How to Plant, Grow and Care For Desert Rose Plants
Thinking of adding a desert rose to your garden, but aren't sure where to start? This flowering cacti is quite beautiful, and well known for its stunning pink blooms. In this article, gardening expert Paige Foley takes you through all you need to know about Adenium Obesum and their care.
The Desert Rose is classified as a succulent plant and isn’t actually from the rose family at all! They belong to the Apocynaceae family and the adenium genus. You’ll also see them referred to as Adenium Obesum, which is their botanical name. Other popular plants in the family are periwinkle, milkweed, and hoya. Native to arid regions of Africa, the Middle East, and Madagascar, they prefer drier conditions than other succulent plants.
They can be grown indoors or outdoors and are quite sensitive to frost. When grown indoors, they can get larger than other common houseplants. They have thick trunks, dark green foliage, and beautiful trumpet-shaped flowers.
Adenium Obesum is relatively low maintenance once they are established. Provide them with the right soil mixture, proper sunlight, water requirements, and they can live for years. Although they are easy to care for, occasionally they can develop problems. Many of these problems can be avoided when care is adjusted.
Caring for a desert rose doesn’t have to be difficult. Nailing down a few key details will help keep them happy and healthy. In this article, we are going to take an in-depth look into desert rose care, maintenance, and common problems. Let’s get started!
Adenium Obesum Plant Overview
Plant Type Succulent
Plant Spacing 10 ft +
Native Area Africa, Middle East, Madagascar
Sunlight exposure Full Sun
Plant Height 3-15 ft
Water requirements Medium
Plant Depth Soil Level
Hardiness Zone 11-12
Soil Type Sandy, well-draining
Pest Mealybugs, aphids, spider mites
Diseases Fungal Disease
About Desert Rose
The desert rose is a succulent that is best known for its beautiful blooms. They prefer warmer climates which makes them excellent houseplants and ornamentals in warmer regions.
They are commonly used as bonsai plants because they have thick trunks and lush foliage above. It produces thin, delicate leaves and trumpet-like flowers.
The desert rose can be grown outdoors in zones 11 and 12 but is more commonly grown indoors. In these warmer regions, the plant is frequently used as an ornamental plant. In the right climate, this succulent can get quite tall, even indoors. Despite the name, the desert rose isn’t a rose at all but a deciduous plant.
This flowering succulent plant goes by many names such as Impala Lily, Mock Azalea, Sabi Star, and Dwarf Bottle Tree. Adenium Obesum has a large gene pool with many variations and sub-species. It is the only Adenium variety specifically hybridized to produce different flower colors.
How to Grow
Taking care of Adenium Obesum is relatively simple and a great option for beginner bonsai growers. Much like other succulents, it needs proper sunlight and water management. In this section, we take a deeper look into the proper care requirements. Let’s dive in.
Desert rose requires more sunlight than most succulents and prefer a full-sun environment. Choose a location that receives at least 8 hours of sunlight per day. A south-facing window or sunroom is ideal. You can also place it near a west or east-facing window but may need to supplement it with grow lights.
If you choose to plant this succulent outdoors, choose a location that is shaded from the high-noon sun. Shade can come in the form of taller plants, structures, or shade cloth. The intense noon sun can scorch the leaves, causing brown or black patches to develop.
Providing too much shade can cause abnormal growth with weak leaves, laggy branches, and no flowers. If you want more productive blooms, you will need to meet their sunlight requirements. Sunlight stimulates bloom production, but blooms will decrease production in the hottest and rainiest months of the year.
Depending on the time of year and the temperatures, watering requirements will vary. During the late spring and summer, keep soils moist but never soggy. This is when the plant is actively growing and requires the most water. Soggy soils can let to rotting roots, which can kill the plant.
In the fall and winter months, watering can decrease drastically. In the wild, the plant naturally goes dormant during the colder months. During this time, water once a month or so. This will keep soils dry and avoid damaging the roots from excess water.
Check the trunk if you are concerned that your desert rose isn’t receiving enough water. The trunk should always be swollen and thick. If the trunk is thin and shriveled, this is a good sign that it’s time to water the plant. You can also check soils for moisture a few inches below the surface.
Just like the name says, desert rose prefers dry, desert-like soils. This simply means that they prefer well-draining soils that contain sand or gravel. A succulent or cactus soil is ideal as it has the proper additives for growing succulents and cacti successfully.
You can create your own potting soil by mixing sand or gravel into general-use potting soil. If planted into the ground, you can amend poor draining soils with sand or gravel before planting.
Test your soils before planting to ensure they drain water well. Adenium Obesum should be planted in soils that have a pH that is neutral to acidic in pH.
Soils should never become waterlogged as this can cause root rot to develop in succulents. It is very important to check your soils often, especially when you first acquire the plant.
Check to ensure water drains properly from the pot or ground. Any plants in grown in pots should have drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess water to leave.
