Plumeria makes a comeback

We have a small “tropical jungle” in a cozy nook of our side yard: It houses a large clump of the perennial white ginger lily, potted oleander and jasmine plants, and, growing in a container, a plumeria, the focal point of the area, that looks like a small but interesting tree. And, except for the oleander, the rest bear fragrant flowers, often catching me off-guard sweetly as I come out of the house from the nearby door.

Although considered not very difficult to raise from cuttings, but for a first-timer like me, who is not very apt at this method of plant propagation, it can seem so. Of course, one can always buy a mature plant from a garden center specializing in unusual plants, but an economic and fun way is to procure cuttings, which at the first sight look lifeless due to lack of any foliage, from events such as flower shows, and watch them take root and grow; this is exactly how I started our existing plant, now over a decade old. During the course of time, however, more than once, I almost lost it, partially due to negligence, which has lead to its current lopsided look; in fact, this past spring, I totally gave up as the plant refused to come out of winter dormancy, but after an initial struggle, bounced back in a big way when brought outdoors in summer; not only did a lot of healthy leaves emerge at the tip of each of the branches of the otherwise naked stems, but flowering stalks appeared too, one per branch, now bearing lovely, fragrant flowers. I wonder if the rejuvenation of the plant had something do with the company of the other jungle dwellers.      

A relative of the oleander, plumerias are tender plants and not winter hardy around here, hence have to be taken indoors when night temperatures consistently stay below 55 degrees or so. Also, since they don’t like wet feet, the potting soil mix needs to be coarse so as to drain well, something like a cactus mix. During winter months when the plants become dormant, water is given very infrequently to the bare plants; but when weather warms up, one can bring the plants outdoors at sunny locations. Once growth starts, watering is resumed along with regular applications of a balanced liquid fertilizer. A word of caution when handling a plumeria plant: Upon injury, a milky sap is exuded that can, upon contact, cause irritation to skin or eyes, and a mild upset stomach if ingested.

Nestled among the leaves, the five-petal flowers have an almost perfect look and are so delicately scented that the nose senses their presence before the eyes can; so while in bloom, I make it a point to bring at least one flower inside to relish the beauty and the fragrance, which incidentally, lingers for a fairly long time.

Gita’s Tip of the Month: Purchase spring-flowering bulbs while selection is at its best. Try something new - never tried before - to keep the spark of gardening alive. Store in cool, dry place until ready to plant.

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