Even if you’ve never heard of the plumeria tree, you’ve almost certainly seen their flowers. Plumerias are the Hawaiian Lei plant.
Native throughout Central and South America, from Brazil to Mexico and parts of the Caribbean, the plant was introduced to Hawaii in 1860. It soon became the staple when making leis.
Since then, the 11 species of plumeria have found their way around the world, even achieving sacred significance in the Indian Subcontinent and Orient.
Today, there are hundreds of cultivars of Plumeria plants. As a result, the plant has become a popular houseplant throughout the US and adorning gardens in USDA hardiness zones 9b to 11.
Growing plumerias isn’t difficult, and filling a few simple needs will go far towards beautiful, heady fragrant flowers that last from early summer into fall.
One of the most basic needs (and thus the most often overlooked) is the soil.
Providing an ideal planting medium, whether it’s a container plant or outdoors, can make all the difference to your plant’s health.
What Is The Best Soil For Plumeria?
Growing indoors is often easier, as you can change the soil out occasionally.
However, the needs are essentially the same for outdoor plants.
Helpful Tip: Always Think of Well-Drained Soil
Plumerias, like many plants, need plenty of drainage.
Potted plants usually get this through the drainage holes in the bottom of their container.
However, adding an aggregate to both the garden and containers can help reduce the risk of waterlogged soil from heavy storms.
For a potted Plumeria plant, add a bottom layer of coarse small gravel before filling the pot with soil.
For garden areas, dig down past where you expect the roots to grow and add coarse sand or fine gravel layer roughly 2 to 4” inches deep.
This works much like the aggregate substrate under sidewalks, preventing the soil from settling unevenly and creating a space where the water can drain when the soil cannot properly absorb and transport it to the water table.
As root rot is a common threat to plumerias, this extra step can make a huge difference in your plant’s health.
The Best Soil Type Is Well Draining Soil
As you might have guessed, clay soils are a poor choice for these plants, which need a loose, well-draining soil.
Meanwhile, sandy soils drain too fast, causing the plant to dehydrate.
An excellent, loamy soil with a light acidity (6.0 to 6.7) tends to be best, as this type is loose, well-draining, and contains plenty of organic matter.
The organic matter doesn’t just feed your plant between Plumeria fertilizer applications. It also encourages earthworms and other creatures, which help aerate the soil.
This can be achieved in gardens by mixing in compost and perlite into your current soil.
Manure and coarse sand are also good options.
Avoid fine sands, as these tend to do more to compact the soil and cause water retention instead of drainage.
Potted plumerias can make things a bit easier, as you can just buy a good premade soil mix.
Any good quality cactus or citrus mix blended with perlite at a ratio of 1:2 tends to be best.
Just check and make sure the mix isn’t listed as “water-saving,” as this means the soil will retain water.
The Risks of Commercial Soil
There are a lot of excellent garden supply companies out there with a long-standing reputation, such as MiracleGro.
However, you get what you pay for, and most cheaper brands cut corners to give you that reduced rate.
The most common corner cut is in regards to sterilization.
A quality potting soil needs to be sterilized before shipping, as it may contain contaminants such as fungal spores or dormant bacteria.
Many common plant pests are also known to lay their eggs in the soil.
These eggs (and the resulting larvae) are adapted to overwinter and can remain hidden or dormant in the soil until you’ve planted your new plumeria.
This can lead to infections or infestations that might outright kill a new plant or spread to other nearby plants.
In other words, before buying commercial potting mixes from a company you don’t know, be sure to do a little research to find out if they’ve had frequent complaints or recalls.
Homemade Potting Mixes For Plumeria in Pots
Part of the fun in growing plants indoors is the ability to make your potting mixes.
These mixes tend to be better than a commercial mix and closely mimic the plant’s natural habitat.
A somewhat complex homemade mix recipe calls for 1 part each of:
1 part each of:
- 1/4 “ inch bark mulch
- Cactus potting soil
- Sharp (or coarse) sand
Add in ⅙ part bone meal to complete the nutritional blend.
A simpler mix involves equal parts coco coir, perlite, and sphagnum.
Soil Related Plumeria Diseases
Outside of the risks mentioned regarding commercial soil, you may face some other problems that are soil-related.
The most common problem is root rot.
When the soil is over-saturated with water, it can fill air pockets, causing your plant to lose access to oxygen.
On top of that, the roots will become too wet and invite root rot, a disease caused by either bacteria or fungus that eats away at the roots, eventually killing your plant.
Early warning signs are a single yellowing stalk, followed by the yellow spreading to other parts.
If caught early enough, you can avoid watering to let the soil dry out, but the condition often requires an emergency soil change along with the removal of the diseased roots.
Excess water can also lead to infestations from moisture-loving pests and fungal infections, including stem rot.
Poor soil quality can also lead to stunted growth and discoloration of the leaves, such as browning or yellowing, and may even cause dieback.
Thus, it’s important to completely change the soil in containers and add a layer of fresh compost to your garden plumerias every spring.