Hawaiian lei trees also grow well in containers, which is an ideal way to enjoy these tropical plants in regions that have cold winters. Move the trees outdoors in summer and overwinter them in a warm, sunny room.
If you plant a cutting of a Hawaiian lei tree and there are few roots to support it once planted, bury the trunk to a depth of 8 to 12 inches in a narrow hole. Then drive a plant stake next to the trunk and firmly tie the trunk to the stake with old nylons or vinyl plant strapping. This will support the tree in wind until the roots further develop over the summer and finally become extensive enough to anchor and hold the tree upright without the stake.
Do not plant a Hawaiian lei tree outdoors in a permanent location if your climate is cold enough to yield frost and even colder subfreezing temperatures. The cold kills the branches and they rot back once a thaw occurs.
The intensely fragrant, five-petaled flowers of the Hawaiian lei tree occur during the heat of spring to late summer. Also commonly called the frangipani (Plumeria rubra), Hawaiian lei tree is not native to the Pacific Islands but to the dry cliffs of Central America. The stiff but succulent trunk and branches of the small tree look like a massively branched animal antler, especially in winter when the plant drops its leaves. Hawaiian lei tree needs a location that is free from frost and freezes, a fast-draining soil, and at least 10 hours of direct sunlight daily to prosper. Grow it outdoors year-round in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 10 and warmer.
Dig into the soil in the location you wish to plant the Hawaiian lei tree with a shovel. Note the soil firmness, texture and weight. Make the hole about 12 inches wide and 12 inches deep.
Fill the small hole with water. Watch and note how long it takes the water to drain away. If the water isn't fully gone from the hole within five minutes, it is not a good place to plant the Hawaiian lei tree. The soil must be fast draining so the tree's roots never rot. Ideally look for a sandy soil or a location on a small hill that will have excellent water drainage.
Measure the size of the root ball of the tree in the nursery container. Dig the planting hole the same depth as the root ball, and two to three times as wide. The bottom of the planting hole needs to be level to provide solid support for the tree once planted.
Remove the Hawaiian lei tree from the container carefully to retain the soil and shape of the root ball. Place it into the planting hole.
Back fill the hole with soil, gently tamping it down with your hands to eliminate air pockets and provide support around the root ball. The trunk and branches of this tree are dense and heavy, so a sturdy soil around the newly planted tree will help keep it from leaning in wind.
Add enough soil to fill the planting hole until the soil line is even with the top of the root ball and the hole rim. Do not pile extra soil atop the root ball or against the trunk.
Water the soil in the planting area only if it is summertime, when daytime temperatures readily get above 80 degrees F. Do not water the newly planted Hawaiian lei tree if it's fall, winter or early spring when there are no leaves on the branch tips. A wet soil when temperatures are cool or the tree is dormant without leaves can lead to root rot.
Jacob J. Wright
Jacob J. Wright became a full-time writer in 2008, with articles appearing on various websites. He has worked professionally at gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Wright holds a graduate diploma in environmental horticulture from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware.