no activity/growth

Brian-dApril 12, 2012

Hi all, newby here. I have a 3 1/2 foot tall plumeria that is not showing any growth. I bought it 2 years ago in a 12 inch black plastic pot. The soil looks to be dirt/potting soil with very little perlite. It developed some beautiful bouquets that first summer. I brought it in the house the following fall once the leaves started turning yellow & did not water it during the winter. All the leaves fell of that winter. Last spring I put it back outside, waited for it to claw before watering it sparingly. But it did not grow leaves past the claw stage for the entire summer. I watered only around the edge of the pot only when the soil was very, very dry. Eventually the claws turned black - but not the tips.

I've since noticed that other people in the neighborhood leave their Plumies out during the winter & their leaves thin out & yellow, but don't all drop off (I'm in southern California). Since my Plumeria didn't do anything last summer, I thought that maybe taking it into the house for the winter "shocked it" somehow...

So this winter, I left it outside, didn't water it (because no leaves were growing) & only brought it in when it got really cold or when it rained.

It is now April, it's warming up, once again there is no new growth & I'm wondering why. The trunk is about 3 feet tall with 4 branches all leaving the trunk at the same area. The branches are 5-8 inches long and are still green. I checked for soft/squishy areas & everything feels firm except for the top 5-6 inches of the trunk - right below where it branches.

I have a bad feeling that there is some kind of rot happening in the top end of the trunk. What are my options? Where did I go wrong? Thanks.

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If it is soft / squishy, there is rot. There are a few things to address here. Personally, here's what I would do:

Carefully tip the plant to the side and slide it out of the pot and examine the roots for any blackness, slime or funny smell. If the roots have any of that, I believe the plant is lost. If there is no rot in the roots then you need to get some sharp pruning shears and some rubbing alcohol. Cut the soft part back until you reach perfectly clean, white wood - CLEANING YOUR SHEARS WITH ALCOHOL IN BETWEEN CUTS. Also, is the plant root-bound and needing a bigger pot?

If you can reach white wood then I would also get some new potting mix and some Perlite and mix them half and half, re-pot the plant, possibly in a bigger pot if needed.

Once you do that, just water it throughly and wait until it's dry like you were doing before.

Rot usually means excess moisture and / or cold. The plants can't tolerate extended periods below 50 degrees. If your neighbors are doing it sometimes it's worth it to them to cut some black tip back if it gets it because the plant is too big to handle taking in and out, or the plant is much older and hardier to withstand cold a little better. It sounds like your watering techniques were fine but like I said, it's usually due to excess cold or moisture.

Good luck and let us know what happens!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 11:21AM
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If the roots look ok, cut off the trunk at the lowest soft point & keep going downward until I hit white wood? Once I get to white wood, do I treat/seal it? Will it branch out from the cut trunk? Sorry for dumb questions - I have no experience with this. Also, can I start cutting the other direction on the 4 branches to restart them as cuttings? Thanks for the help!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 6:06PM
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That's ok, there are no dumb questions, you have very good ones actually! Yes, you have to cut where the soft part stops and keep cutting until it's not brown or black inside at all. I know it sounds kind of severe but if you aren't able to get rid of the rot it will kill the whole plant. This is a last ditch effort to save it. Sterilize your shears in between cuts.

Unfortunately, if you have to cut all the branching off to one single stick it may not look pretty for a while but it should grow back, I believe. I don't think you seal it but I do think you have to protect it from water sitting on the cut part. Cutting at a 45 degree angle can help. Maybe another member with more experience doing this can chime in and give you some more detailed info on what to do with the cut end of the stalk.

And yes, you can restart the branches as cuttings if you can get clean wood, absolutely! It's easier to do the branches usually because they have the tips already on them. That's the challenge with the main stalk, not having the tip and having exposed wood.

I hope this helps, and did I mention to sterilize in between cuts?! LOL

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 8:37PM
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Brian, before you cut, did your plumeria get any water at all over winter? If that soft spot is just a little springy, it's probably dehydrated. They do actually need some water when potted over winter. If it's soft then it's probably rot as Elucas says.

