Help! I'm spongy and I can't get up!

LPBridge(8 (VA))November 25, 2013

Hello all!

I'm new to the forum, but if I can save this plant you'll be seeing more of me, I'm sure! This is sort of a long story but, for the sake of this poor plant, I hope you'll stick with me...

My Grandma Pat has had this desert rose as long as I can remember. She may not have had it my whole life (I'm 25) but dang near. (That was to give you an idea how old it is and why this is so important to me.) She passed away when I was 12 and, since then, various clueless relatives have just barely kept it alive. Well, my grandfather just had to move in with my uncle and the poor thing got deserted at the now vacant house. When I found it, it had been sitting in a completely dark room for *at least* one month. Not being watered, obviously. It had lost most of its leaves and several of the smaller stems. I brought it home in a panic. I took off all the brown bits and cleared the debris from the pot to prevent disease (I have some gardening experience, just not with this particular plant). The stems, all the way down to where the fancy shmancy caudex should be, are quite spongy. They're not as spongy now as they were when I first brought it home a few weeks ago, but still not firm. When I jiggle the base it feels unstable, like a plant with root rot would. But how would it get root rot without being watered? I've been watering it since I brought it home maybe two weeks ago, just tiny amounts every day, maybe 1/4 - 1/2 cup. I don't know if I should be because (and this is the essence of my question) if it is going into its dormant state watering could kill it but if it needs water then not watering it could kill it. I have to keep it inside because it's frosting here now, but I get terrible light in my house, I have it in the lightest room (attached picture is daylight, no artificial lights), but it is NNW facing, no direct sun. However, this particular plant has always been light deprived, in a relatively dim kitchen for 20 years. My dad said maybe I should prune it. He mentioned his mom cut it back to basically a stub at one point, which I can see from the scars, it was cut back to about 6 inches. As far as I remember, it has always been pretty much this leggy, but not droopy like you'll see in the picture. I've done a lot of Googling, to no avail, and my friend and I have brainstormed, but we don't usually grow anything we can't eat or use as medicine, so we're pretty clueless in this situation. Please tell me I'm not going to lose my grandma's plant! Thanks for any help you're able to give!

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My first thought would be to take it out of the pot and check for any signs of rot. This is not the opportune time to do so, but by what you have described.
It would be worth it and it probably could use a repotting with some good "Gritty Mix" soil.
If there is any brown areas, then you would address this before repotting.
I would not suggest pruning a soft and stressed plant.
The long weak branches are probably from lack of sunlight and have become etiolated.
Definitely worth saving.
I hope things work out and I am sure others will help you.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 12:08AM
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greenclaws UKzone8a

Hi there, I do hope we can all help to save your grandma's plant for you with some collective suggestions.
It may well be feeling spongy as the length of the branches is rather excessive, they are not woody stemmed as such, so what you are seeing could just be a result of the spindly growth not being able to support the caudex (main stem) soft/spongy? Does that make sense?? If the mix has 'shrunk' due to not being watered for so long that would make it unstable and give the inpression of root rot, depends what its potted in really. Was it cold in the room it was kept in?

One other pointer.. if you use another pot just make sure it has at least one drainage hole, the more the merrier, sound like an obvious statement so forgive me for mentioning it but it's amazing how many struggling plants have no drainage holes in their pots. (realise its not been watered for ages) Use the forums 'search' facility and just put 'gritty mix' in and you will find a recipe that you can tweak with ingredients you can find in your region....come back if you are struggling though please ;)

I would place it in the brightest spot possible once re-potted but as Rick says, check and trim off any dead/shrivelled/rotted roots...let the cut end dry for a few hours minimum. If it's a big main root thats dodgy. If a thick main root is dead, it will take longer to heal over, a day or even more.

It will be interesting to hear others comments on cutting the branches back at this stage...if it were mine, I would do it asap, but it's not and I respect others the end of the day you do what you think is best when given the facts. I'm sure we will get more help shortly for you so keep checking WILL survive for you, they are tough plants... it will look great come spring I'm certain...good luck, and see you soon.
Gill UK

    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 6:55AM
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Gill has given you sound advice, where I left some things unclear.
Generally with many other pants that I have. I would have pruned, but I was told by someone not to prune a Adenium with a soft caudex (main trunk base). If it is just flimsy long branches, then the plant may benefit from pruning.
Sorry for any mixed messages. It is always difficult when you are trying your best to do what is correct and save this plant.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 9:47AM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi Lisa!!!

What a beautiful tree!! Love the story and I and others understand the sentimental reason for loving these trees.

Through all of the wonderful people here, we can help you save this special tree from your grandma!!!

Great advice from Rick and Gill!!

You say you Live In Virginia Beach? If you would like, I will offer to help you hands on if you would like? How would that be? You think about it and let me know.

I would stop watering it as often as you are ( actually stop watering it now) It needs to dry out and I also would recommend checking the roots. But... I would be very careful when and if you check... If you want.. I could take a peek at it next week? Depending on what is happening and how it looks we could do a repot and get it into a better fast draining mix.

