So you've got your desert rose babies curling their bodies out of the shells. The fun, and challenges, don't stop there. How do we go from here to taking care of a desert rose seedling? Let's see how together.

Overheating Adenium Seedlings

Scorching sun can 'steam' your seedlings, especially if the seedlings are less than 10 days old. You can recognize this by looking at their body color, a bit like this one right here:

Overheated desert rose seedlings

This is a sign their body color has been transformed by the heat. When you have a sniff around, there is a strong smell of cooked veggies. You can also feel the hot steam coming out of the pot.

We placed these seedlings under full sun for about 2 hours. It was not the best idea as you can see. This can also cause root rot and death of the plants. The seedlings died unfortunately. So don't be like us.

Moral of the story is no direct sunlight for very young seedlings. A bright window with less harsh indirect sunlight would probably work. We can then take our babies out for more sunlight gradually.

Overwatering Adenium Seedlings

Be very careful about the amount of water you give your seedlings. When first starting out, we watered the plants almost every day. And, in the early afternoon when temperatures were high.

Here were the results:

Over-watered seedlings

The plants were fat and growing well. However, the medium soon started to become like a soggy soil 'soup' and was not draining well anymore. This led to root rot and eventually the leaves started to yellow from the tip in and fall off.

Before you water the plants, check the soil condition. We use a very small fork or toothpick to see how dry/wet the soil is.

If you're growing desert roses in sand, check the color of the sand. If it's a light color, then it's dry. If it's darker and the pot feels heavier, then it's wet. If the sand grains are loose, then the medium is dry.

Try picking the pot up to feel the weight. If the soil is dry and the pot feels lightweight, you can mist the seedlings then.

A good time to water your plants is in the morning. We notice that the plants tend to evaporate a lot in the morning hours. So, misting at this time may compensate for their moisture loss.

Morning hours humidity of adenium

If you want an estimate on how much water your mister is giving out, try spraying a few times on a napkin to see. We used to spray 20 mists, but now we have reduced it to 6 sprays depending on the condition of each plant. Some people bottom water their plants just to play it safe.

But what if your seedlings have already been over-watered? Come with us here, let's rescue them right now:

Rescuing An Over-watered Desert Rose Seedling

The underside of over-watered adenium leaves

Here's how we tried to save one of the seedlings in the garden:

Moisture suckers to the rescue

We dig four holes using a Q-tip. Then, we insert the cotton bud in to suck up the water. You can also use a napkin. Roll it up and put it in the holes. Wait for some 10 minutes. Then, take the moisture-suckers out.

It dawned on us later on that we can just add some sand to absorb the extra water (right!).

The interesting thing you'll notice is even if all the other leaves yellow & die off, one single green leaf will remain alive. One leaf is one hope for us. The chance for survival is still there. We think that one leaf is the core of the tree.

Be mindful also of:

Damaged Seedlings From Dropping

I accidentally knocked this one off its pot a while ago :( It left two scars with the skin falling off.


This one is the Arabicum type. It's quite strong & is a survivor. These little younger ones were not so fortunate & did not survive. They're the Noble Concubine Obesum adenium. Clumsy me.


Moral of the story is keep your seedlings somewhere with just enough height or close to the ground so these things won't happen to them. If you place them on a high surface, keep them fixed to a corner just to be safe.

After that, we'll look at:

Under-Watered / Lack of Sunlight Desert Rose Seedlings

These seedlings haven't been receiving a lot of sunlight since their birthday (Mar 16). We were sort of running out of space for all of them to get good sunlight in our rented space. The seedlings had some light from the indoor lighting. After that, they mostly stayed inside a bigger container with a lid over. This is what they look like now:

From Mar to May inside a lid-over container

As you can see, their growth kind of stops there. The one with the leaves just sort of stays that way & the one that hasn't cracked out of the shell also stays where it is.

It has been almost 3 months, but surprisingly their stems are still standing tall & they are doing okay. Oh and we gave these almost no water after some point. You can tell by the lighter color of the sand.

Check out the seedling color difference compared to seedlings that have received good sunlight + indoor light. It's a pale yellowish green compared to the dark green of the other one.

Color comparison of adenium seedlings
On the left: lack sunlight vs On the right: with sunlight

As for watering, we have given these guys down here very little water (almost zero) for about several weeks or more. There are some that are beginning to drop their leaves off. But they overall are still hanging in there much longer than expected.

Tiny Ding Dongs doing pretty well with little water

Some have shown signs of wrinkles on their outer layer. But the time span that they can go without water is pretty amazing.

Wrinkles on the adenium seedling body

Smaller Obesum seedlings didn't survive this water shortage. They wilted & died off unfortunately.

