Growing Adeniums: Desert Rose Care

Desert rose blooms

Few flowers are as hot-blooded as the hearty and flamboyant Desert Rose (Adenium obesum). This strikingly beautiful African native initially resembles a bonsai, thanks to its thick, bulbous trunk called a caudex, from which slender, upward-reaching branches extend, boasting shiny green leaves and a show of bright trumpet-shaped blossoms in clusters, usually pink, red, magenta, purple or white in color.

The desert rose is a relative of the oleander and hails from arid, hot regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Madagascar, where this elegant flowering succulent can grow to about 6 feet in height. In northern regions, given enough heat and sunlight, the plant blooms heartily in spring and autumn, while in naturally hot climates it may bloom throughout most of the year. The desert rose belongs to the genera Apocynaceae, and thrives best outdoors in U.S. zones 10 to 12 where heat and sunlight are plentiful, but may be grown anywhere as a houseplant.

An important consideration when growing this plant, particularly if you will be growing it indoors is the fact that the trunk, branches, and flower stems release a sticky, highly toxic sap. In fact, this sap is so poisonous that in regions where Adenium obesum grows natively, local hunters use the sap to poison the tips of their arrows. Always wash your hands after handling your desert rose, and keep curious children and pets away from it.

Growing the Desert Rose Outdoors

The most important thing to keep in mind about growing Adeniums outdoors is the fact that these plants are natural sun-worshippers, thriving on hours of heat and sunlight. The plants are naturally drought-resistant and can survive weeks without regular watering, although they do require regular watering to produce and maintain blooms. 

When growing the desert rose outdoors in the North, it may be worthwhile to keep the plants in pots that can be brought indoors during cooler seasons to protect against the cold and frost, as well as to avoid icy and damp soil conditions in winter. The desert rose, though hearty and robust, may become moody and delicate when lacking its desired sunlight, and must be protected from temperatures below 65°F in order to keep it from losing its leaves.

While this showy succulent is normally an evergreen when grown in its naturally hot and sunny habitat, abrupt drops in temperature and other undue environmental stress may cause the plant to become deciduous: leaves begin to turn yellow and fall off. 

Growing the Desert Rose in a Pot

Avoid rich, dark commercial soil mixes, as these retain too much moisture and tend to increase the risk of root rot in succulents; instead, choose a soil medium specifically formulated for succulents such as our Imperial Cactus and Succulent Mix. Again, drainage is key to the health of these drought-resistant plants that cannot tolerate accumulation of water around the roots. The proper soil mix with ingredients such as coir and sand create the perfect grainy and loose texture that provides adequate drainage for these plants.

It is best to plant the desert rose in a pot that will allow for gradual expansion of the bulbous caudex, but not leave too much empty space around it. For example, if your plant came in a 4 inch pot, transfer it to a 6 inch pot. Do not cover the caudex when planting, as the precious roots that grow from it require heat and sunlight to nourish the plant. Make sure to use a pot that allows for maximum drainage. If you’re looking for the ideal pot for your Adenium, chances are we carry it in plastic or ceramic   where we provide an assortment of decorative pots designed for maximum drainage.

The ideal potting mix for a desert rose is a course soil mix that provides excellent drainage. A well-drained succulent or cactus mix, such as our Cactus and Succulent Classic Imperial Potting Mix


Repot your desert rose whenever the caudex starts to look like it’s feeling cramped in its pot, ideally during spring or summer. The desert rose is a slow grower that probably will not require frequent repotting. When repotting a succulent, make sure the soil is dry, then gently remove the plant from its pot, and brush away any soil from the roots, removing dead roots in the process. Position the plant in the center of its new pot and begin filling it with soil, spreading the roots out as you add more soil. To reduce the risk of root rot, water only very lightly and leave the soil to dry for about a week, then water lightly again and allow the soil to dry between each watering.

Watering and Fertilizing the Desert Rose

One common mistake to avoid when cultivating the desert rose is overwatering. The plant does best when the soil is allowed to fully dry between watering. It is best to water more frequently in summer and spring, when the plant is usually blooming and exposed to more hours of sun, and reduce watering in fall and winter, to compensate for cooler temperatures and a reduction in sun exposure. 

The best fertilizer for the slow-growing desert rose is usually a balanced, high-nitrogen solution. Even if you live in a hot climate with no winter to speak of, and your desert rose plants are able to keep their leaves all year round, the winter months should be treated as a period of dormancy, and it is best not to fertilize or repot the desert rose during this period. The best time of the year to fertilize your desert rose plants is during spring and summer, when the plant is vivaciously sprouting new leaves and flowers. After repotting, wait a couple of weeks before adding fertilizer to your newly repotted plants. 

The desert rose, when happy with its growing conditions, is a vigorous bloomer that will provide you with years of joy and satisfaction thanks to its lengthy blooming season and its delightful clusters of bright, vivacious flowers. The plant also recovers quickly from periods of neglect, and gracefully survives drought and pests, as long as it has access to its beloved sunlight.

GeneraAbbreviationBloom Times
Brassavola[B.]Fall - Winter
Cattleya[C.]Spring / Fall
Catasetum[Ctsm.]Summer - Fall
Cymbidium[Cym.]Fall - Winter
Dendrobium[Den.]Fall - Winter
Doritaenopsis[Dtps.]Spring - Summer
Epidendrum[Epi.]Fall - Spring
Encyclia[Enc.]Winter - Spring
Oncidium[Onc.]Fall - Winter
Paphiopedilum[Paph.]Winter - Spring
Phalaenopsis[Phal.]Fall - Spring
Phragmipedium[Phrag.]Fall - Spring
Psychopsis[Psychp.]Fall - Spring
Sophronitis[Soph.]Fall - Spring
Stanhopea[Stan.]Summer - Fall
Vanda[V.]Spring - Fall

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