By the looks of your pic, it looks alright for this time of the year and probably will do just fine. I can help you repot this and or just give you some advise.. What ever you would like. The gritty mix is a great medium for these trees and I have all of the ingredients, so you don't have to worry about buyiing those large bags.

Keep the tree in as much light as you can so it can dry up the soil as much as possible.

The branches( stems) need to be trimmed, but that can be done in the spring if they are not in need of a little pruning now to help from rot.

Let us know what you would like to do.. We can all help!!

Nice to have you here !!

Take care,


    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 9:56AM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia


Just checking to see of you are around and still need any help? I never heard anything from either post you made... So? Just checking...


    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 10:11PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

One more bump... Then I'll stop.


    Bookmark   December 6, 2013 at 1:10AM
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I would like to add my question if you all don't mind. (My post is a bit long for clarity sake)
Please help :)

I technically have three adeniums. I hVe recently purchased one and the other two were once one. Last winter it dipped into freezing temps during the night a few times (my blunter not to protect it). Where I lived this was/is very uncommon and my adenium was the sufferer. I tried to save it by removing various parts of the rotted caudex but it continued to die. Finally I cut it in two. The top portion sprouted roots and is growing mediocre. The bottom portion never died but it also never grew leaves or sprouted new appendages (that was one year ago). The overall health of my plants are 6/7 out of ten. I have since moved and the temps in my new home are about 10 degrees colder but with an added wind chill that further decreases the temps about 10-20 degrees.

My question is as follows:
For winter care I know the watering should be decreased dramatically (with mixed info about light). However I have to bring them in the house. The garage is just as cold as the outside nearly freezing temps (with no light). In my house, the heater is on nearly 2/3 of the day meaning it's dry and not so cold for dormant requirements.
I brought them in last night (12.10.13). They both have some leaves and one is a little spongy near the tips.
I know this is not much of a direct question. But more of a layout for your advice.

Thanks so much :)!!!!

This post was edited by hilli322 on Wed, Dec 11, 13 at 23:26

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 10:34PM
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The light issue is really what you can give at your home, whether it be natural
or artificial. If they do go dormant then you treat as you mention and if they retain leaves in cooler conditions, then minimal watering is still required.
As for the tips being somewhat spongy. Just keep an eye on it and see if you
find them beginning to rot and treat.
Not sure what to say about the one in photo. It may produce more growth in the next growing season. Not quite sure as to how far you can cut down and have them regrow. Some people have shown them growing new growth from the soil level.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 10:05PM
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LPBridge(8 (VA))

Hello all! So sorry to have disappeared for so long! I thought I had set it up to email me when I got responses, but apparently I had not. Oops! Thank you all for your wonderful help! And especially, thank you Laura for your offer to help in person. I have some complicated and time-consuming issues going on right now, but eventually I would definitely welcome getting together with you! I've sent you a message with my email address.

Yes, the caudex (such as it is) is indeed spongy. I like the idea about the mix shrinking, that makes a lot of sense to me. I think you're right about the gritty mix. I have no idea what my grandma potted it in, but it just looks like just your typical potting soil. And it looks like any nutrients have probably been used up by now. God knows when the last time this thing was repotted or fed/fertilized. I need to track down a more suitable pot, I think. With this one, I can't tell what kind of drainage I'm getting. When I get a chance to do that I will definitely follow SOP for root rot, should any exist, although I find it unlikely given the conditions in which it has been living. I did stop watering it daily. I've given it a small amount of water about once a week. Should I increase or decrease or is that acceptable? I feel dodgy about pruning it at this time because 1. it's not the right time for pruning, as I understand 2. it has so very few leaves, although I think this is not important with Adenium?

The poor thing is in much the same condition it was at the time of my original post, though my husband thinks it looks even worse. And it has lost a few more leaves since then.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2013 at 12:46AM
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LPBridge(8 (VA))

Hello all! I finally found the forum again! (My computer crashed and I lost my bookmark!) I thought I'd post an update for all you wonderful, helpful people. My grandmother's desert rose is rehabilitated! I've included a picture of the lovely blooms I got this summer. It is dropping its leaves and going dormant now. Also, I've moved it out of the room with horrible sun into my son's room, which gets decent light in the afternoon and is kept at a constant 75 degrees. (I kept it outside during the summer, which it loved, but moved it in before the first frost.) Thanks for all your help, everyone! I was in a panic when it first came under my care and it was so calming to receive all your wonderful advice.

Laura, I would love to get together with you sometime, now that the situation I mentioned before has cleared up!


    Bookmark   November 30, 2014 at 6:24PM
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What a treat to see your plant and what great care and
nurturing you have given it.
See what a nice hair cut can do for these plants. Now you can even up and cut off the longer branches in the spring or now.
So nice to see,

    Bookmark   November 30, 2014 at 6:39PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

Wow! You did wonders with it! I would cut the long branches off and root them in soil.Take about a 6" cutting. You can make several plants from your long stems.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2014 at 6:41PM
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