Obesum seedling suffering a lack of water

So what does this all mean? What we're trying to say is, when you notice that your seedlings are a bit pale yellow, you know that it may be lacking some good sunlight.

If you under-water your plants & they are still getting light, they might wilt off faster than the ones that don't get much light. It sounds common sense, but it takes a while for us to sink it in. It's easier to understand once we've experienced this one or two times.


Both of these are Obesum specie. The ones on the left are younger than the one on the right. Many could have guessed the younger ones (with less resources) will be weaker, but in this case it survives.

So, if you're going away for some time & don't have the time to water your seedlings, just put them somewhere dark & cool. Their sustainability rate is amazing & you can be worry-free when you return weeks later that your plants still have a chance to survive and grow up more.

In another case, when both seedlings are under-watered & get good light the results are different (the difference is the age of the plants or how much 'meat' or resources they have stacked up inside their little bodies):

Older Arabicum on the left vs younger Obesum on the right

Bigger seedlings around 2-3 months can survive some weeks with little water (even with some light). When you see some wrinkles on the plant body or their leaves yellowing & dropping off, it is a sign of under-watering. The younger ones didn't make it.

We guess then it's safer to go bone-dry (e.g. forgot to water them) when your seedlings are about 2-3 months old. They still can use the stuff that they've stacked up inside their bodies for some weeks. It's a bit riskier to go no-water with younger seedlings (less than 1 month old). Especially with species that have smaller stems like Obesum.

This is the kind of indoor lighting we're having (just to save a bit of electricity compared to the many pre-installed ones). The renter before us was a fashion store owner, so she really went big on lighting.

40W - 6500K LED warm white daylight

It's a little bit too bright when you look at it directly (*eyes squinting*). But the overall brightness is good. They're not made specifically as grow lights. This is the light the adenium seedlings are getting a share of in the house. We're glad they are doing well.


In testing: putting some pale adenium out under this light to see if they can actually grow more.


Putting pale adenium under light source

As you can see, this little guy did not even crack out of his shell but got knocked out. From this little experience, we think it's better to introduce light gradually for the seedlings that have not been receiving much light for some time–not too abruptly for too soon.

One Final Tip: Labels!

While making this post, we accidentally mixed up 3 adenium seedlings in pots. Now we have no clue what they are until the babies bloom. So don't be like us, the type of people that think 'Oh, of course I'm gonna remember which is which'. Labeling takes little time & you can recognize which is which immediately. Good luck & have a ton of fun playing with your adenium seedlings!

To Fertilize or Not to Fertilize

These little ones Adenium Obesum got some cow manure in their mix when first started from seeds. They grow up really fast & chubby. This pic was taken when they were about 1-2 weeks old.


Some other views:


These ones down here get water only. Their bodies grow quite thinner. This was when they were 1 month old. All of them are the same specie Adenium Arabicum.


Fertilizing is okay to get your adenium seedlings a good start in life. Just make sure you don't go overboard or it might burn the young plants.

Too much chemical fertilizer too soon might weaken the babies' growing defense system. In some growers' experience, when they grow bigger they won't react too well with more feed that we put in. Some people call this unresponsiveness.

In contrast, for babies that get fed water mostly, when we plant them in more nutritious soil (with fertilizer), they react pretty well & boom up their sizes steadily. Some wait until the seedlings are quite established, about 3 months old, and then they ramp up the fert amount.

In Summary

To take good care of your adenium seedlings:

  • Don't over-heat
  • Don't over-water
  • Don't knock them off
  • Label them before you forget
  • Less light = less water
  • Fertilize bit by bit

Responses to Readers' Questions

When do I trim the top of my desert rose?

--> For desert rose seedling, you could trim the top off when it's about this big:


This seedling is about 9-11 weeks old (with fertilizer applied). It's about 10 inches (25.4 cm) or so. With some good sunlight, your desert rose may shoot out new branches in about 2 weeks after trimming.

The trunk of my desert rose has wrinkles in the base. The upper part looks good. Does this mean I need for water? It's about 6'' tall, decent base of about 1 1/2'' across.

--> Thanks for your question. Do the wrinkles in the base of your desert rose resemble something like in the picture below?


If the skin of your desert rose base still has a bit of greenish color and there are some cracked lines/wrinkles around it, chances are you do not really need to water it. And those wrinkles are not the signs of dehydration or your plant's calling for water.

Cracked lines/wrinkles around the base | Source

From experience, growers share that by looking at the skin of the desert rose, you'll be able to tell its growth. If it is quite gray around a certain part, it may mean that that part has been quite mature and may grow slower.

