Origin: Africa, Arabia
Flowers: Pink and white, red
Location: Indoors (lots of natural light) and outdoors (semi-shade, with relief from the sun during the afternoon)
Minimum temperature: 5° C
The Desert Rose makes a perfect Australian bonsai: it adapts well to a pot, thrives in hot and arid conditions, and boasts some of the most coveted flowers in the gardening world. It’s no wonder that this plant has skyrocketed in popularity with Aussie plant lovers!
Resembling a boab tree, the Desert Rose is a succulent with a thick trunk for storing water and gorgeous flowers that can come in a range of beautiful and unusual hues.
NOTE: Desert Rose sap is poisonous. Though it mainly just irritates the skin, symptoms include low body temperature, stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, sores on the mouth or throat, weakness, tremors and seizures. Wear gloves while handling your plant; if you do come into contact with the sap, make sure that you wash your skin immediately. Keep away from small children and pets.
Caring for a Desert Rose
When in warm climates, the Desert Rose is a hardy outdoor bonsai that can last year-round in the hot Aussie sun. Though it does well in full sun, it prefers morning sun and afternoon shade — not to mention the fact that its leaves can be scorched from midday onwards—so it is best to place your plant in a spot where it is sheltered during these times.
In more temperate climates, however, your plant may need to be brought indoors during the autumn and winter months to maintain optimal health. It can survive the cold, but will not flourish in these conditions.
The bonsai also does great indoors, provided you place it in a room where it can soak up lots of natural sunlight. As its name might suggest, the Desert Rose is accustomed to dry, arid areas, so keep this in mind when finding your bonsai a home.
Depending on the time of year and the weather conditions, your bonsai may have different watering needs. The Desert Rose has a special water storage system, where its distinct trunk expands to retain water for times of drought. This means that it may need less water than most of your other plants.
In general, you should water every seven to ten days. During the growing season, you will want to keep the soil moist (but not saturated) and wait for it to dry completely before watering again. During winter, however, you may only need to water once a month.
This plant hates having wet feet and will not do well if its roots are submerged in water. It prefers drier soil, closer to its native environment, meaning a pot and soil mix optimised for draining are essential. Make sure there are enough holes in the bottom of the container to allow water to pass through, along with some stones inside to help filter.
Over time, you will get a better feel for how much water your Desert Rose needs to thrive.
The Desert Rose may require a little pick-me-up during the growing season, meaning it is best to feed your plant during the spring or summer. Try using a long-term controlled-release fertiliser, or a liquid fertiliser at half the recommended strength once a month.
The Desert Rose thrives with a little light pruning. Every few months, trim the tips for better growth. Pay attention to where the flowers are growing from and make sure that you don’t cut past these points before they start to bud.
The Desert Rose will typically drop its leaves in the winter, depending on the climate. If your bonsai is kept in a place (indoors or outdoors) with sufficient warmth and sun, it may keep its greenery year-round.
This bonsai responds well to careful wiring. As the branches will thicken, make sure that you do not wrap the wire too tight as this will restrict growth and damage the tree, leaving marks.
The Desert Rose needs to be repotted every two or three years during the springtime; every time, the plant should sit higher to encourage the roots to grow down further and the trunk to thicken.
Make sure the soil is completely dry before removing the plant from its old pot. At this point, it is time to prune the roots. Trim so that the base of the caudex is above the rim of the pot and the roots can fit neatly inside.
Place the plant somewhere sheltered for the first few weeks to recover from the shock of the transplant. For the first week, you should also avoid watering to let the roots dry out and to prevent rot.
The Desert Rose is easy to propagate during the warmer months of the year. Though cuttings can be used, seeds are usually the best way to go.
Seed pods are filled with fluffy seeds (like dandelions) and come in pairs. Separate these and place all together in a well-draining soil mixture. After a month, you can then take the seedlings and place them in their own individual pots.
It is important to note that these will not always mimic their parent plant in terms of flower colour or shape. If you want an identical adult flowering plant fast, grafting a branch with the colour of flowers you wish to replicate onto rootstock is the safest bet.
If well cared for, the Desert Rose is strong enough to withstand pretty much anything nature can throw at it, including most diseases and pests.
Root rot is probably the most pressing risk, as the Desert Rose is a bit finicky when it comes to watering. As long as you have good drainage in place and can find a good balance between too much water and not enough, you’ll be set.
Some other things to look out for, just in case: aphids or mealybugs. If needed, use a white oil or another pesticide to get rid of these unwanted guests.
Want more tips for growing your Desert Rose? Get in touch with us today!