If you're not sure, drench the soil through before you do any cutting, then wait a couple of days to see if you can feel a difference in the trunk as the plant takes up the moisture. If it's rotted the water isn't going to do any more damage and if it's dehydrated then you'll have saved yourself the heartbreak of cutting your plumeria. Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 8:51AM
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Great advice!!! Some people also take a pin and poke the plant where the soft part is to see if white latex comes out, although I haven't done that myself.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 9:13AM
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That's an iteresting thought! I've been so paranoid about "killing it with kindness" (I've do that alot with plumerias!) & root rot that, no I haven't watered it all winter. Last summer I watered it once a month & only around the edge of the pot very sparingly because it wasn't doing any kind of growing. No water the winter before either... I'll give it a good soaking & see what happens. Thanks for the help you guys!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 4:28PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Conspicuously absent from any mention is repotting. If you haven't repotted since you got the plant, look there as a likely cause of last year's stalled growth - root congestion and probable soil compaction. What might be going on now sounds like it's probably in addition to the other issue, i.e. if you haven't repotted.

If you have a fungal (rot) issue going on, you should act on it quickly. Sometimes it's better to act on suspicion and make the necessary cuts than to wait until the infection has gone entirely systemic so there is no hope of saving the plant; still though, I think it's prudent to follow the advice to water & see if the withered part plumps up for you before you try to sever the potentially rotted portion. That though, is a judgement you'll need to make. Are pictures a possibility? They could be telling.


    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 6:07PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi Brian,

I would not cut the tree either. IMO, it sounds like your tree is is need of a good drink. We hear of some leaving their trees without water all winter...but they are still livivg trees and they do require some water during the dormamt cycle especially when they are in containers. Trees in So Cal that are planted in the ground have and receive moisture from nature and also by some of their helpful owners. We have to help our tree in containers. Some trees contine to be active during the winter months and with you being in So CAL, i would guess to say that your tree is very thirsty!! Last resort is cutting...If it does have Black Tip then you need to cut...but if you have greenn stems and some claw activity,then i think you can save this tree!! : )

I agree with Jen. It needs water...Post a pic so we can see what is going on..this will help us see what and where you can start in helping this tree.

Al is right on about the roots.. It sounds like it has been in the same container for 2-3 years and the growth had stalled on you tree. I have had several that have done this to my trees and i know it is because of the tree being root bound.

Watering around the rim of the pot is usually done when we are worried about watering our cuttings that are trying to root. Trees that do have roots do not need to be watered around the rim..they can be watered as usual. Give it a good drink and let it pass through the drain holes and give it some fertilizer as well. Plumeria dont like wet feet and they certainly dont like water renentive soil. Water and let it dry...its simple. : ) But it certainly doesnt mean to not water at all...

What im trying to say...last resort is too cut...especially if you are not sure what is going on with your tree

We will all be interested in the outcome of your tree...
Using a straight pin to gently poke a specific area to check if there is white latex can be done as a test to see it stem is viable. i wouldnt go poking all around the tree tho. : )

OCFS is a great place to find what your tree need as far as soils. Just ask the guy there who is the Plumeria man!!! I cant remember his name, but he can show you what you need.

I hope this helps... : )

Take Care,


    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 1:03AM
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I went ahead & watered it REALLY well yesterday in the bathtub (it's rainy & cold here). I'm thinking the prudent option is wait & see if it responds to watering? Then the next step is root inspection & possible re-potting? I'd be really surprised to find root rot - I've seen it/done it with every other Plumeria I've owned. It's apparent to me now, I've been overly zealous in preventing it...
I've heard of people removing Plumerias from the soil, bagging the roots & putting it in the closet for the winter - seems extreme to me. But now I'm confused - is this something that's done in colder climates? How about water?(water that I thought is not needed in the winter - I'm a bad Plumeria owner!)
Even though the medium it is potted in freaks me out, (which is why I've watered around the edge only) I didn't think to re-pot up until now. Since it bloomed such beautiful bouquets the first summer, I didn't want to "upset the apple cart" by re-potting...
I've got some pictures taken; as soon as I can figure out how to upload them to this thread, I'll post them. Thanks for the help everybody.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 2:31PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hey Brian,

YOU ARE NOT A BAD PLUMERIA OWNER!!!! You are just a cautious one!!! : )

When you talk of it being cold there..what are the lows in your area for this time of year? I have my trees outside now and im on the east coast. Does your tree see sunshine during the day outside? You will finally understand how to take care of your tree... it really is easy, most of us that "mother hen" over our trees are the ones that usually kill them with kindness. we have all been there and believe me i still look over my trees everyday, sometimes more than once... but i usually keep my hands off of them. You have been careful to keep your tree from receiving to much water. That is usually the right path as far as keeping them on the dry side but only after they are watered well beforehand.

