desert rose bonsai

Desert Rose (Adenium Obesum) Bonsai: How to Plant Grow and Care

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Even if you don’t live in a tropical climate, it’s possible to bring all the beauty of the tropics into your home at any time of the year. 

Desert rose bonsai, or Adenium obesum, is a small succulent tree native to Africa and Arabia. Left to its own devices, it can grow up to five feet tall but grown in a small container, it’s the perfect bonsai specimen. 

bonsai boy

This plant is remarkably easy to grow and requires minimal care. Here’s what you need to know. 

Interesting Facts About Desert Rose Tree

desert rose succulent

Height: 5-7 feet

Width: 10”

Sunlight: Full sun

Flowering Time Length: Year-round when grown in full sun 

Lifespan: 30+ years (grows slowly)

Scientific name: Adenium obesum

Common names: Sabi star, impala lily, kudu, and mock azalea

How Many Types of Adenium Obesum Are There?

There is really only one type of desert rose bonsai, but people often think there’s more than one. Why the confusion? Desert rose bonsai can be grown as a large ornamental plant or trained to be a bonsai specimen.

A member of the Adenium genus, desert rose bonsai is one of a dozen or so plants that are typically grown as houseplants in temperate regions. There are several hybrids of this genus that have been developed, each of which is known for its colorful flowers and long lifespan when grown in a pot. 

The desert rose bonsai you know and love is a favorite among bonsai growers. It grows quickly and grows about eight inches tall when cultivated in this fashion. It has a bulbous base, fleshy leaves, and large, trumpet-shaped flowers of pink and white. 


Growing Desert Rose Bonsai

You can propagate this plant using seeds or cuttings. The propagation process is relatively easy to do.

adenium seedling

Planting from Seed

It can be a bit challenging to grow desert rose bonsai from seed, but if you start with fresh seeds, you’ll have better luck. Fresh seeds have higher germination rates, so make sure you purchase seeds from a reputable dealer. 

Start your seeds in a container with a well-draining medium, like sand and soil or perlite. Cover the seeds lightly with the medium. Water from below and above once every three days until you notice seedlings appear. Then, keep the seedlings on a heating pad so that the temperature of the developing seeds remains higher than 80 degrees. 

Usually, seeds will germinate in about a week. 

Planting From Cuttings

You can also start desert rose bonsai from cuttings. Do this by taking a cutting from the tip of a branch. Let the cutting dry out for a few days, then wet it and dip it in rooting hormone.

Insert the cutting into your growing medium and water it daily. It should take root in as little as two weeks.


How To Care For Desert Rose Bonsai

desert rose

Sunlight

Desert rose bonsai should never be exposed to temperatures lower than 40 degrees. While you can give your plant some outdoor time during the spring, summer, and fall, when temperatures are warm, you’ll want to bring it indoors when temperatures start to dip. Put it on a windowsill with good southern exposure. 

If you can’t get your desert rose bonsai in such a position, you may need to use grow lights to give your bonsai enough light. 

Watering

As with other bonsai trees, your desert rose bonsai should be watered once a week to every ten days. During the winter, you may find that your plant also benefits from being placed in a shallow tray of gravel and water. This will give the plant some extra humidity without oversaturating it. 

Fertilizing

Fertilizing is necessary if you want your bonsai to remain lush and green. You can use a fertilizer formulated specifically for bonsai plants, or you can use a general-purpose liquid fertilizer.

However, since your plant will be so small, it’s important that you only use it at half strength. It can be applied once a month or once every other month during the winter. 

Potting and Repotting

You should repot your desert rose bonsai once every two or three years. Do this in the spring with root-pruning. You will need to use a well-draining soil mixture to prevent overly soggy soil. Repot into a pot that is at least ⅔ as wide as the current height of your tree. 

Pruning a Desert Rose Bonsai

You can prune your desert rose bonsai at any time of the year. However, you will have the most success pruning just before flowers appear. These tend to appear on new shoots and pruning can encourage more flower buds to develop. 

When you prune, make sure you wear gloves. The plant produces a toxic milk sap that can irritate your skin.

Be careful wiring branches, too. This can help you train your bonsai plant, but you need to be careful about wiring too tightly. The branches need to be able to grow thick without wire marks constraining them and leaving unsightly marks. 

Pests and Diseases

This plant isn’t prone to many pests and diseases, but you may find that your bonsai falls victim to the same aggressors that usually target other houseplants. Some common culprits include spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids. 

The best defense against these pests is to make sure your plant is growing strong and healthy, with all the water, ventilation, and fertilizer it needs. A strong plant will be more resilient against insect attacks. 

Where to Buy Desert Rose Bonsai 

You can purchase desert rose bonsai, both from seed and as a cutting or bare-root, from most garden supply stores. It’s available on Amazon as well as from online bonsai retailers as well.

*Photos by sweemingyoung and [email protected] / depositphotos

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