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Growing Succulents in the Desert Column

(List of Growing Succulents in the Desert columns)

"Waking up Adeniums" by Mark Dimmitt

Pictures by Mark Dimmitt unless otherwise noted
This article may only be reprinted with the author's permission.

Adeniums are succulents related to pachypodiums, plumerias, and oleanders (Figure 1). They are the newest ornamental plant to be domesticated (the process began only 20 years ago), and their popularity is growing rapidly. They are easy to grow if their cultural needs are understood and provided for. Spring is one of the critical times during which many adeniums and other winter-dormant tropical plants are lost. Whether they have leaves or not, adeniums are dormant over the cooler winter months, meaning that their growth – and therefore water use – has been minimal to zero (Figure 2). Even if they have been blooming throughout the winter, they have still been dormant. The warm weather of April in the desert Southwest causes them to wake up and resume growth. Adeniums need heat to grow, so they should be moved outdoors into the sun this month. Although spring days may be warm, nights are usually still in the 40s and 50s F, which is still in the danger zone for adeniums. Moreover, spring brings several cold fronts with cold days and may drop nights to near freezing. Adeniums HATE cold, wet roots. The awakening proceeds slowly, and watering properly is critical at this time. The plants don’t use much water until nights are above 60, and if the potting medium stays wet for several days, the roots are likely to rot. As long as nights are below 50, water only to wet the upper couple of inches of medium (many of the roots are near the surface). Water thoroughly only if several warm days are forecast, and withhold water if a cold front is approaching. Wait until the medium is fairly dry before watering again. Once the days are hot, nights are consistently balmy, and the plants have lots of mature leaves, you can increase watering frequency and depth. By mid to late May, adeniums with roots filling their pots can be watered heavily every couple of days. They love water when it’s hot. It is normal for some branches to die over the winter. Spring is a good time to groom the plants. Pull off dead, dried branches (Figure 3) and prune any leggy growth to produce a more compact, more branched plant (Figures 4a-4c).