It can be very confusing when we read of all the ways we keep them winterized...some bareroot, some place in a back room (Myself included) that is for space purposes only. SOme keep them in the living area of their homes and let the leaves fall off naturally. Barerooting and bagging trees is one way that some put up there trees for the winter. I personally don't do that and i have heard several people here on the east coast that they dont like the outcome. People in Texas swear by this method. I think it really depends on where you live. You are in an area that you can leave your trees outside most of the time. Hopefully some of the other members in your area will chime in and give you some advise on how they protect their trees. I believe most would bring them in around the lows of 45 and below or would put frost cloth on them to protect. Again, my friends from Southern Cal will hopefully help you...

I would try and start to acclimate your tree to being outside full time now and let your soil dry out. Watch to see if the stem firms up and then you can go from there.

What kind of soil is it in now?

Orange County Farm Supply sells all what you need to make a good soil. We have disscussed different soil mixtures here on this forum and it is a fun discussion on what everyone likes to use. You have access to Pumice out there and Kellogs Big R as well as Turf and Tee. We here on the east cant find those ingredients so i have found a different type of mix that i like to use. My mix consist of Turface FirBark and Granite and it is a very fast draining mix. You want your tree to be in a fast draining mix for the overall health of the roots. If it is in a hard compacted soil that stays wet for a long time, i would go ahead and change the soil, rootprune and then understand how to water so that your tree will benefit from the intake of water as well as the proper nutrients that it needs to thrive.

You have done the right thing in asking questions...dont worry about doing the wrong thing..You are doing the best that you can and it will only get better from here on!!! : )

As far as pictures, you may need to open a Photobucket account. Upload your pictures to this. Then use the hotmail code from those pictures to copy and paste onto this thread. If you need more info on how to do this just ask. We have all been there just like you!!!

Glad you are here Brian!! Im sure your tree is happy that you are here as well!

Good LUCK!!


    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 6:12PM
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AWW - thanks for the kind words! And thanks for explaining what OCFS stands for; my friend google said it is the New York Office of Children & Family Services! :-)
I finally figured out how to post photos, hopefully they're not too big:

The lighting in the first 2 photos makes the tips look black (it was cloudy). The last photo is one of the tips showing the color a little better. Let me know if I should take better photos...
I don't know what kind of soil it's in - to me it looks like regular ol' dirt. It usually sits right next to the south facing wall of our house & gets 5-6 hours of sun per day. This morning it was 48 degrees here; I always bring it in when it gets into the 40's at night. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 11:02PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hey Brian,

Could you take a pic of where the branches meet the stem? Close up of that area. It looks black to me at that area. This is where you say that it is soft?



    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 11:41AM
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Yes - it's not firm from where the branches split the on down 5-6 inches of the trunk. Some picks of her out in the sun today:

Let me know if there's any more pics I should take. Thanks!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 3:20PM
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labland(Inland Valley CA9)


I live in the Inland Valley. For several years,before I found this site, I watered my plants in the winter, only not as often. I also used to move my plants next to the house, under the eves thinking the warmth of the house would protext them. I never had any problems. Now I leave them in the same spot. I also have 8 trees in araised planterthat do quite fine. Tis year I planted one in my front yard.

Once you start looking around you will be amazed at how many plumeria you find planted in the ground in this area!

My family has lived in Hawaii for 30 years. I had always thought California would be too hot, but it isn't, other than sometimes you get a sunburned area on a trunk, but that really doean't effect the plant too much, just that you can see the sunburn, the plant still grows.

Keep up hthe good work. Next year, leave your plant where it will get sun. Modt of mine bloom in November and a couple into Christmas time!

Jennifer in La Verne

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 3:55PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hey Jen!!

You always come around when needed... I love it when i need my So Cal friends to chime in and you are always one of them!!! MAHALO!

