Desert Rose Repotting – Learn When To Repot Desert Rose Plants

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When it comes to repotting my plants, I admit I’m a bit of a nervous nelly, always afraid of doing more harm than good by repotting it the wrong way or at the wrong time. And the thought of repotting desert rose plants (Adenium obesum) was no exception. The following questions kept circling over and over in my mind, “Should I repot my desert rose? How to repot a desert rose? When to repot desert rose?” I was one bewildered and anxious gardener. The answers, fortunately, came to me and I’d like to share my desert rose repotting tips with you. Read on to learn more.

Should I Repot My Desert Rose?

Repotting is par for the course for desert rose owners, so it’s safe to say that a repot is definitely in your future and, more than likely, many times over. Is your desert rose the size you desire it to be? If your answer is ‘no,’ then it is recommended that you repot it every year or two until it reaches your desired size, as overall growth is decelerated once the plant becomes pot bound.

Have the roots of your desert rose infiltrated through their container or has its thick swollen stem (caudex) overcrowded the container? If ‘yes,’ then that is definitely a good indicator that you should repot. Desert rose roots have been known to bust through through plastic pots and even split or crack clay or ceramic pots.

Desert rose repotting should also be done if you suspect it has root rot, which the plant is susceptible to.

When to Repot Desert Rose

The general rule of thumb is to repot desert rose during its period of active growth in the warm season – springtime, specifically, is most ideal. By doing so, the roots will have a full season of root growth ahead to expand and fill their new accommodations.

How to Repot a Desert Rose

Safety first! Wear gloves while handling this plant, as it exudes a sap that is considered poisonous! Seek out a container that is 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm.) wider in diameter than your previous one. Just be sure that the container chosen has good drainage to give the desert rose the dry roots it prefers.

Thick-walled, bowl-shaped containers are suggested since these style pots not only provide room for the roots to fan out but have a shallowness about them which allows soil to dry more quickly. You may use any type of pot such as clay, ceramic or plastic; however, clay pots may be a consideration, as they absorb excess moisture from the soil, reducing the potential for root rot.

Use a potting mix formulated for cacti or succulents or use regular potting soil mixed with equal parts perlite or sand to ensure the soil is well-draining. When repotting desert rose plants, make sure the soil is dry before gently removing the desert rose from its pot. The extraction may prove easier if you prop the container on its side and try wiggling the plant free with a firm hold on the base of the plant.

If the container is malleable, such as plastic, try gently squeezing the sides of the container as this will also help coax the plant free. Then, while holding the plant by its base, invest some time removing the old soil from around and in-between the roots. Prune away any unhealthy roots you uncover and treat the cuts with a fungicide.

Now it’s time to situate the plant in its new quarters. With a desert rose, the ultimate goal is to have an exposed engorged caudex above the soil line, as that is really the plant’s signature trademark. The caudex is a thick, swollen area of the stem near soil level.

The process to encourage an above ground bulbous caudex is referred to as “lifting.” However, it is not recommended to start lifting and exposing the caudex until your plant is at least 3 years old. If your plant is of the right age, then you will want to situate the plant so it sits an inch or two higher above the soil line than it did previously.

If you are exposing the caudex, please be aware that the newly exposed part is susceptible to sunburn, so you will want to gradually introduce the plant to direct sunlight over a several week timeframe. Get your plant into position in its new pot and then backfill it with soil, spreading out the roots as you go. Do not water the plant for a week or so after repotting to ensure that any damaged roots have had time to properly heal and then gradually resume your regular watering regimen.

How to Grow Desert Rose

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

The desert rose (Adenium obesum) is a slow-growing plant (gaining less than 12 inches per year) that boasts a thick, succulent stem and deep pink flowers. It belongs to the genera Apocynaceae, which is native to Africa, the Middle East, and Madagascar. The desert rose is the only Adenium found in wide cultivation, although it has been hybridized extensively to obtain different flower colors (like orange and striped).

In many tropical and warmer climates (USDA zones 11 and 12), it's a beloved ornamental outdoor plant, while in other parts of the country it adds color to the indoors. It's best planted in the spring and is deciduous in cooler winters, but can be kept in leaf if it receives warm enough temperatures and a bit of water. Overall, this varietal is fairly easy to care for and pays off big time with its blooming beauty.

Botanical name Adenium obesum
Common name Desert rose, Sabi star, mock azalea, impala lily
Plant type Succulent
Mature size 3–9 ft. tall, 3–5 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil type Sandy, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral to acidic
Bloom time Summer
Flower color Pink, red
Hardiness zones 11, 12 (USDA)
Native area Africa
Toxicity Toxic to animals and humans

What is a Desert Rose?

Desert rose is an attractive succulent. It is primarily grown for its deep pink flowers and thick succulent stem.

