How to grow desert roses

Desert roses are succulent plants that thrive well in warm areas.


As a tropical country, the Philippines only has two types of seasons: wet and dry. Many gardeners take note of these conditions when trying to grow different kinds of plants since they want to ensure the survivability of these plants in Philippine conditions. 

One favorite among new gardeners is the desert roses (Adenium obesum) because these can all adapt well to tropical and semi-tropical settings.

Native to Africa, the Middle East, and Madagascar, desert roses thrive well under full sun and are known as succulents that store water in their stems, making them an ideal plant to grow in the warm Philippines climate.

Prince T. Gerona, a self-employed worker, was captivated by the desert rose’s colorful blooms.

Prince Tabion Gerona, a self-employed worker, is one of the many local gardeners who were captivated by the rose-like blooms of the desert roses.  

“Matagal na po ako sa pag-garden. Grade school pa lang ako mahilig na ako sa paghahalaman ng mga ornamental plants at mga orchids. Pero nabaling ang attention ko sa adeniums before dahil sa mayroon pala siyang napakaraming klase at napakaraming kulay din,” Gerona said. (I’ve been gardening for some time now. I was just in grade school when I showed interest in growing ornamental plants and orchids. But my attention shifted to adeniums because they have different varieties and colors.) 

He then turned to the internet to research more about desert roses and eventually purchased the most common desert rose variety which boasts of bright pink flowers. From there, his collection grew to include other types and colors.

The Adenium obesum started Gerona’s collection.

Three types of adeniums 

Gerona shared that he managed to collect three kinds of desert roses. They differ in their growing purpose, size, and other parts such as stems, leaves, and caudex (the stout stem or root that’s visible above ground).

The first one is the Adenium obesum which is an indoor succulent that’s suitable for container gardening. Their caudices are thin and small, they have one main trunk with branches, and their flowers are bigger with colors ranging from pink, red, yellow, white, and purple. 

On the other hand, the Adenium arabicum is commonly grown as a bonsai and is cultivated for its shiny leaves, growth form, and flowering characteristics. Compared to obesums, the arabicums have bigger caudices, smaller, pale pink flowers, and multiple big branches that grow from the trunk.

Adenium arabicums are typically grown as bonsais.

Lastly, the Adenium somalense is grown as an exotic potted plant. It has a swollen trunk, that’s often twisted and pale gray, where the caudex is located but not as stout as the arabicum. It also has multiple stems and the flowers are trumpet-shaped with colors available in white, bright pink, and crimson red. 

Flowers of the Adenium somalense in crimson red.

Sun-loving plants 

Based on Gerona’s experience, he saw that desert roses have little to no trouble adjusting to our tropical climate and prefer being exposed to the sun. 

“Dapat open space ‘yong place at well-ventilated ‘yong area. `Yon ang requirement para mas maganda ang pag-grow nila,” he said. (They have to be placed in an open space and well-ventilated area. This is their requirement for better growth.)

Adeniums prefer full sun exposure.

Gerona had to give up most of his collection and settle for caring for a few varieties that can be grown in his home with limited space. Still, he uses what he learned from experience and the internet into growing what available desert roses he has now. 

Watering and soil requirements 

For the soil requirements of the desert roses, Gerona says that it varies on the availability of materials in a place. For instance, he uses a soil mix composed of cow manure, decomposed rice hull, and sandy soil. 

Some propagators use a mixture of coco peat, pumice, vermicast, and carbonized rice hull. Gerona shared that others even add dry acacia leaves to mimic dry, desert-like conditions which the desert roses are accustomed to.  

The most important factor to consider is that the soil desert roses are planted in well-draining soil. 

As for the water requirements, Gerona said that during the desert rose’s juvenile stage, he would water them four to five times a week. And since their growing period occurs during the warm season, it’s best to keep their soil moist but not oversaturated to avoid root rot. 

When the desert rose’s caudex swells, this is a good sign that they are well-hydrated. And as the wet season approaches, watering the plants can be reduced to once a month or so.

Swollen caudices in Adeniums signify that they are well-hydrated.

Fertilizing desert roses

Desert roses mostly grow in the wild so they can thrive well without additional inputs. Yet feeding them fertilizer now and then can help the flowers bloom.

“Sa experience ko, once or twice lang ako naga-apply pag malaki na sila,” Gerona said. (In my experience, I only apply fertilizer once or twice when they’re fully grown). 

The most common inputs used by desert rose propagators like Gerona are slow-release fertilizers. But Gerona has a different approach to help boost his plants’ growth. He would focus on the soil and use different mixtures to see which ones work best for his plants. 

As a result, the desert roses don’t have to wait for fertilizer to get additional nutrients. They can just harness it from the soil mixture available to their roots. 

Growing desert roses has become a relaxing hobby for Gerona. Not only does this help alleviate his stress levels but it also allows him to meet other people who share the same interest that he has in gardening. Aspiring gardeners can also enjoy growing desert roses because these succulent plants can adapt well to the Philippines’ tropical climate and are low-maintenance, making them ideal for the new plant parents.

Photos courtesy of Prince T. Gerona

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Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
Patricia Taculao, or Patty as she likes to be called, is a content producer for Manila Bulletin Digital Lifestyle. She graduated from University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She loves to spend her free time, reading, painting, and watching old movies.

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