Hard Pruning an Australian Frangipani

When we moved into our brand new home back in 2010, my brother and his partner at the time gave us a house warming present for the garden; a native Frangipani tree (Hymenosporum flavum).

Back in 2010 I had no idea what type of garden we were going to create. I don’t even think I was considering of a native garden back then, let alone a habitat garden, so we were not sure where to correctly plant the tree.

After doing some research I discovered the tree can grow quite tall – up to 15 meters – and I felt that something that high would have a large root system. So we put the tree in a half wine barrel in hopes the limited space for roots would curb the height.

Fast forward to July last year and the tree was doing somewhat well, but not in the best position in the garden. When we received the design for our backyard, Betsy-Sue advised us the Frangipani should be moved from the pot into the ground, in the back corner of the yard.

Betsy-Sue and I agreed that the Frangipani may not survive the move, but we would give it ago and if worst came to worst, we could always plant another one (or something else).

So one weekend in August my man and I dug a big hole in the back corner of the yard and successfully got the Frangipani out of the barrel in one piece and into the ground. A nice aside is that we didn’t have to break the barrel, so we’ve been able to re-use the barrel for another plant in the garden.

We gave the tree a good watering as soon as it was in the ground, gave it a feed of Seasol and fertiliser, and made sure to water the plant every day for a few weeks. After the first week in the ground the leaves started dropping, which we expected to happen. But we didn’t see any change for a few months and we started to think the move hadn’t gone well. But we persisted with watering the tree just in case our luck turned around.

And it did!

Once Spring was well and truly upon us, I was looking at the tree one weekend and spotted new growth on the top branches. The tree had survived the move! The downside was the canopy was high on the trunk and was not as bushy as we wanted; it was not going to offer us any privacy from the neighbours. So I began researching if the tree could be pruned back in order to rejuvenate the tree and develop a new canopy that was lower and bushier.

The back of the plant tag states that “old plants can be rejuvenated by heavy pruning into old wood”, so the basis for doing a hard prune was there. But where in the old growth could I prune it back to?

There was plenty of basic information on the internet on the Frangipani and how to grow it, but next to no information on how to do this advertised hard prune. Most sites just quoted the plant tag word-for-word, which didn’t help.

I stumbled onto the Houzz forum where a few people asked what was the best way to prune the Frangipani. Most replies suggested to prune back to just above a major node in the trunk, and not to prune all the way to the ground (leave a meter). The Frangipani should then spurt into life and start growing again.

It still didn’t provide me with exact directions on what to do, but I thought I’ll just prune the trunk back to about 1.5 meters above the ground and see what happens. I really didn’t have much to lose and the tree had made it this far. I decided to trust that it would work.

In November I did the prune. I got my trusty saw and made a diagonal cut into the trunk to remove the canopy above. Using a diagonal cut will make sure the rain falls off the open cut and does not sit on top of it and cause the trunk to rot.

So my one tip is to make sure you don’t do a horizontal cut into the wood!

Two months later, I began to see the trunk start to burst into life. A few very tiny buds appeared just below where I had made the cut. Over the next two months, the buds have grown to where there are now distinct branch shoots that will develop into branches.

I’m really surprised at how hardy and forgiving the Australian Frangipani tree has been in this process. Just when we thought it was done, it would surprise us with a flourish of growth. The process has given me more confidence as a novice gardener in that giving a plant a hard prune is not a scary process. The plant won’t die; it will bounce back pretty quickly and reward you with some fresh new growth.

I also have dwarf forms of the Frangipani that I cut back as well, and they too have sprung back with new shoots. It’s good to know it wasn’t a fluke!

I hope this article helps you with your decision to prune back your Australian Frangipani. You will be ok, just make sure you give it some love after the prune and you will see some new buds before too long!