The only Ademium in wide cultivation, desert rose is a member of the Apocynaceae family. The plant originates in Madagascar, the Middle East and Africa. While it is the only Adenium in common cultivation, the range of hybrid varieties on offer means that you can also find different colored, striped and variegated varieties.

A slow growing plant, Adenium obseum rarely grows more than 12 inches a year. This makes it an easy plant to maintain because it rarely overgrows its position. If allowed to, the plants can reach a height of about 6 ft.

The distinctive caudex of the plant helps Adenium to stand out amongst other succulents.

It is the swollen trunk, or caudex, that sets desert rose apart from other tropical succulents. A fat trunk is a sign of a healthy plant. If your plant has a skinny trunk it requires more moisture.

Warning desert rose has a milky sap that contains lethal toxins. This means that all parts of the plant are considered toxic. Dogs and cats become sick just by licking the plant. Contact a vet or animal poison control immediately.

Keep your desert rose plant out of reach of children and pets. Always wear gloves when handling the plant, and wash your hands afterwards.

Should I repot my Desert Rose?

I got this Desert Rose about 2-3 months ago from the discount rack at Lowes for $3. I researched it and I think I am taking good care of it but I noticed roots growing out the bottom of the plastic container it came in. I know when repotting them you should take care not to damage the roots, so should i repot it now? I'm worried that if I wait the roots will grow out more and I'll have to rip or cut them loose. Any suggestions would be appreciated, I am new to this site and to houseplants!

Good morning. I can't give advice on whether to re-pot or not since I can't seem to keep Adenium's alive for very long but it does sound to me like your plant is in need of re-potting if the roots are growing out the bottom. The terra cotta/clay type pots might be better for the Desert Rose to keep the soil from staying too wet.

I see you are not a paid subscriber so you can't access the Caudiciform forum which is for paid subscribers only. I will post a note over there and see if one of the more knowledgeable folks will pop in over here and offer some advice.

Hopefully someone will be along soon and can give you advice about re-potting. The Adenium (Desert Rose) is an interesting plant and really gorgeous when in bloom!

Desert roses are not difficult to repot. It sounds like the tricky part will be to remove the plastic pot in which your plant is growing. Try to keep the root damage to a minimum.

Desert roses can be prone to rotting if they are potted in too dense a medium, which would hold moisture for too long. I use two parts potting soil and 1 part sand. It works for me.

May I suggest you repot your DR in a clay pot? Unlike plastic pots, they breathe, reducing the chance of your plant rotting. Also, an important detail here: I make sure the pot does not sit in a saucer, or rests in a puddle. I even raise the pot off the ground by placing 3 small pieces of ceramic tiles under the bottom of the pot, to make sure water drains out of the pot completely.

My desert roses get a dose of MiracleGro every month, with a treat of orchid bloom booster fertilizer when I some left over. I guess you could say my DR are gross feeders, but they bloom almost year-round.

I agree with the clay pot idea. I have my plants (all my succulents and houseplants) in the gritty mix you see below. It provides an environment extremely conducive to good root growth/health/metabolism. With the roots being the heart of the plant, your soil choice is probably the most important decision affecting your ability to provide the best opportunity for your plants to grow as near as possible to their genetic potential, within the limits of other potentially limiting factors.

My favorite fertilizer is Foliage-Pro 9-3-6, because it supplies nutrients in the average ratio that plants use (3:1:2). It also supplies all 12 essential elements, including Ca and Mg (lacking in Miracle-Gro) and it supplies them in a ratio that is nutrient to nutrient favorable. This allows you to fertilize at the lowest rates possible w/o incurring nutritional deficiencies. Used in conjunction with a very fast draining soil, the combination is very hard to beat.

Now is a good time to repot. It's spring and your plant is in leaf. Use cactus soil or add a good helping of 30% pumice/perlite to regular potting soil. The important thing there is good drainage. The type of pot does not really matter, but remember that a plant in a regular pot requires less frequent watering than a clay pot because it does not dry out through the walls of the container. Conversely, a plant in a clay pot will be more tolerant of overwatering.

It's really not a big deal to leave the plant a little rootbound in the container for a while, so there's no urgency about this. The plant just slows down and grows fatter when it's underpotted. Don't put the plant in too big a container when you repot. better to repot again down the road when necessary. No need to fertilize. Just use decent soil and repot every year or so. If you choose to fertilize, I recommend that you dilute to 25% strength and only add during periods of active growth. I grow my plants outside with strong sun and different conditions may require different treatment.

This is a question for tapla. This is off topic, but I am very curious as to why Foliage-Pro lists the parts as 9-3-6 and not 3-1-2. I know what each number represents, but is there a reason they don't simplify to the lowest numbers since I think that's easier to understand?

