Repotting frequency

jandey1(TX8)November 3, 2012

This may be a silly question, but if your plumeria seem to be growing a lot of roots out of the drain holes, is it okay to repot a couple of times a year?

I found that the reason some of my plumies--those rooted in 2010 or 2011--did so well during our recent cold front was because they had grown significant roots into the ground under them. This happened just over the summer for varieties like Dazzler and Maverick.

Will it delay blooming if I repot these a couple times a year? They look fine, don't miss a beat, when they're put into larger pots, but I don't know what happens on a cellular level if they're moved too much.

Thanks all!


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Jen: I imagine a lot depends on how you do the repotting. If you just most the whole caked-together mass w/o knocking off any old soil or roots I would imagine the impact is minimal. Bare rooting- well, another story :)

This is one reason I like the gritty mix. This is personal preference of course, but I prefer to overpot since it buys more time. However, traditional potting soils have limited lifespans, and also too much water can be retained if the roots don't occupy the majority of the pot. With the gritty mix this is not a concern.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 12:01PM
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Hi Jen,
what size pots are we talking about? I have never heard of anybody repoting plumerias more than once a year. Feeder roots grow long and they always come out of the holes of pots in older plumerias.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 7:14PM
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Thanks, guys.

Brian, the root ball remains intact and I just add a few inches of new soil all around. The fact that they stay together tells me that the plants are getting somewhat rootbound. The plants definitely don't deplete the soil as far as I can tell. It's always still very loose and fresh-looking.

George, it's mostly two- and three-gallon sizes that are going up to the next size. And it's not just a half-dozen feeder roots--those I just break off--it's so many that they make a matted mass of roots at the bottom of the clay pot they're set into. Some make several thick roots that grow into the ground under them.

Generally I repot plants once a year or every two years, depending on how much root mass I see at the top of the pot or coming out of the bottom. Seedlings are re-potted sometimes twice a year. I'm just not sure with young plants if they're less likely to bloom being repotted frequently, despite how good they look.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 11:12AM
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Hi Jen,
2 and 3 gallon pots are way too small for blooming size plumerias. Their diameter is too small and prevents the roots from spreading out. Plumeria roots grow flat on the plane of the cambium perimeter and spread outward like in the pictures below. The main roots hit the pot wall and circle around the pot. Plumeria roots, especially feeder roots, grow fast and long (white roots in the pictures are currently growing, brown roots are older roots). If the diameter is too small it does not matter how often you repot, the roots will hit the wall and drain holes in a matter of weeks. The best thing to do is use squat pots (wider and shorter than standard pots) which give more room to the roots to grow outwards. I am going to plublish an article on it in Plumeria Potpouri. I would use 5-gallon squat pots as the minimum size pot for flowering size plumerias.


    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 1:46PM
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Okay, George, that's great info to have! We're so conditioned to not over-potting our new plumerias for fear of rot that maybe we're all trying to grow in containers that are just too small as our plants mature.

How long after rooting a cutting can you go really large for the pot size? Would you take, say, an 18" tall cutting that was rooted more than a year ago and plunk it into a 7- or 10-gallon pot?

And can you get away with a smaller size pot on a plant you plan to plunge in the ground for most of the year, since the roots will grow out into the surrounding soil?

I checked the pot size of several of mine and realized that I have only a fraction in 5-gallon or larger pots. I'll move all the rest next spring into 5- or 7-gallons.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 4:37PM
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Jen, I go to Rainbow Gardens Nursery, they sell used heavy black 5 gallon pots for $.50 each. I planted all my plumeria in these. I buy the pots as I need them. They always have them on hand. I think any nursery close to you would have the same. Barbra

    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 5:42PM
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Hi Jen,
I root my plumerias in 1-gallon or 2-gallon pots (bigger cuttings). The year after I plant the small ones in 3-gallon pots and the large ones in 5-gallon squat pots. All 3-year old and older plumerias are in a minimum of 5-gallon squat pots. I pot in bigger pots as needed. Most of my plumerias are grown in 10-gallon and 25-gallon pots.

If you use a good mix you should not worry about too wet and rotting of roots. In our hot climate the mix should hold some water but drain well. I use 1/3 soil, 1/3 perlite, and 1/3 pumice. Works really well. I do not use organic matter in my potting mix. It rots within a year and makes the mix not drain well. Instead, I put 2" of mulch at the top to keep the mix from drying too quickly and keep the roots cooler. If you do not mulch the pots they just dry up too quickly in Texas.

With respect to plunging, the 5-gallon squat pots are 14" in diameter and you can easily plange them. The 7-gallon squat pots are 16" in diameter and you can also plange them (they are not way too heavy).


