How to Grow White Frangipani (Plumeria alba)

White Frangipani

 

Jakkrit Khanthong / EyeEm / Getty Images

The white frangipani (Plumeria alba) is a deciduous plumeria tree that is native to tropical areas and grows to about 15 to 25 feet. Like other plumerias, its flowers are famously fragrant and beautiful, and it blooms from early summer into fall. White frangipani's flowers have a yellow center and five white petals arranged in a spiral. As a tropical plant, this tree grows only in warm climates (USDA hardiness zones 10 to 12) or in greenhouses. Elsewhere, it can be grown in a pot and brought indoors during cold seasons, but this can be challenging in many climates.

The leaves of the white frangipani, which grow to about a foot long, cluster in spirals on the stems and are generally a deep green. Like its branches, the Plumeria alba’s leaves yield milky white sap when cracked open. As deciduous trees, they undergo a dormant period in the dry winter season, when they lose their leaves and blooms before bursting back to full color when the rainy season begins in spring. In the wild, the tree forms fruit in small pods, but most domestically cultivated specimens do not bear fruit.

Botanical Name Plumeria alba
Common Name White frangipani, nosegay
Plant Type Deciduous flowering tree
Mature Size 15 to 25 feet tall and wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Rich, well-drained loam
Soil pH 6.5 to 7.0
Bloom Time Spring to fall
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 10 to 12
Native Area Puerto Rico, Lesser Antilles

How to Grow White Frangipani

White frangipani are commonly grown as landscape plants or specimen trees and in public areas. They remain relatively small and self-contained and can be pruned for strength and stability as well as shapeliness. And no one can resist the intoxicating fragrance of their flowers. Plumeria are drought-tolerant and can grow in sea air. They can be easily propagated from stem cuttings.

Light

White frangipani grows best in full sun, but it is tolerant of some shade.

Soil

Rich, loamy soil is ideal for white frangipani. It is tolerant of various soil types, including clay and sand, but the soil should drain well. Poor drainage or overly wet soil can lead to root rot (indicated by wilting leaves or unhealthy-looking brown spots).

Water

In general, plumeria's water needs are dry to medium. Plants in full sun will need more water than those in part shade. Let the soil dry out before watering, and plan to reduce watering in the winter. Overwatering promotes root rot.

Temperature and Humidity

The moist air and warm temperatures of the tropics are what frangipani like best. While these conditions can be replicated in a greenhouse, they are much more challenging in the temperate, often dry, climates of most U.S. states. When grown indoors, plumeria need a season of cooler temperatures (50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit) replicating the winter in tropical regions.

Fertilizer

Frangipani benefits from feeding twice a year, once at the beginning of the growing season in spring and once at the beginning of fall. Use a slow-release fertilizer designed for flowering trees.

Toxicity of Plumeria Plants

The plumeria species is a member of the dogbane family. "Bane" in a plant name typically indicates toxicity, and this is the case with plumeria. All parts of plumeria alba are considered moderately toxic but particularly the milky sap found in the leaves, flowers, and bark. Exposure to the sap and, for some, touching the plant, can result in a rash in sensitive individuals. All parts of the plant are also toxic when eaten, including by pets, but the sap has a pronounced bitter flavor that repels most animals.

Pruning

In general, frangipani is fairly tolerant of pruning, and you can prune it for a variety of goals. To create a central trunk or standard, prune lower branches all the way to the trunk while the tree is developing. To make the tree denser or bushier, prune the branches to about 1/3 or 1/2 of their unpruned length to encourage multiple branches to grow from the pruned ends.

Keep in mind that because the flowers appear only on the ends of branches, pruned branches will not flower for that year. The best time to prune is late winter to early spring.

Common Pests

Plumeria alba is susceptible to the frangipani caterpillar (Pseudosphinx tetrio), or frangipani moth. This is a large, colorful, poisonous caterpillar that feeds voraciously on the tree's leaves, usually in fall. While an invasion of these hungry caterpillars can quickly make a tree look bare, they won't likely harm the tree. You can remove the caterpillars by hand, but wear gloves because they can bite.

White scale insects, whiteflies, mealybugs, and nematodes also can plague a plumeria tree. The usual organic methods will help with mitigation. In general, though, this tree has no major issues with insects.