The numbers on the fertilizer packages represent the percentage by weight, of NPK in that particular product (almost - I'll come back to that in a sec), but the %s are actually much less important than the ratio. 24-8-16, 12-4-8, and 9-3-6 are all examples of fertilizers that have the same ratio, 3:1:2. Notice I write the ratio using colons and the %s using dashes. 24-8-16 has 24% nitrogen and 12-4-8 has half that, as well as half the P and K of 24-8-16, yet these two fertilizers are exactly interchangeable by doubling the dose of 12-4-8 or halving the dose of 24-8-16.

The reason ratio is an important consideration is, all plants use the same nutrients in almost the same ratio. There is very little variance in the ratio in which plants use nutrients from species to species or genus to genus some plants just use MORE nutrients than others.

I said that the NPK #s listed on the package almost show the % of NPK because they're quite far from accurate. That's only important when I connect it to what comes next. P is reported as the % of P2O5 (phosphorous pentoxide) and K is reported as the % of K2O (potassium oxide). To get the ACTUAL amount of P in the fertilizer, you have to multiply the % of P by .43, and for K, the factor is .83. The connection occurs when we consider that the average usage of NPK for all plants is actually about 10:1.5:7. After all the factoring and dividing is done, we come up with the fact that 3:1:2 ratio fertilizers supply NPK in almost exactly the same ratio as the average that all plants use.

Bloombooster fertilizers supply far, far more P than containerized plants could EVER hope to use in relation to N. Even 1:1:1 ratio fertilizers like 20-20-20 are high P fertilizers because based on N usage (and almost ALL fertilizer regimens are decided as a function of N) a fertilizer only needs .17 part of P for every part of N. 1:1:1 ratio fertilizers actually supply .43 parts, or about 2.5 times more P than the plant will/can use for normal growth. You can't MAKE a plant take up more P than it wants/needs, and excess P in the soil is not a benefit rather, the excess is a limiting factor and plays all sorts of unwanted tricks on soil chemistry.

Anyway - If I suggest a 3:1:2 RATIO fertilizer, you have lots of options, but if I suggest 24-8-16, you're limited. If I suggest 9-3-6, you're more limited still, because I think Dyna-Gro is the only entity that manufactures fertilizer in those %s. I've posted hundreds of pictures of my plants here & @ other forum sites, and you would be hard pressed to find anything but perfect foliage/or/blooms on any of them. I use the 9-3-6 on everything I grow, from the most valuable bonsai to the tiny little stuff I just have fun with (see pic).

Sorry to go so deep into the answer. I know all the numbers make it look technical, but it's actually a pretty easy concept to understand if you think about it a little. Thanks for asking. o)

This message was edited Mar 15, 2011 4:33 PM

Ahhhhh, I thought that was it! Just kidding. I have read your reply several times and think I have a pretty good idea of what you are saying. I've wanted to know the answer to that for a long time and your post today made me think of it. It's not easy to get answers on those kinds of plant-related questions. Information on the internet really only explains the contents of the fertilizers and not the true meaning of the ratios. Thanks for taking the time to fill me in.

I love the succulent planted in the acorn cap! I thought it was a large plant until I realized it is in the palm of your hand. Charming! Is that an elephant plant?

This message was edited Mar 15, 2011 4:42 PM

Yes - it's Portulacaria afra, aka Spekboom (literal > "fat pork tree"), Elephant's Food, Elephant Bush, Elephant Grass, Elephant Plant, Olifantskos, Purslane Tree, Dwarf or Tiny Leaf Jade, Baby Jade, Mini-Jade . lol - see why common names can be confusing?

Thank you so much everyone! Your advice helps a lot :)

Since I saw the picture of the jade, I have a plant I've had for about three years. I grew it from a small snipit of my mothers' plant, which was in our family for 25 years. I'm fighting now to keep it alive. I had it in a pot too big but all else seemed fine for it. Leaves have thinned and softened slightly. Any suggestions on that?

tapla, nice dissertation on fertilizer. Always something to learn.
I am wondering about the acorn cap you using for the mini planting. Is it an extra large one? I would love to find some really big acorns but don't know the name of the species. Do you have any info about that?

Curious - it's often repeated that you should only step up in pot size gradually or that you need to be careful of over-potting. That's all well & good, and applies when you're using soils that have peat/coir/compost or other fine ingredients as their base. When using soils like in the picture above, soils comprised primarily of larger particulates and that don't hold perched water, you needn't worry either about over-watering (within reason) OR over-potting. It is the layer of saturated soil at the bottom of the pot that occurs after watering copiously that causes the anaerobic conditions that promote rot and that everyone feels compelled to warn or guard against. That concern is greatly diminished in bark-based soils and a non-issue in soils like I pictured.

Is your plant a portulacaria afra, or a true jade (C. ovata)?

