Mellifluous, Pulchritudinous Plumeria

plumeria tree in Sherman Oaks, California

plumeria tree in Sherman Oaks, California

They say the most truly memorable moments in a person’s life can be compressed into the space of a few minutes.
For gardeners, those extraordinary moments would no doubt include the sight of first flowers or first fruits on plants that took years to produce them.
Several years ago, I purchased a 1-gallon plumeria at Home Depot. After many trials and tribulations, the plant has finally bloomed. It was acquired long enough ago that I do not even remember if it had flowers when I brought it home.
Nursery plants, even slow-growing trees such as plumeria, often have flowers when you buy them. You mistakenly assume they will continue to flower, or at least flower once a year, after being planted in your garden. But the acclimation process can take years, and by the time you finally see flowers, it is as though the plants had never bloomed before. But it can often be worth the wait.
That’s especially true of plumeria, which some olfactory experts contend has the most pleasantly fragrant flowers of any plant. The scents of gardenia and jasmine are combined in the plumeria’s aroma. Plumeria flowers, which are usually white with pastel yellow or pink highlights, are most often chosen for the blossoms in Hawaiian leis. Although a tropical plant, plumeria can bloom in Valley gardens. There is a tendency for some gardeners to overprotect them and keep them close to patios and overhangs. That’s because they can die of cold, especially when young, even when the temperature hovers around 35 degrees. Keeping them shaded, however, is a mistake, since plumerias require six hours of unobstructed sun daily to flower.
If you live in an area where it regularly freezes, you can still plant plumeria. The largest plumeria I have seen in the Valley was a 15-foot-tall specimen facing south, behind a two-story building in Van Nuys. It clearly benefited from the protection of the adjacent structure.
Even if you reside in the West Valley or Santa Clarita, where the winters are especially cold, you can grow plumeria successfully. They must be kept inside the house or in a frost- proof garage during the winter, but may be placed in the ground in March, still in their containers. Fertilize every two weeks with a product high in phosphorus, such as Peters’ 10-50-10 formulation.
Remember that in any fertilizer, the three numbers separated by dashes on the label represent the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, respectively. A lawn fertilizer will be most concentrated in nitrogen, since this element favors vegetative or leaf growth. Flowering plants, on the other hand, will benefit from a fertilizer high in phosphorus. Plumeria, which can produce dozens of flowers in a single cluster, require plenty of phosphorus to look their best. An excellent Web site for learning about plumeria, including propagation techniques, may be found at www.plumeria101.com.You can order plumeria cuttings and other tropical plants for as little as $1.99 each, with a minimum order of five, through Packer Nursery, accessible at www.alohapalms.com.

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