Desert Rose (partially popularized by singer Sting) is one of the top 10 most popular succulents in the United States. You can grow it both inside and outside, and as long as it gets enough sun, it will brighten your home with pink trumpeting flowers in the summer. Desert Rose isn’t prone to infestation with pests, or other problems. It is prone to over-watering though, which may lead to soft trunk, and eventually a dead of your succulent.
I will explain in a while what exactly happens, and how you can treat soft trunk in a desert rose. Before diving into details however, let me emphasize one thing: In 95% of cases over-watering is to blame here (we will look at other rare cases later on), and you should always make sure to examine it first, before you start speculating about other possible causes of the problem.
Chain of cause and effect and development of soft trunk
Experienced growers know that soft trunk never develops in a week, or in a month. That’s because it is actually a secondary symptom of over-watering, and it is always preceded by root rot. What typically happens:
- You over-water your plant, often without realizing it. For first few weeks you may not even realize something is going on.
- Unable to bear with excessive moisture any longer, the roots of your desert rose start to rot. Again, things happen under the surface, and often slowly, and for some months you may not even realize something’s wrong.
- The rot progresses upwards, eventually reaching the trunk of the plant, which loses its firmness and becomes soft.
As you can see now, over-watering is to blame, though you may not realize something is going on for weeks or even months, simply because the degenerative changes happen below the surface and you cannot see them.
Treating a soft trunk in a Desert Rose – Can you save your plant?
As you can imagine, you cannot really treat a rotten plant with some elaborated surgery of the trunk. That’s just not how it works. I want to be quite honest with you: if the trunk is really soft, it likely means there’s not much you can do, except of learning a lesson and making sure you won’t repeat the same mistakes with your new desert rose, and won’t have to throw it away again.
Having said that, if you have some kind of an attachment to this succulent, for example you got it from your first lover, or brought it home from an unforgettable trip to Africa, or whatever, you can give it one last shot, and try to save it, following the steps below:
- Gently remove the desert rose from its container. Under running water, clean the root ball from soil.
- Once the roots are clear and you can see their color, you should recognize healthy parts of the root system (hopefully you will find at least some) from rotten ones. Rotten roots are brownish in color, they are soft, you can break them easily, and they tend to smell bad as well (as something rotten, obviously).
- Take some scissors and remove the rotten roots. Do this diligently, leaving only healthy roots on the plant, even if we speak just about a very little number of roots (like 5% of the original quantity).
- Once done, repot the plant to a dry, quality succulent soil, and soak it with water (just as you’d do after repotting any succulent). Make sure to use a pot with a drainage hole, and ideally a clay pot, but plastic will do as well as long as there is some drainage.
- Wait for a miracle. Once you repotted your Desert Rose, wish a heavily “pruned” rooting system, and watered it once, you just have to wait and see what happens. In rare cases the plant will develop new roots, and the trunk will get firm again. In most cases though nothing will happen and you will have to throw the plant away.
Rare causes of soft trunk in a desert rose
If you rule out over-watering as a potential cause of rotting trunk of your desert rose (and sure enough it is responsible for 95% of all cases of soft trunk in this succulent), you may face one of the following two conditions, both of them quite rare:
- A fungal infection of the plant, trunk in particular. Desert Rose isn’t prone to fungal diseases, but they can sometimes enter the trunk, for example if there was a mechanical damage to the plant (from hail storm, your pet damaged the plant, or you accidentally did) and left the wound on trunk untreated. In such a case a fungus may enter, and slowly start “eating the trunk from inside”. Eventually if will get soft and may even change color. Fungal infections are hard to treat though, but sometimes succulents can co-exist with them for years. What I try to say here is that your desert rose may survive with a soft trunk, if fungus is to blame.
- The plant is simply too old, dying of age, just as we humans do. Bear in mind though that this is extremely rare, since desert rose can easily live for up to 500 years. Of course though, you may inherited this plant from your grandmother who inherited it from her grandmother and so on, and hence I wanted to point out this rare possibility :).
Prevention is the best cure when it comes to Desert Rose
As you know now, it may be quite tough saving this plant with a soft trunk. Sure, it may be a hard pill to swallow, especially when you know it can live for hundreds of years, and with some silly mistakes you are sending it to plants’ heaven quite prematurely. But at the end of the day it is just a plant, and sometimes we have to learn things the hard way.
When you get your new desert rose, make sure to plant it in a pot with a drainage hole and use the right succulent soil. Water it sparingly, only when the soil is completely dry. You can intensify the watering only in the summer season, but be careful here as well. In winter, when the desert rose is dormant, you should not water it at all. Remember that this succulent is called “a desert rose” for a reason–it comes from deserts of Sub-Saharan Africa. And it doesn’t rain often in the desert. Making sure you do not over-water your plant, you will avoid any problems with soft trunk. Hope it helps, and I wish you good luck with your succulents!
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