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How To Bonsai Desert Rose (7 Steps)

Today, I’m going to share the best practices when it comes to making a bonsai tree out of the desert rose plant. 

The process of potting, pruning, and wiring this flowering Saharan plant is slightly different from how you would bonsai other young trees.

To bonsai a desert rose, you need to start by growing this succulent plant from seed, planting propagated cuttings, or buying a young plant. 

Then, you must prune it with bonsai cutters and wire its branches with aluminum or copper wiring and pliers. 

After, you’ll need to fertilize your tree and re-pot it so that it will take on a small and compact bonsai size.

Keep reading as I dive into which parts of this plant to prune and how to apply wiring to bend the branches into desired shapes. 

I’ll also share my best tips for regular bonsai care when it comes to the desert rose.

7 Steps to Bonsai a Desert Rose

1) Get a Young Desert Rose

Before you begin, you should keep in mind that the desert rose is a poisonous plant. 

Its sap contains cardiac glycosides, which have toxicity effects on humans ranging from GI issues to heart blockages, and even death in some cases. 

Because of the toxic nature of the desert rose, you should begin your bonsai project by donning a pair of gardening gloves to protect your skin from coming into contact with the sap.

How to Plant and Pot Desert Rose Cuttings

One way to start a desert rose bonsai is by planting cuttings from a larger desert rose plant. 

You can propagate them by inserting the stems into clean water and leaving them in sunlight until the roots start to grow. 

Then, once you have about 1-2 inches (3-5 cm) of roots, you can pot these cuttings into a well-draining soil mixture. 

You can choose a soil made specifically for succulents and cacti, or you can make your own by mixing sand and soil. 

Next, put this mixture into a small, well-draining container that is about one gallon (4 liters) in size. 

Finally, you’ll have to water these newly planted cuttings each day to ensure they take root and form a new desert rose plant. 

How to Plant and Pot a Desert Rose From Seed

The other way to start a desert rose bonsai is to begin with seeds. 

And because you need a small plant to create a bonsai tree, growing desert rose from seed is a great way to begin. 

To do this, you’ll want to plant a few seeds into a small one-gallon (4-liter) container that drains well and uses succulent soil. 

Then, water the desert rose seedlings as they take root in this new container. 

Later, you can choose the seedling that looks the healthiest to make into a bonsai. 

Buying a Desert Rose for Bonsai 

Of course, the easiest way to get a desert rose for bonsai is to buy a young plant from a nursery. 

This way, you ensure that the plant is healthy, the right size for bonsai, and ready for pruning and shaping. 

2) Prune Your Desert Rose 

Once you have a desert rose plant ready to go, you can begin the bonsai pruning process

Selecting Pruning Tools

You can use any of the following tools to prune desert rose bonsai:

  • Bonsai cutters
  • Small garden shears
  • Small scissors 

Just make sure you have cleaned the blades of your tools with rubbing alcohol before you begin pruning. 

Also, remember that these tools should be sharp so that they make clean cuts. 

When to Prune Your Desert Rose

Ideally, you should prune your desert rose bonsai just before it begins flowering. 

If you start at this time, you will promote more bloom growth. 

However, you can actually prune these succulents year-round if you’d prefer. 

But, I suggest waiting a couple of days after watering to do any pruning so that you can get clean cuts and the plant won’t be totally stressed. 

How to Prune a Desert Rose for Bonsai 

You should start the pruning process by getting rid of damaged branches, dead leaves, and any growth that’s moving in a direction you don’t want. 

So, go ahead and use your shears or cutters and clip these branches just above the leaf nodes to encourage more growth going forward. 

If you want to be more exact with the pruning location, you can measure about ¼ to ½ inch (0.6-1.2 cm) above these nodes.

I also suggest pruning with your blades at an angle rather than perpendicular to the branches. 

Additionally, you’ll want to find the longest offshoots of the desert rose and prune those off, as well as any branches that are tangled or crossing over each other. 

Then, once you’ve finished these steps, you’ll have smaller, more bendable branches that are ideal for bonsai shaping. 

You’ll also have gotten rid of unnecessary elements of the plant that would otherwise get in your way. 

