How to Prune Adenium

If the Beauty and the Beast ever parented a plant, it might look like a desert rose (Adenium obesum). When not in bloom, a desert rose resembles an elephant's lower leg crowned with topknots of painfully contorted, sparsely leaved branches. All that changes when an explosion of red, pink or multihued flowers nearly drowns the plant with color for months at a stretch.

An Arabian peninsula native at home with soaring temperatures and parching drought, desert rose grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 12. Elsewhere, it's happy in a container if protected from sub-freezing temperatures. Desert rose needs pruning only to remove frost damage or unattractive, diseased or dying branches.


  • Pruning any part of a desert rose unleashes a flood of thin, cloudy and toxic sap. Never handle this plant without waterproof gloves or get the sap in your eyes, and keep it away from children or pets.

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Pruning Frost Damage

An unprotected desert rose suffers frost damage at temperatures below 35 degrees Fahrenheit. As the temperature drops, the damage encompasses more and more of its branch tissue. Prune the dead tissue quickly, or rot may affect the entire plant.

Things You'll Need

  • Protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, waterproof gloves and safety goggles
  • Clean, sharp knife
  • Clean, sharp branch loppers or pruning shears
  • Plastic yard bags
  • Clean rag or towel
  • Rubbing alcohol


  • Dress in the protective clothing and gear before any desert rose pruning session.

Step 1

Check the desert rose for mushy branch tips, which indicate freeze-damaged branches.

Step 2

Scratch along the bark of an affected branch lightly with a clean, sharp knife. If it reveals bright green tissue, that part of the branch and anything below may still be alive.

Step 3

Prune the mushy, dead portion of the branch back to the green portion, making the cut at a leaf or flower node -- a slightly raised area where the leaves or flower buds emerge.

Step 4

Drop the pruned material into a plastic yard bag so its sap won't leak.

Step 5

Disinfect the knife and pruning tool blades with a clean rag or towel dipped in rubbing alcohol to avoid spreading disease.

Step 6

Repeat the process for each of the frost-damaged branches.

Step 7

Seal the yard bag and dispose of it where the sap won't endanger people or animals.

Pruning Unattractive Growth

A container desert rose spending the winter indoors and not allowed to enter dormancy may produce thin, long weak branches if it's not getting enough light. This is most likely when the indoor nighttime temperature remains above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

After moving the plant outside again in spring, cut this thin growth back to just above some leaves or leaf nodes. New branches emerging at these points create a denser, bushier plant with lots of new flowers. This technique also works on desert roses that grow outside all year.


  • Limit this pruning to once a year, preferably between February and late summer. Winter-pruned desert roses may not respond with vigorous growth.


    • If possible, prune the leggy branches back to the length of the shorter ones so the new new growth comes in at the same height as the old.
    • Use this pruning session to remove any broken, rubbing, dead or diseased branches.
    •  Disinfect and dispose of these pruned branches as you would the frost-damaged ones.


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