Desert Rose

Adenium obesum

The star of the succulent garden is desert rose, a beauty of a plant which thrives in hot, dry sunny conditions.

mature desert rose in flower

As its name implies, this is a drought tolerant plant. You must have a well-drained spot for it - if not, planting in a container is your best bet.

In fact, this is one of the few plants on this site that sometimes does better in a pot - where you can control the drainage - than in the ground.

Perfectly happy to live in a large pot for years, the plant is easy to maintain and will flower nicely.

Blooms appear during warm months - and on and off all year if winter is mild.

Flower colors range from red to pink to white. For more flowers, cut off the tips of the branches once during warm months of the year. This encourages new growth and then flowers. 

The plant generally loses its leaves (or most of them) in winter. Even in summer, though, the plant is usually more stems and blooms than foliage - unless you've cut the branch tips to encourage fuller growth.

dark pink flowers

Slow growing desert rose can grow as much as 4 feet tall...but that takes quite a while.

And a light spring pruning for fullness, shape and more flowers will keep the overall size much smaller.

Each one is unique - forming a fleshy trunk with a fat base that holds up its "head" of branches. The look is that of a flowering bonsai.

Rather than tucking one into a full, lush garden bed, this plant should be allowed to shine on its own. Try to find a spot where it can work as a small specimen the entry walkway, for instance, or in the small planting area beside the garage.

The sap of these succulent plants contain toxins, so wear gloves when handling if you have sensitive skin.

deep red flowers

Plant specs

Full sun or as much as you can manage is best for this plant. It will grow even in part shade but has a tendency to get more leggy and not bloom as much.

This plant is a slow grower and needs the warmth of Zone 10 to survive. In Zone 9B you can use it as a container plant to be moved inside during cold weather.

No matter where you live, place it in a sheltered spot out of the way of strong winds. If stems become damaged by cold, cut them off so that their rotting process doesn't spread back into the rest of the plant.

Desert rose usually drops leaves in wintertime but may continue to produce a few flowers (as in the picture below) if the weather is somewhat mild.

Young plant with more flowers than leaves

The ultimate size is up to you. With yearly branch trimming for shape and to encourage new growth (and then flowers) you could keep a mature plant 3 feet tall and wide.

Plant care

No soil amendments are needed. Sandy soil is fine as long as the area has good drainage.

Trimming is optional - though a light spring pruning or pinching of stem tips will help create more branches and a fuller effect. Many of these plants have a wonderful shape without any help from their owners.

Regular irrigation is ideal, as long as there's enough time between waterings for the soil to dry out. With no irrigation available, water during dry spells.

Fertilize in spring, summer and autumn with a good granular fertilizer. You can supplement feedings with an application of liquid fertilizer, if you like, to promote heavier bloom.

deep red flower

Plant spacing

Place a desert rose at least 2 feet from nearby plants - more if you can.

Come in from a walk or driveway about 3 feet to allow for future growth and so that fallen blossoms don't make a mess on the pavement.

These are superb as container plants, and the container can even be added to an eclectic garden bed.

Landscape uses for desert rose

  • accent/specimen
  • container plant


COMPANION PLANT SUGGESTIONS: Nearby plants that are also drought tolerant might include crown of thorns, dwarf clusia, bulbine, ice plant and muhly grass.

Other plants you might like: Drift Rose, Crown of Thorns

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