Desert rose is a hardy house plant that blooms

June 4, 2014
The leathery leaves and five petaled flowers contrast nicely with the thick swollen trunk.

Oops. It happens to all of us, just as we think a plant is doing well it seems to just wither and die. The word “oops” has only been with us since the 20th century. Before that, apparently we just cursed.

There is a plant that is almost oops proof - one that needs little water and less attention and as a bonus even blooms. The leathery leaves and five petaled flowers contrast nicely with the thick swollen trunk The Desert Rose ( Adenium obesum) hails from the Arabian peninsula, which explains the “Aden” in its name.

This succulent plant often grows a thick stem or caudex much like the pony tail palm. Unlike many succulents, the desert rose blooms with eye-catching flowers in white, pink, red and even stripes. Because it is used to hot, dry climates it does best as a potted plant. It is hardy only in USDA zones 10 and 11.

Give your Desert Rose full sun throughout the day. If it is too shady your plants will grow tall and spindly and not bloom.

Try to keep a temperature of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day with somewhat cooler 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the night.

Only water the plants when the top inch of soil is dry to the touch. Water thoroughly until water seeps out of the bottom of the pot. Once a week should do it. Growing desert rose in clay pots will let the soil dry out better. Never let water accumulate under the pot.

During the winter when the plant slows down, cut back your watering to just once a month. This will make the desert rose go dormant, a process that helps it burst into bloom later on.

One of the dangers of watering too much can be root rot. While the stem is naturally soft you may notice spots of rot. Untreated this can spread and kill the plant. Cut back on watering and if need be, cut out the rotted area. Use a sharp, clean knife sterilized with a mix of water and chlorine bleach. The cut area will callous over and heal by itself within a few weeks.

While the plant is growing during spring and summer you can feed it a good cactus type fertilizer or use an all purpose houseplant fertilizer once a month.

Stop all fertilizer by late summer and do not fertilize again till the following spring.

If your desert rose plant gets tall or leggy you can prune it back in early spring before the growing season begins. Pruning young plants will help them develop side branches and make for a bushier thicker plant.

These easy to grow plants make outstanding Bonsai specimens. . As they age the stems thicken to resemble giant ancient tree trunks. Desert rose plants are widely available at local nurseries. It is an easy to care for houseplant that does double duty as a nice patio plant in the summer. Best of all you can go on vacation and forget about it. If something tragic does happen, such as a fall from the windowsill, you can even take cuttings to grow new desert rose plants. Just let the cuttings callous over. Plant them in cactus soil and you will have more fool-proof plants. Oops never looked so good.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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