Protect Your Plumeria From Freezing Temps

Old Man Winter is a bit early this year. We do not normally see freezing temperatures along the Tampa Bay gulf beaches, especially this early in the season. I can only recall freezing one time in the last 10 years (last January). So much for global warming.
Special care must be taken to protect Plumerias if freezing weather is expected. For mild climates in southern Florida or Texas (zones 9 or higher) covering them with freeze cloth or wrapping them with Christmas lights a couple nights a year may be all that is necessary. Small potted plants can be easily moved indoors.

In cooler climates plumerias will need protection all winter, or as long as freezing temperatures are possible. Plumerias are dormant during this time and can be dug up and stored bare root in a garage or basement, as long as it is dry. They will most likely be defoliated already, but if any leaves remain remove them before moving inside to save yourself from having to pick them up later. They do not require light, food, or water during this time.

When spring approaches they will begin to wake up. Their tips will become shiny – a sign that leaf growth is about to begin. As long as there is no danger of a freeze, they can be moved back outdoors.
A note of caution – If you store your plumeria indoors, be carefull to store them upright, do not stack them. Otherwise the ones on the bottom of the pile may rot, due to poor air circulation.

What Does Cold or Freeze Damage Look Like?

I often get asked what to look for when it comes to frost or cold damage to plumerias. Here is a photo taken of a damaged plumeria branch after “the big freeze” in Florida. Damaged branches will turn brown, and in some cases the tip will turn black, as in this case. The black tip is rotted plant tissue and must be cut off to prevent further damage to the plant. If the branches are merely browned, but hard and firm with no soft spots, no action may be necessary. But, check it frequently to make sure there is no further damage.

To treat an affected tree: With a sterilized cutter, cut below any black or soft mushy area until you get to clean white growth. The cut surface should not show any brown spots. These areas can continue to rot, and travel down the plant and kill it. Treat the cut with a fungicide.

This was the first year I had cold damage. We live near the gulf and don’t usually see temperatures as cold as inland, but this year has been very unusual. The gulf temperatures are lower than usual this year and not providing the usual insulation against cold snaps. For the first time, our outdoor digital thermometer registered below freezing on a few nights. Damage was not limited to plumerias, our Christmas” palms suffered greatly as well. I am looking forward to spring, it can’t get here soon enough.

What To Do If Your Plumeria Has Frost Damage

Many of you in Florida have experienced cold damage to your plumerias for the first time due to the record breaking cold this year. How do you know if you have damage? If the branch tips are mushy or black they have been damaged by frost or freezing. Cut the tips back until you get clean white wood to prevent the rot from spreading down the tree. Try to cut just above a leaf node. New branches will grow in the spring.