    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 6:01PM
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mystwitch(z9 Tx)

George, if I may ask, where are you finding pumice in your area? I have never been able to locate it here in S. Texas. Thank you.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 9:09AM
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Hey mystwitch,
you can find it in Northen Tools. Most auto part stores also have it. It sold under the name of Oil-Drip. It is used to soak up oil spills in auto repair stores. It is just clay fired at high temperatures and becomes very porous. It is about 1/8" in size in irregular shape. It is relatively inexpensive. It costs about $6 for a 40lb bag. Good luck.


    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 7:38PM
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I have gone from a rooting bottle to a 1 gallon to a 3 gallon in one summer and then in the following spring to a 5 gallon. So in one year's time 3 transplants. Probably two more than needed. May have just been poor planning or not having the right size pot available at the time.

In my opinion many do keep the pot size restrictively small for understandable reasons but if the plant can go in the biggest pot that can be moved that will give the best results. I have found my lifting limit without a dolly or second set of hands is 25 gallons so that is my largest size. Most get to that size by the 4th or 5th year. Then I root prune every 3 to 4 years for maintenance.

In the spring I will be using a pot that is 20 inches across and 12 inches tall as my standard mid size plant (for plants with 5+ tips and about 3+ feet tall). I'm estimating about 12 gallons. I transplanted 4 into those new pots in August. This pot was picked based on George's previous post in early summer about roots radiating outward versus downward and my own observations which mirror those results.

In previous years before becoming an active poster on GW I stayed away from organic material in my mix but after reading many posts here I started incorporating pine bark mulch. I feel that the trees which had pine bark in a transplant done two years ago seem to already be underperforming this year. I'll be opening them up in the spring to see what it looks like. There could be other reasons too.

I use a thin layer of lava rock to dress the top and keep the soil from eroding. Its doesn't degrade or float off and catches granular fertilzers in between the rocks where it dissolves with each watering.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 10:09PM
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Well done kms2.


    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 11:15PM
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More great info. Thanks, K.

When you say under-performing, how would you describe that? Little foliage? Small inflos? No inflos?

I ask because I've always used a composted shredded wood product--mixed with 1/3 oil-dry or Turface instead of perlite--and had great results, thick foliage and strong growth. I add either Osmocote or Ladybug slow-release fertilizer, then fertilize periodically with a liquid.

Thank you for that tip, Barbra. I bought several five-gallon decorative pots and will get some more black 5s and 7s from my mom this winter. Most of mine will be going into their third or fourth seasons next spring. Don't think I could pick up more than a 15-gallon myself.

This year I tried adding more pine bark chunks, sifted for small size, and then threw the larger pieces on top of each pot for mulch.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 9:30AM
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Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA

I was waiting to hear where George gets his pumice. But I don't believe Oil-Dri and pumice are the same thing.

Pumice is a naturally-occuring product that occurs when pressurized rock is molten and spewed from a volcano. It becomes filled with air pockets. It is the same material as 'Lava Rock', which is often used as a decorative mulch. One can manually pound down the larger Lava Rock with a hammer, but who's got the time?

Oil-Dri is man-made fired clay and very absorbant. I believe it holds more water than the real pumice (and it's probably heavier too). So you have to be careful using too much of this product. Turface is also a fired clay product.

Real pumice in small sizes is nearly impossible to find here on the East Coast.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 12:30PM
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Hey Dave_in_Nova,
what's the difference? The Oil_Dry is ceramic fired at high temperatures and fills with air pockets and absorbs liquids. It has a very high porosity and can soak up a lot of liquid, similar to the naturally occuring one. In a pot, it holds a lot of water when the pot is watered, and releases it over time as the pot mix gets dry. Same function as perlite and pumice. It is also coarse, about 1/8" irregular shape, and helps with drainage. It does not decompose in the pot either (like organic material). It is great to use in potting mix and inexpensive.


    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 2:07PM
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Its two of my oldest Celadines. The leaves looked nice and healthy but the inflos did not seem to be as robust as previous years on the two trees. Additionally, They did not produce a second round of inflos like they have traditionally done. Myabe its my rising standards. Over the last few years I have also been more systematic in my approach. In other words I might be projecting a transplant and root prune onto these two that did't happen 2 or 3 years ago but maybe even further back.

I'm not sure as to the potential reason(s) just yet. The growth of an oak tree is probably cutting a half hour of full sun and adding more time to part sun/shade during peak summer, it may be root bound, those two pots had many small drain holes (versus my current 1" diameter drain holes + a wick on bigs and 1/2 inch on smalls) and it's potential that roots have plugged up too many of them. They are also pretty big for being potted so maybe I need to accelerate the root pruning. I cannot reach around the trunk with my hand. I would estimate the trunk diameter to be 10+ inches.

My fertilizing routine was not as consistent as previous years but that was across the board with all plants. Not just those two. So there are quite a few variables.

