Are you looking for a dramatic, low-water succulent plant? Try a desert rose.
The desert rose is the star of any succulent garden which thrives in hot, dry sunny conditions. As its name implies, this is a very drought tolerant plant that performs best in a well-drained area of the landscape. If such an area does not exist in your yard, these plants perform wonderfully in a container garden accompanied by cacti and other succulents. In fact, this is one of the few plants that sometimes do better in a pot (where you can control the drainage) than in the ground.
The real appeal of the desert rose stems from its showy, trumpet-shaped flowers that appear in festive shades of pink, white, purple and red. The beautiful blooms sit atop a bonsai-like, swollen trunk (that holds water during times of drought) among shiny, dark green leaves. There are also bicolor varieties available, types with double flowers, or even some with variegated foliage to choose from.
Water desert rose sparingly. In many situations, summer rainfall is enough to keep the plant flourishing in all but the worst drought conditions. Blooms usually tend to appear during warm months and even periodically throughout the year if winter is mild. Don’t be alarmed if your desert rose loses its leaves in the winter, as that is a common occurrence. Even in summer months, the plant is more stems and blooms than foliage itself.
The desert rose generally only grows to a maximum height of around 4 feet tall and will take many years to reach full maturity. Due to its slow-growing nature, trimming is considered optional. A light spring pruning or pinching of stem tips can help create more branches and a possibly a fuller blooming effect. On the other hand (and great news for the less experienced gardener), many of these plants have a wonderful shape without any help from their owners if planted in the right conditions.
Interesting fact: due to the toxins contained in their sap, the desert rose is both deer and rabbit resistant.
This column is a joint effort by all at In The Garden, Sanibel’s local garden center located at 3889 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel Island, Florida.