Desert rose loves warmer temperatures at all times. If exposed to temperatures below 50 F, the plant can sustain extreme damage or death. They thrive best in temperatures between 65 to 90 F. You can place Adenium Obesum outdoors during the summer in cooler regions.
If you place them outdoors during the summer, you need to watch temperatures. Before temperatures drop too low, you will need to bring them indoors for the winter. Humidity isn’t an issue for these succulents. They are native to dry climates and can acclimate to normal indoor humidity levels.
Adenium Obesum requires little maintenance once they are established. Some light pruning and overwinter care are all they need. Providing these basic requirements will help keep your plant healthy and happy for many years.
Pruning is healthy for many plants, and the Adenium Obesum is no different. Begin by gathering and sterilizing your tools. Sharp scissors or shears that are cleaned with rubbing alcohol or bleach are best. Simply remove any dead or damaged branches or leaves.
You can also trim lanky stems to make the plant more symmetrical. Branches that rub or cross over others can be cut to improve appearance. You will want to cut above the leaf node or where the stem meets another stem.
Pruning wasn’t required in the winter months as the plant is not actively growing. In the spring, before placing the plant outdoors, it’s best to give it a quick trim.
Pruning is a great way to manage the size of your Adenium Obesum, as they can get quite large. Stick to a regular pruning schedule to help keep the plant healthy and at a manageable size.
Adenium Obesum is very sensitive to frost and cooler temperatures. Once temperatures drop below 50 F, the succulent will drop its leaves and go dormant. If you live in regions where temperatures drop below 50 F for prolonged periods, you will need to bring your desert rose indoors. In extreme cold, the succulent will die.
If you don’t want the plant to be kept as a houseplant, you can bring it indoors to a place that doesn’t freeze. This will allow the plant to go dormant without damaging or killing it.
A garage or basement that doesn’t freeze works well. Essentially, you can stop all care until the spring. The succulent can go months without sunlight and water.
Once temperatures begin to rise again in the spring, you can gradually introduce your plant to the outdoors. Be sure to watch temperatures as you might need to bring it indoors at night. It is best to reintroduce your Adenium Obesum to the outdoors slowly. Placing outside too quickly may cause the plant to go into shock.
Desert Roses aren’t extremely heavy feeders but do benefit from routine fertilizing. You can choose between a liquid fertilizer or a slow-release fertilizer.
Choose a fertilizer that is well-balanced from your local garden center or retail store. If you choose to use a liquid fertilizer, you can apply it once a month during the growing season.
Slow-release fertilizers can be applied about every three months or so, depending on the label directions. Do not fertilize in the winter when the plant is dormant.
When you are using liquid fertilizer, be sure to apply it to the soil surface. Liquid fertilizer can burn the leaves, causing extensive damage to the plant.
The primary reason for growing Adenium Obesum is for its beautiful blooms. The blooms will appear about 7 to 8 months after sowing. Getting your desert rose to bloom isn’t all that difficult. You will need to provide ideal growing conditions, as we talked about earlier in the article.
They typically begin to bloom in the early spring. Once temperatures become warmer, the plant will cease bloom production for 6 to 8 weeks.
The blooms will pick up again in the early autumn and again cease when temperatures become too low. If growing indoors, the bloom window can be much longer because temperatures are more consistent.
Proper sunlight and regular fertilizing can increase your bloom production. If you want more blooms, you will have to find a good balance of sunlight and fertilizer. Blooms should appear in the spring and summer months. If you have recently repotted, give it time to adjust. It may be putting energy into new roots instead of flowers.
You will not have to repot your Adenium Obesum often. There will only be a few situations where you may need to repot your desert rose. The top reason for repotting your succulent is if the roots begin to outgrow the container. If you notice roots growing through the drainage holes or a large mass of roots, this is a good indication to repot.
Root-bound plants aren’t always a bad thing. If you want the plant to remain smaller, you can leave it in its current container. The best time to repot is in late winter or early spring.
Choose a pot that is two or more inches larger than the current pot. Terracotta and ceramic pots are best for desert roses as they allow for proper airflow and drainage.
Before you repot, allow the soil in the current pot to dry completely. Remove the succulent from the current pot and shake the old soil from the plant.
Place into a new pot with fresh potting soil. Do not water for a week after repotting. After a week, you can water your desert rose as you normally would.
Adenium Obesum can be propagated by branch cutting or by seed. Branch cutting is the most popular form of propagation. The plant will take much quicker during propagation by branching cutting. No matter the propagation method, it is best to do so in the spring.
Start by gathering garden gloves, sterilized shears, rooting hormones, pots, and potting soil. Begin by putting gloves on to avoid the toxic sap from touching your skin. Using the clean shears, cut a 5 to 6-inch cutting from the tip of the branch.
Allow the cutting to cure for a day or two to form a callus on the cut end. Once a callus has formed, place the cut end into the rooting hormones. Root hormones will help encourage stronger growing roots. Place the cut end into the pots filled with potting mix and water thoroughly.