HC- Thank you for the kind words. I appreciate it. The cap is from a white oak (Quercus alba) acorn I picked up, but there are larger acorns - bur oak & coast live oak have much larger fruits. I'm always trying to challenge myself, so I figured 'Why not try it?'. I've done this from time to time to display as a companion plant when exhibiting various bonsai specimens. It always got a lot of attention cuz it's 'So Cute". -) It will grow about 1 year to 18 months in the cap before it outgrows it and the cap disintegrates. I've also grown mosses, pearlwort, and, thyme in the caps & in other very tiny containers not a lot larger than a thimble. . keeps me off the streets & out of the bars. -)

And staying off the streets and out of the bars is good for your health. I have known for years my plants keep me off the streets. At least thats what I tell people.
I like your idea of tiny little plants in tiny pots. Creative.

This is my first post on Dave's Garden, and it seems like there's some very cool people here! I love Desert Roses (hence my username here :)

I heard that when you re-pot these plants, not to change the pot size to a size that is too much bigger than the original. The caudex gets fatters when the plant is largely pot-bound. For other plants, pruning (clipping the tips fo new growth) and keeping it potbound. I stuck to the pot-bound advice for my Desert Roses, and follow both instructions for my Operculicarya decaryi (and this plant is getting a thicker woodier stem now, and I've only had it for about 3-4 months).

Hi fatcaudex,
I want to say WELCOME to Dave's Garden. Your desert rose plants look wonderful!

Maybe you can help me with a question I have about mine. I have had this desert rose for about 4 years and it has never bloomed but always put out leaves and lost them according to what the weather is doing (of course I keep it in the house during cold weather.)

I over watered it and it got root rot this last winter. So I took it out of the soil and let it callous over. Now it is trying to put out leaves (got little buds) but I don't know what to do since it has no roots. Do I trim off the old dead part or leave it on ? Do I keep it laying horizontally or stand it up in some potting medium? ( I know I need to repot it soon but do not know the right way to do it.
Thank you for any suggestions.

I forgot that I was active on this thread and haven't been following it too closely, but if FC is still around, I'd like to say that people who parrot the old 'you should only pot up one size' advice haven't yet learned that appropriate pot size isn't determined by how large the last pot was, or even by the size of the plant material it's determined by the soil.

If you scroll up to my post of March 15, you'll see a picture of a soil that would literally allow you to grow any of the plants you pictured in a 55 gallon drum full of soil. If you tried that with a peat-based soil, it would be a death sentence, but when using a soil that is made of particles too large to support perched water, there are no upper limits to pot size because the entire soil mass remains well aerated and absent of perched water, which is the cultural condition that allows the fungaluglies that cause root rot to get a toe hold.

Plants grow best when roots have room to run and don't have to compete with each other for space. Growth and vitality begins to be negatively affected at about the point where the root/soil mass can be lifted from the pot intact. Being able to pot in large pots when you want the plant to add mass is a very large advantage, because small pots are limiting.

The advice so often given to pot in small pots and keep roots tight is appropriate for certain plants that don't like wet feet for only two reasons. The first is, the smaller soil volumes hold less water, so air returns to the entire soil mass faster. However, this advice ASSUMES that you'll be using a peat-based, water-retentive soil, and is given to protect you from yourself. The advice is totally inappropriate if you have as a goal a speedy increase in plant mass and are using a soil like that I referred you to above . UNLESS, the plant is as large as you want it to be and you want to increase the number of blooms. Tight roots are stressful to all plants, and the stress has the tendency to increase the number of blooms. If I might wax anthropomorphic for a moment: The plant feels threatened by the stress, so concentrates it's energy on reproducing to ensure that it's genes are passed along. This actually taxes the plant and lowers it's energy reserves and reduces it's metabolic rate and the by-products of that metabolism it uses in its own defense against disease and even insect predation. IOW, it weakens the plant, reduces vitality, and slows growth.

LP - I would trim off the dead parts and dust fresh cuts with powdered sulfur as a fungicide. Allow it to callous for a week or so, then plant. Mist the soil surface lightly until you see signs of new growth, then water.

Soil choice/composition is a very important consideration and often determines whether your job will be easy or if you will be fighting the medium for the life of the planting. If you can lose the idea that container soils need to be rich and black to be productive, and replace it with the idea that they only need to be well aerated and hold no (or very little) perched water (especially for plants in shallow pots and those that don't tolerate wet feet), you'll probably take a giant step forward in the ease with which you can consistently produce healthy attractive plants.

I'm not being cocky or over-confident when I say that. I've been around Dave's and GW for a good number of years, and can link you to threads I've written about the importance of media choices that illustrate through the participation of (literally) thousands of others that not only does what I'm saying make sound scientific sense, it works extremely well in practical application.

Watch the video: Desert Rose. Care Tips, Soil, Repot with me!

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