Like most succulents, desert rose plants don’t require a lot of maintenance – well, as long as you’re already providing them with the right growing conditions. Even though they’re toxic to pets and humans like many other plants, gardeners of all skill levels love to enjoy their vibrant blooms.
Desert roses are (obviously) native to desert environments, so they clearly prefer warm, dry conditions. They can be planted indoors or outdoors, and while they flower every year, you shouldn’t expect too much growth – about 12 inches each year at most. Mature desert rose plants can reach up to nine feet in height, but this is pretty rare. Even so, you can expect a mature plant to reach at least three feet.
Tip #1: Give it the correct amount of water
How much water a desert rose plant needs will depend on the season. Since it’s used to drastic seasonal variations where rainfall is concerned, gardeners should mimic these patterns with their watering schedules. During the late spring and summer, the soil should be kept moist – but not saturated. The soil should be regularly monitored, and you should never water a desert rose plant before the soil has fully dried out. Too much water is a bigger problem than too little water, and with this in mind, you should put your desert rose plant in a pot with plenty of drainage holes. You could even choose a terra cotta or clay pot, which will serve to wick away extra moisture.
During the autumn and winter months, the plant will want to enter its dormant period; it’ll need even less water at this stage. You’ll only need to water about once a month, if that. This may seem like too little, but resist the urge to water the plant; this is definitely one that you can kill with kindness! If you’re worried that the plant isn’t getting enough water, simply look at the trunk. As a succulent, desert roses should look plump and thick; if they get dehydrated, they’ll start shrinking a bit, and the leaves will become limp.
This is actually one of the most important things to get right with a desert rose plant – as it is with many others. Whether you’re taking care of a succulent, a hibiscus tree, or a calla lily, the best thing you can do for them is give them the right amount of water, at the right time. Get this down, and you’re headed in the right direction.
Tip #2: Get the humidity and temperature right
Just like with water, desert roses are used to pretty distinct patterns of humidity and temperature. Their environment should ideally be pretty dry, but they can also handle a certain amount of humidity. Temperatures should stay between 65 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with the absolute minimum being around 50 degrees. If the plant stays at 50 degrees or below for an extended length of time, it’ll die fairly quickly. This being the case, frost is something you should absolutely avoid if you want your desert rose plant to stick around. If you’re in a warm climate, you can plant a desert rose in a flowerbed. If not, a pot would be a much better idea; this will allow you to move it indoors during colder periods.
Tip #3: Fertilize the plant for more flowers
Desert rose plants should flower under normal conditions, but if you give them additional nutrients with fertilizer, they might decide to produce even more blooms. Liquid fertilizer is best, diluted to 50% potency, given once per month during the active growth period.
Tip #4: Prune your desert rose for a healthier plant
Pruning can be a highly technical practice, but you don’t have to get it down to an exact science. You could simply be trimming off damaged stems, removing bits here and there for a more symmetrical plant, or cutting away branches that are rubbing against each other. Make sure your tools are sterilized before making any cuts, and re-sterilize them between pruning each plant. It’s up to you which stems to prune, but you should always cut where a stem joins another stem, or right above a leaf node.
Tip #5: Propagate additional plants
As long as you have one healthy desert rose plant, there’s the potential to have countless more – all you have to do is propagate them! You can start with seeds or with stem cuttings. The seeds will give you that classic bulbous trunk, but the stem cuttings can be grown from a plant you already have.
Tip #6: Allow the plant to go dormant each winter
You should make sure to simulate a mild desert winter for your desert rose plant each year; this is essential to maintain its annual growth cycle. This involves slowing the watering schedule down to about once per month, keeping it away from light sources, and essentially ignoring it until the arrival of spring.
Tip #7: Look out for symptoms of root rot
If a desert rose’s leaves start turning yellow and falling off, the plant might be suffering from root rot. This is caused by fungus growth, which is often a result of chronic overwatering. The damaged roots will have to be removed, and the plant should be re-potted in clean soil after a fungicide has been applied.
Tip #8: Re-pot the plant for continued growth
Desert roses can keep growing for quite a long time; for many of them, the main limitation to growth is the size of the pot they’re in. If you want your plant to keep growing, you’ll probably have to re-pot it more than once as its root system outgrows the provided space. Early spring is the best time to re-pot, as this is when the plant is starting its new growth cycle.
Desert roses are far from being high-maintenance plants, but you still have to make sure that certain growing conditions are met if you want to see continued growth, healthy leaves, and of course, beautiful flowers every single year.