high and has a good solid stem. Any thoughts of what I could do to make it flower and at the right time? Kind Regards Donna

  6. Hi Donna, I understand you get some extreme temperatures down in blenheim, so bringing it inside over winter's probably not a bad idea. When you say it started flowering in April then petered out, that seems very late to me, perhaps too late. Have you tried keeping it inside all year round? I think they need a lot of heat. They're a tropical plant after all.
    Does it get good foliage over summer? Nice healthy leaves? If so, I reckon it should flower OK. I use slow release fertiliser spikes to encourage flowering on mine but I don't apply it until the leaves start growing again in spring. Every year's different however and I'm not seeing so many flowers this year.
    Don't give up on it. Keep trying. They don't need too much water. I hardly ever water mine, although we get quite a bit of rain here in Auckland. I hope this helps.

  7. Hi Dave, my frangipani is 4 years old and growing well in a pot and flowering for the second year. It's only about 2 feet tall and I think next spring I will give it a new home in a bigger pot. My question is, is there a special potting mixture for these plants? When I first got it I just used a tub mixture with liquid fertiliser a couple of times during the growing season. I have it North facing and bring it inside when I know there will be a frost. Regards, Norma

    1. Oh dear, sorry for taking so long to respond! I don't get notifications on blogger for some reason. In answer to your question, I am not aware of any specific potting mix for Frangipanis available in NZ or elsewhere. Whatever you use, I recommend a good quality product for the best results. It should be free-draining so adding a bit of gravel could help. It's definitely a good idea to protect it from frost and keep it in a really warm, sheltered spot if possible.

  8. My cuttings for this season are from a mature Plumeria rubra. The variety has light pink to white flowers. The mother plant was grown straight into soil and hard up against a villa in Ponsonby, north facing of course. We took cuttings from this plant and now have a Plumeria established in West Auckland which i have successfully grown 8 cuttings from this season. My potting mix was three parts scoria to one part potting mix i also used rooting hormone. I have watered them around three times a week in summer and will stop watering them as winter approaches as the experts say. I have also feed them twice this summer and they are just glowing right now, no flowers unfortunately. The environment where my cuttings are growing is on a deck hard up against a large north facing tinder block wall painted black, it is a super sheltered site.

    1. Sounds like you've got it sorted and know what you're doing. A really nice, healthy looking Frangipani will make any Auckland villa look like a million dollars, (or even more these days). I may need to do what you've done and sacrifice a few limbs to get a few new plants started. I seem to have the perfect spot where mine is which is the key to successfully growing these. Interestingly, A nearby tree which is starting to get really big has been casting a lot of shadow over my Frangipani this year and it hasn't flowered. This tells me they also like FULL sun.

  9. Hi Dave , enjoyed reading that , I was just given two small frangipani cuttings which I am letting the ends dry before potting - after reading online this is what I should do - so was grateful to find your article with potting mix described . my question is actually about the tree hanging over the frangipani in the 5th photo ! it looks similar to three that have sprouted in my garden , all have the silk leaf / jacaranda style leaves , but the leaves are dark green at base and turn pale greeny yellow then red at tips , I keep getting asked if its kaka beak but no flowers yet .just wondering what yours is as it has similar look to it!

    1. Hi Awhi,
      The tree you can see is a Robinia. I love all the different colours of this tree throughout the seasons, starting with lime green in spring then a darker green over summer. In Autumn it starts going yellow and then a goldy-orange before all the leaves fall off ready to start all over again the following spring. It doesn't flower as such but grows big brown seed pods much like a Wattle tree.
      The problem with this tree is that it's now getting really big and was casting a lot of shade over the Frangipani this year preventing it from flowering at all. Sadly, I have had to find a new spot for it. Will probably have to wait till next year to see whether it's warm enough to enable flowering in it's new location.