Your FREE Plumeria / Frangipani Guide

Overwatering your Plumeria


At one time or another we all overwater our plumeria or you may live in a heavy rainfall area and had flooding problems. Overwatering, prolonged heavy rainfall or flooding can cause havoc on your plumeria. Poor drainage can also contribute to this problem.

Anaerobic Soil

Overwatering your soil causes your soil to be waterlogged, not a healthy environment for plumeria to live. Much like we would not be comfortable living under water all the time.  We need to come up for air and the plumeria roots need oxygen too.

Saturated soils with poor drainage can quickly become anaerobic, making the plumeria susceptible to diseases like root rot. When plumeria roots sit in excess water for too long, they start to rot or decay. As the roots deteriorate, they can’t take up water, so the plumeria wilts.

Clues your soil or potting mix needs help

When too much water is around the roots, it is likely the beneficial microorganisms and soil life that were living in your pot and keeping your plumeria healthy have drowned or at best case, their numbers have greatly reduced.  If this is the case, the potting mix or soil may smell ‘sour’ or anaerobic.  Oxygen normally fills the gaps in between the soil crumb structure and all organisms and plumerias need air to live.  When plumeria roots start to decay, you may notice this unpleasant smell.

If your potted plumeria show these tell-tale signs of overwatering, there is a problem with the soil:

  • Your plumeria is wilting, dropping leaves
  • Your plumeria is looking unwell all of a sudden
  • Your plumeria is being attacked by pests or disease
  • Worms are coming up to the surface in great numbers (they are trying to save themselves from drowning)
  • Sometimes you might notice a scum or residue on the surface of the soil

Here are some suggestions to help you from overwatering your plumeria:

  • Adding coarse mulch material to the bottom of the pot will also help drainage
  • Mix your soil with 50% Perlite
  • Use pots with many drain holes
  • Add more drain holes in your pot
  • Locate your pots in well-drained areas
  • Or plant in the ground, when possible

If the pot or container feels heavy and the plumeria is still wilting, the excess water may not be getting away fast enough.  If you have already drilled enough holes, you may need to actually remove your plumeria from the pot to save it.  Spread out a number of sheets of newspaper in a tray.  Lay the pot on its side and gently slide out the plumeria’s root ball.

Allow the root ball to dry on the newspapers for about 12 hours or more, then using clean sharp scissors, trim off any dark-colored (brown rather than white) or slimy roots.  When you are finished, re-pot the plumeria in a clean container with some fresh potting mix as already outlined.

Using Coarse Material in your pot

We have found that putting an inch of two of coarse, decomposing mulch in the bottom of the pot helps with drainage and plumeria health.

Most books and websites on container gardening recommend the addition of coarse material such gravel, sand, pebbles, pottery shards or polystyrene pieces to the bottom of pots to improve drainage, scientific studies have consistently demonstrated quite the opposite is true.  According to one scientist, Dr Chalker-Scott, Extension Horticulturalist and Associate Professor at the Washington State University:

“Nearly 100 years ago, soil scientists demonstrated that water does not move easily from layers of finer textured materials to layers of coarser textured materials.  Since then, similar studies have produced the same results.  The coarser the underlying material, the more difficult it is for the water to move across the material’s face.  Gravitational water will not move from a fine soil texture into a coarser material until the finer soil is saturated.  Since the stated goal for using coarse material in the bottoms of containers is to “keep soil from getting water logged,” it is ironic that adding this material will induce the very state it is intended to prevent.”

Resist the Urge to Overwater

Resist the urge to water your plumeria without checking to see if they actually need water – it can actually make things worse!  Waterlogging and compaction can create ideal conditions for diseases such as phytopthora and other fungal attacks.

Potted plumeria that have been inundated with water will also have likely leached out much of the plumeria food or fertilizer that was in the pot previously.  You will need to replace this food source with some more organic fertilizer to ensure your plumeria has the energy it needs to regain its health.

If you notice discolored or yellowing leaves, this is often a sign your plumeria is crying out to be fed. This is because it is missing essential minerals!  A slow release, powdered or pelleted fertilizer and compost can help restore the nutrients.

Thanks Mike Atkinson, for the use of your photo.

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About the Author

Tex Norwood

Tex NorwoodTex and Kay Norwood has be involved in growing Plumeria for over 15 years as a hobby. At the end of 2012 they both retired to from normal jobs and became partners in Florida Colors Nursery. The now live and work at the Nursery in Plumeria paradise.View all posts by Tex Norwood →