The spring awakening and transplant will be the tell. I really think its a constant game of adjustments and tinkering but that is the whole fun of it.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 2:53PM
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Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA

George, I think pumice may not absorb as much water as fired clay products, but I'd like to hear from people who use it -- like our California friends.


    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 3:31PM
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tdogdad(Zone 9)

Hi, Dave. Pumice is quite different from fired clays. It is a volcanic glass that when blown into the air, depressurizes causing the dissolved gases to exsolve like bubbles in a carbonated drink when opened. The glass hardens quickly making an extremely lightweight rock filled with holes. Pumice will float. As it breaks down it becomes the materials it is made from, often silicic. Unlike perlite, which floats too much and rises in your mix and compacts when it breaks down, pumice is very slow to break down. Fired clays also will break into fine grains that will compact over time. but is probably better than perlite. You may try to look in the concrete businesses as pumice is used in making lightweight blocks and also as an abrasive and polishing agent. I used to mix 25% perlite and 25% pumice but now I use 50% pumice only.

Uploaded with

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 7:31PM
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Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA

Bill, can you comment on the amount of moisture that it holds -- compared to the fired clays? I think the fired clays are fine to use if you use enough other large materials in the mix, but are hydrophilic and can hold too much water if mixed with regular old potting soil (that is, not used correctly).

Pumice, on the other hand, similar to perlite, likely doesn't 'attract' as much moisture and is therefore better suited as a supplement to lighten and loosen the mix.

But I've never used it and am only going by what I hear. So, throw all this out if I'm wrong! LOL!

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 9:03AM
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uscgardener(USDA 9 Sunset 20/21)

Hi Bill,

Sort of OT, but I remember reading you are located in SoCal ... Where did you find that big bag of pumice you've got in your picture above? Thanks! Jenny

    Bookmark   November 15, 2012 at 2:05PM
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uscgardener(USDA 9 Sunset 20/21)

Oh also, I am new to growing plumerias ... how do you know when to repot? Is it the same signs as other plants?

    Bookmark   November 15, 2012 at 2:16PM
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Visually inspect the plant for signs such as wrinkles on the branches (an indicator of being root bound as well as too dry), roots coming out the top of the soil, lots of roots coming out the drain holes. Or just stick to a routine transplant every year when its a new plant, and 2-3 years when its mature...all the way up to the maximum size that you can carry and then maintain by root pruning every 3 years or so.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 8:53PM
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Andrew Scott

Hey Bill,
I have been sitting here trying to come up with my game plan for my trees this coming year. It has been 3 or 4 years I believe since this addiction has taken me over. Now I believe I am somewhere around 130-150 plumeria! I know I wont have that many volkswagons sitting in my yard, just not feasable. I also need to be more careful with moving heavy pots. Correct me if I am wrong, but didn't you say before that you can keep your trees happy in 5 gal pots? If not, what is a reasonable pot size if I would want to keep trees that are between 4-6ft tall and 4ft wide? I can see that some of my trees are more likely to be even taller growers, and yes, I know I can prune them to keep them shorter but I will admit that right now I have a few that I would like to keep larger.

Thanks Bill for your help here. I truly appreciate it!


    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 2:07PM
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Hey Andrew,
for a 6' plant I would use a minimum of 16" diameter pot, which would correspond to a 7-gallon squat pot. It would require frequent root pruning though. Vigorous plumerias would do better in a 10-gallon squat pot. I would not use bigger pots unless you have the means of moving them into storage without lifting them. You can lift easily up to 10 gallons squat pots. Most of my decorative pots are 20 gallons. I have some 35 and 50 gallons, but those are hard to move. I use a super dolly to move them. I use a lot of the 5, 7, and 10 gallon squat pots for intermediate plants. Here is a picture of a 5-gallon pot (11" diameter) versus a 7-gallon squat pot (16" diameter). There is really a big difference in the squat pots in allowing the roots to spread.

If you really want to plant your plumerias in larger pots 10-25 gallons, you could but you have to lift them out of the pot and store them either bare rooted or with a small rootball. Here is how you do it. This is a plumeria in a 20-gallon pot.

You first dig out the dirt around the plant into a tub. It is easy to dig as most roots there are feeder roots and are small in diameter. Then you cut the large roots around the pot with a sparp-shooter spade.

Then you lift the plumeria onto a plastic sheet. I use 4-mil plastic (from the previous year from running around the patio to enclose it for the winter.

I then wrap the rootball with the plastic and tie it with twine.

I then put it on plywood in the garage. It is not heavy, the roots do not dry out, it does not take much space, and the plumeria gets a beneficial root prunning every year, since its planted back in the same pot in the spring.

By the way, I am publishing an article on using squat pots for plumerias in the January issue of Plumeria Potpourri of the PSA.


    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 5:14PM
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Would you describe the size of the root ball in your picture as about the same size as a basketball?

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 11:06PM
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It is about 14" in diameter

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 11:25PM
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