3) Wire Your Desert Rose

Wiring is the other key step in making a desert rose bonsai. 

Wrapping wire around the branches makes them easier to shape so that you can bend them in the directions you desire. 

Selecting Wiring Tools

First, gather your tools, including some pliers and the proper wiring. 

I suggest using a pair of small pliers so that you can easily get between branches and wrap the wire around them.

As for wires, aluminum wiring is an ideal choice for bonsai, but you can also use copper wire. 

Additionally, some retailers sell products marketed explicitly as “bonsai wiring,” which you can always use if you prefer.   

But, whichever wiring you choose, be sure to select one of a proportionate thickness (about 16 gauge) to the branches you are wrapping. 

Where and When to Wire a Desert Rose

For the desert rose, you can mold and shape both the trunk and the branches with wiring. 

If you’re a beginner, though, I suggest you just start by selecting some branches you want to train. 

A good time to wire a desert rose bonsai is a few days following a re-potting when the soil isn’t too wet but not too dry either.

How to Wire a Desert Rose Bonsai 

Begin by selecting a spot at the base of a branch, then:  

  1. Use a finger on your non-dominant hand to press the end of the wire to the branch’s base. 
  2. With your other hand, begin wrapping the wire around the branch, moving up and out from the trunk. 
  3. Continue wrapping, leaving about an inch between each coil (making sure not to wrap so tight that you damage the bark). 
  4. Clip the end of your wire if it’s too long when you reach the tip of the branch. 

4) Shape Your Desert Rose

Once you’ve wired as many branches as you want, you can finally start giving your bonsai some shape. 

Desert rose bonsais have branches that are pretty pliable and easy to bend. 

And with the wiring applied, you can start bending and shaping the branches into designs. 

Just take care not to bend anything too fast or too far at first. 

Overall, you need to have patience when it comes to this step so that you don’t shock, break, or damage the bonsai.

5) Maintain Your Desert Rose Bonsai

Part of the bonsai process is providing the plant with the proper nutrients and care. 

I can’t stress enough the importance of the right type of fertilizer for a desert rose, as well as the proper water and light schedule. 

Fertilizing a Desert Rose Bonsai

Most bonsai trees require a nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium fertilizer – also known as NPK fertilizer. 

You can either buy a fertilizer specifically formulated for bonsais or choose a ratio suited to desert rose. 

I like to use a balanced fertilizer, such as a 13-13-13 ratio of NPK that is slow-release, meaning it comes in pellets or granules instead of a liquid. 

You’ll want to apply fertilizer once a month during the growing season and avoid fertilizing just after re-potting. 

Watering a Desert Rose Bonsai

Because these are desert plants, the desert rose bonsai doesn’t need much water

Thus, treat it how you would a cactus or succulent, waiting for the soil to dry before watering. 

Providing a Desert Rose Bonsai With Sunlight

A desert rose needs protection from cold temperatures, as well as plenty of direct sunlight and warmth. 

Therefore, many people move their desert rose bonsais indoors when the colder months begin, especially if they live in deciduous regions.

Also, you should make sure that your bonsai is getting full sun (about 6-8 hours daily) in the warmer months of spring and summer. 

6) Train Your Desert Rose Bonsai

After the first year of creating your new desert rose bonsai, you’ll want to continue the training process. 

So, you should go back with cutters and wiring to prune and shape the bonsai. 

Generally, you should keep an eye on long branches, dead leaves, and tangled growth to know when and where to prune. 

7) Re-pot Your Desert Rose Bonsai

Finally, there will come a day when your bonsai is ready to get re-potted into a smaller container. 

When you do so, make sure to be gentle with the roots while pruning off some of the larger ones. 

Re-pot the plant with fresh soil mix, and wait a week or two before fertilizing it or pruning it again. 

Final Thoughts

If you want to know how to bonsai a desert rose, hopefully, my tips and tricks have helped you.

This low-maintenance succulent plant makes a great, pliable option for bonsai growers. 

You just need some cuttings or a seedling to start, and then you can prune, wire, shape, and care for your new bonsai tree.

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