Water your cuttings daily to encourage proper root growth. Check your soils often to avoid problems from poor draining soils. The cuttings should take root in 2 to 6 weeks. Once the plant has established roots and you notice new growth, you can transplant it to a larger pot.
The best time to sow seeds is in the spring. Begin by gathering your pots and filling them with well-draining potting soil. If you desire, you can soak the seeds for a few hours before planting to rehydrate them. Place one seed every 2 inches into the pots. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of potting soil.
Once seeds are planted, water them thoroughly and palace them in a warmer location. You should water the seeds once the soils become dry or you can mist lightly. Never allow soils to become waterlogged as this can lead to growth problems. Seedlings should sprout in a week to 10 days. Once sprouted, move to a sunny location.
Adenium Obesum are disease and pest free for the most part. Like most houseplants, they can develop pests and diseases if provided with improper growing conditions.
The most common problem that affects the succulent is overwatering. Giving your plants the best growing conditions is key to keeping pests and diseases at bay.
Spots on Leaves
Spots on the leaves of your desert rose can arise from several different problems. The color of the spots will be a good indication of what the problem is. If you notice a blister-like spot that is powdery white, this is a sign of powdery mildew growing on the succulent.
Powdery mildew tends to spread during the night when temperatures are cool, and damp and days are warm. Allowing proper airflow around the succulent will help decrease the spread of the disease. You can prune stems and branches that have a large infestation of the disease to control its spread.
Another common problem is scorching from too intense sunlight. The scorched spots can appear brown, red, or black.
You will need to find a new location that has less intense sunlight or provide shade during the afternoon hours. The succulent will grow out of the spots once moved or provided shade.
This is a common sign of root rot. This disease develops when soils are poorly draining, or soils are overwatered. The disease is treatable if caught early enough.
Remove the succulent from its pot and begin cutting damaged roots from the succulent. Damaged roots will appear blackened and mushy.
Cut these damaged roots from the succulent with sterilized scissors or shears. It is important to clean the cutting tool between cuts to avoid spreading the disease further.
Once you have removed all damaged roots, fill your pot with fresh potting soil. You can apply a fungicide if you are concerned but it’s not necessary.
Specks on Lower Leaves
If you see discolored specks on the leaves of your plant, this is usually the sign of an insect problem. The most common sap-sucking insects are aphids or spider mites. You can usually find them on the underside of the leaves of your plant.
If you happen to identify either spider mites or aphids, you’ll want to isolate the plant from others nearby in your garden to prevent the infestation from transferring. Then treat the plant with your preferred method of pest control, preferably organic options.
There are a number of different methods to use, which usually start with a strong stream of water. You’ll most likely finish using a horticultural oil or insecticide.
There are a few different varieties of Desert Rose that you can grow, depending on your location. Let’s take a deeper look at some of the most popular varieties that you’ll come across.
Adenium obesum subsp. Somalense
Is a small succulent that has a trunk that is very swollen and twisted. It can grow up to 16 feet tall in ideal conditions. Don’t panic, they tend to stay much smaller when grown indoors.
The leaves are green and narrow with a white mid-rib. The flowers are trumpet-shaped and range in color from pink to red to white.
Adenium obesum subsp. Oleifolium
The most popular Adenium Obesum is the adenium obesum subsp. oleifolium. This succulent has long and narrow leaves that are crowned at the tips of the branches.
The flower has a trumpet shape and comes in pink, salmon, pale pink, and red. Like all desert roses, this variety can get quite large but typically doesn’t get taller than 3 or 5 feet when grown indoors.
Adenium obesum subsp. socotranum
The largest member of the desert rose family can reach upwards of 20 feet tall and 8 feet in diameter. This variety can be grown indoors but is more commonly grown outdoors because of its size.
They produce pink flowers that can get up to 5 inches in diameter. The flowers only appear in the spring for a few weeks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the desert rose a toxic plant?
Yes, this succulent is extremely toxic to cats, dogs, horses, and humans. It is best to keep the plant away from pets and children. All parts of the plant are toxic so when handling the succulent, it’s best to wear gloves to avoid the toxic sap.
How long will they live?
When provided the proper care desert roses can live for many, many years. They have been known to span centuries. But keep in mind if they are exposed to cold temperatures, their lifespan will be much shorter.
How fast will they grow?
Desert Roses are very slow-growing plants. They only grow about a foot per year or possibly less. Providing ideal growing conditions will ensure you get the most growth out of your plant each year. If something isn’t ideal, growth can be slower.
Desert roses are a unique succulent that can be used in outdoor landscapes, as a bonsai, or indoors as a houseplant. In their natural environment they can get quite tall. However, you can control the height by pruning and pot size.
Be cautious when growing around pets and small children as all parts of the plant are toxic. Provide Adenium Obesum with proper sunlight, soil, and water and they can live for many years.