Walker: Making out-of-state flowers at home in Idaho

U of I Master GardenerSeptember 12, 2013 

A frangipani, wth two blooms, and buds.

A few years ago, a reader of this column wrote to me and asked whether it was possible to grow a camellia (Alabama’s state flower) in Idaho. I advised that they be grown in pots using acidic soil (available at local nurseries) and brought indoors in winter. Since they thrive in humid climates, they may not do well here in the west. They surely would need watering frequently.

I never heard from the reader again, so I don’t know whether she was brave enough to try to grow those gorgeous plants out of their natural element.

I’m glad that reader asked the question. It got me to thinking about growing something I’ve always loved: frangipani, also known as plumeria. Frangipani is native to tropical regions of Central and South America. We’re most familiar with its fragrant flowers in Hawaiian leis.

In the spring of 2012, a friend gave me her frangipani. It was in a 6-inch pot and the tree was about a foot high. The trunk was very loose — it wiggled around every time the plant was moved or met a breeze. As soon as the weather was warm enough, I hardened off the tree and kept it outside for the summer. It got watered every morning and again in the afternoon on the hottest days.

In fall, it came back in the house and spent last winter next to a window where it didn’t get direct sunlight. It didn’t need the daily watering during the winter and the evergreen leaves brightened up the kitchen. As winter progressed, the leaves started looking a bit sad, and in late March, it dropped the last of its leaves.

I thought surely it was dead, but I noticed little buds of new leaves on the trunk. I hung in there and as soon as I hardened it off this spring, the leaf buds produced even bigger leaves than it had before. I transplanted it to a 12-inch pot, gave it some slow-release fertilizer and it took off!

It seems to be much happier in the larger pot — the trunk no longer wiggles around. It’s about 2 feet tall now and has more leaves than it did last year.

The best thing, though, is that it bloomed in late August. A photo of the first two flowers is shown next to this column. You can see several more flower buds. The flowers last for about 10 days and smell wonderful.

So, yes, Virginia, you can grow camellias and frangipanis in Idaho.

If you have particular questions about gardening you’d like to see addressed in this column, send them to highprairielandscapedesign@yahoo.com.

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