I think Brian needs to get a routine down with his trees and get them adjusted, but before he does this... I wanted to thank him for the wonderful pictures that you just posted for me to see the branches and the stem. I am glad to see that it isnt as dark as what i thought in the first set of pics.. : ) I also have some branches that have sunburn on themm and they continue to produce and the stem grows like nothing happened. To look at the place where the burn was, (on my trees) it looks a little dry and nasty, but it healed itself and is thriving.

My next suggestion to you and hopefully we can have others chime in as well? Please? : ) I would take the roots out of the pot, snap a pic for us to see. I already know that i would root prune that tree and pot it up in a larger container with a fast draining mix. It looks like it has been there for a while and i bet it will love a "Haircut" and a new comfort layer of fast draining mix to go with the new cut!!! Plumeria "SPA" day!!!

Then if the branches continue to decline, then you can cut as the last resort. This tree looks like it is in need of a better container with better mix. I think you will see a big inprovement especially when you give it as much sunlight as possible. If you want to protect from any sunburn, wrap toilet paper rolls or paper towel containers and cut to fit around the stem. Believe me i have done this several times. Once the leaves develop, they naturally shelter the stems from the sun. Just now at the beginning of the season the are open and in direct line for burn from the sun's hot sun rays!!

Start working on a mix and find another pot for this guy. Is it in a 1 gallon now? How about going to a 2-3 gallon pot. It would work well since it is so tall. Just my opinion... You are the final judge... I just hope we can help in any way....

Don't for get..wet/dry cycle on watering... : ) As soon as it is dry, water again... They will really love this!!!

Oh...You are more than welcome Brian!!! If it wasn't for certain people when i started growing Plumeria, God only knows where i woud be right now. I cant tell you how much that i have learned from the guys and gals here!! SOme still are around and check in on they will chime in if needed. They are the best!! Thank you to all who helped me when i started!!! We all have to pay it forward... : )

Take care,


    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 3:20AM
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Hi Brian, sorry to butt in here, but I have to tell you that your plant is almost certainly rotting from the roots up. Looking at your pictures, can you see the distinct discoloration lines between the rotted portions and the still green portions? It's REALLY obvious in the second and the last pictures you posted.

I'd suggest that you remove the soil from the roots so that you can see up close and personal what rotted roots and stem look like for future reference, then toss the plant in the trash. If the plant is a super special one for you, you might want to try to cut and root the green portions of the branches, but in my experience, it's better to replace the plant once the rot has spread that far.

I don't believe you said what variety it is. If it's one that I have extras of in my little collection, I'd be happy to give you one for a fresh start.

We're in West Covina. Give me a call (626-966-6738) if you're close enough to make it worthwhile to pick up a gift plant and put that rotted one out of it's misery.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 4:02PM
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Hi all, thanks for all the help,
I did the pin test today - 3 areas of the trunk 6 inches apart. The 2 lower tests were very hard to push the pin in more than 1/4 inch - the lower trunk is very hard! The upper area that is soft allowed me to push the pin in easily. Nothing came out any of the holes. I squeezed the top area slightly & a clearish/ brown liquid came out & went back in when I released. I pin tested one of the branches where it is still green & white latex oozed out.
Next up was the root inspection:

How do the roots look? They smell earthy & I actually found a couple of peanuts down in the soil!
While inspecting, the 2 smaller branches split open right at the junction & it looks black inside. :-(
I think I just found out what I need to know but I have no idea what the roots should look like - I've put the plumeria back in the bucket with the old soil awaiting everyone's expertise... Thanks again everybody for all the input & answering all my dumb questions!
Dewayne, thanks for your generous offer but I think I'll pass. I have no idea what variety it is (was?) - the flowers where white with yellow centers. I picked it up from a vendor at the local farmers market. That may explain the peanuts in the soil LOL! Thanks again everybody!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 10:42PM
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Brian, I'm so sorry to hear you lost your plumeria! Such a shame. The roots do look fine but who knows how this rot gets going sometimes. I lost two small ones this winter and I still don't know what I did wrong with them.

If I were you I'd take Dewaine up on his offer, or if not, at least swing by his place and look at his amazing plumies. He has some big ones in ground that are quite special.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 8:32AM
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