On the other side, if it is still green and with those wrinkles around, it means that part is still quite young and growth will still be vigorous. If you think this is the case with your plant, then you have nothing to worry about regarding watering. It's just natural and the plant is still growing.

To quickly check if the plant needs water, you could pop-squeeze the base a bit to see if it's good or soft. Also, is the medium dry or still quite moist? Have a feel of the weight of the pot. Note the weather for the past few days and recall if it's been getting some good water. You could then have some more informative clues on when your plant is thirsty and calling for you to give it nice cool water. Getting quite thirsty as I'm typing this and... I hope this helps!


--> Thanks for your question. From my limited experience, sand is good for starting seeds and nursing the seedlings during their first months. I have also found carbonized rice hulls (with coco peat mixed in) good for adenium seedlings. Will take pictures for you tomorrow. And here you go, this is the adenium soil I'm using:

Adenium soil I'm using

Other people use cactus soil. You can tell it's suitable soil if the texture is light and fluffy. It doesn't feel too dense or heavy. That will give the seedlings good drainage, which they need. You could try different materials until you find what works best for you and your adenium, and stick with it. I have found carbonized rice hulls to be best for me. They are convenient to get and pretty cheap. Another option is perlite or similar rocks. I hope this makes sense and I hope this helps!

(Update: Sep 21 2022): So in summary, sand gives you good drainage but not a lot of nutrients in and of itself. Soil will give the seedlings more nutrients. You can time the usage of differently substrate accordingly.

My plant hasn't grown for two weeks. It germinated and then it seems to have just stopped. Am I doing something wrong?

--> Thanks for your question. My initial guess was may be it could be the pot size. But to share with you, I have experienced something similar with my seedlings specifically the arabicum type. They were about a pinkie's tall and kept indoors for about 4 months. After re-potting them from sand to if I recall correctly either carbonized rice hulls or composted soil, I thought they wouldn't make it. Growth was pretty darn slow, although some tiny green leaves did manage to pull out. The stems were thin and they did not seem to grow taller. I stopped checking on them every day for a while (but my dad still watered them daily or so). And when I came back, the leaves were bigger and the stems were fat! They grew bigger, I was so glad. This happened around the end of last year (2020) to spring this year.

So I guess if it's winter (or the weather is cooler) where you're at now, the plant may be slowing down growth a bit. You could also check the amount of sunlight it's possibly getting or the water and soil. If all fails, may be give your plant some more time. If it's germinated and the stem is there and two leaves (cotyledon) are there, it will make it through. I don't know why this is but may be it's a growth cycle or natural responses or something. When the growth kicks in, it will grow fast. If you'd like to see some pictures, I'll take some tomorrow. But I hope this helps. Keep your plant with you (unlike me throwing some away early :( ) and happy growing!

These are the ones I was talking about:

Re-potted on Sep 23 and about 4 months after

The other ones, bigger stems & leaves:


These are the did-not-make-it ones. Wish I had kept some for longer, now looking back:


(Update 21 Sep 2022): How are you? How is your plant doing now?

Qwhat is a good fertilizer? What are 5he percentages of phosphorous etc.

--> Hello, thanks for your question. There are many good fertilizers to use for desert roses. For mine, I have experimented with using cow manure, bat guano, the EM spray (called effective microorganisms, I'll drop a link here if you're interested to find out about it later: EM), and some vermicompost etc.

Some of the soils in bags that I bought also have compost or some fertilizer pre-mixed in them for a balanced feed. Where are you located? You could try Osmocote. I've seen that some Thai nurseries use that when sowing seeds to promote growth.

When the plant is about to bloom, you could increase the P and K amount, a good one is 6-30-30. When the desert rose is developing leaves, it's good to use nitrogen feed. You could use seaweed or fish emulsion to spray the leaves. They also absorb the nutrients through the leaves, plus also the free nitrogen in the air in rainy seasons.

Feeding can be spaced out 2-3 weeks apart to make sure the adenium fully absorb the nutrients. The amount can be 150-250 grams per liter or 5-8 oz per 4 cups of water. Observe the response and make adjustments if needed for your plants.

I have a detailed post on fertilizer for desert roses here if you'd like a look later:

>> Best fertilizer for desert roses

Just remember don't overfeed so the extra unconsumed yet feed won't attract other fungi or bacteria to chew on the food in the soil. This could lead to rotting. You could prevent fungi, insects or pests by spraying something like neem oil (it does not smell very good though so you should be mindful of that).

When you feed the plants according to their growth stages, they will strong and healthy without exhaustion or unresponsiveness.


I hope this helps! See you again next time.

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