Baobab seeds: how they germinate easily

Baobab – grow your own from seeds from Heike Pander on Vimeo.

Germinating baobab seeds: some say it is easy, others complain about the low seed germination rates. Tips & Tricks of how to make them grow are easily available – especially on the Internet. Some seem to have success with throwing the seeds into boiling water or into acid. I did not succeed with the former and I did not give it a try with the acid. A gardener in Namibia nipped a piece off a seed with pruning shears. I tried that but found it quite fiddly since the seeds are difficult to hold.

Simply placing the seeds in the soil, as it works in nature, is successful occasionally. Scratching the seeds and soaking them in warm water for one to two days leads to better results, but the germination rate was not satisfying to me.

Baobab Deko: Baobab fruit of different shapes

Baobab fruit of different shapes

Therefore I experimented with baobab seeds and how to grow them and take care of them. For me it works best if I scratch, soak and finally peel the seeds. In a next step I put them in a container and let them germinate for two more days. The container has the effect of a miniature greenhouse. I mix soil with sand and put it into a pot. I place the germinated seeds on the soil and cover them with rough river sand. The germination rate of the baobab seeds is significantly higher with the peeling method.

Baobab Seeds

Baobab Seeds

No matter which method you choose, a few basic things help:

  • Opening the shell: Baobab seeds have a hard shell. Opening it allows water in and initiates the germination process. In addition the opening helps the seedling to get out. This can be done by sawing, filing or drilling for example
  • Soaking the seeds: place them in warm water for 24 to 48 hours. As mentioned above this will set off the germination process and helps the seedling to get out of the shell. The shell gets softer and is therefore easier to peel
  • Planting: I put the germinated seeds on soil, which I mix with coarse river sand. I cover the seedlings with sand. The seeds need water, but do not tolerate too much moisture
Baobab Sapling

Baobab Sapling

Grow Baobabs from seeds – The steps:

  1. Scratch the baobab seeds slightly
  2. Place scratched seeds in warm water for 1-2 days
  3. Gently remove the seed coat with your fingernails
  4. Place the seeds on a moist kitchen towel for another two days in a small bowl with a lid. The seeds will continue germinating.
  5. Earth: Mix cactus or regular soil with coarse river sand. The sand makes the soil more permeable and helps to prevent root rot
  6. Pot: It should be at least 10 cm high. Put the soil mixture in the pot. Baobabs form tap roots and need space to do so
  7. Place the seedlings on the soil mixture in the pot and cover with a two centimeter thick layer of coarse river sand
  8. Water: the baobab seedlings need regular water – but do not water too often. Pour water every two to three days and use rain water if possible
  9. Light: Baobabs love it sunny and warm. In summer they can be placed outside in a warm spot – for example on the balcony, in the garden or on the terrace. Beware, the small seedlings are susceptible to spider mites and they do not like strong wind.
  10. Heat: The seeds need a warm environment, that means temperatures around 20 ° Celsius and above

Baobab – grow your own from seeds from Heike Pander on Vimeo.

17 Replies to “Baobab seeds: how they germinate easily”

  1. Hello again,
    My experience is quite different, I have read somewhere that you need to pour over boiling water and wait.
    And this is what I have done, poured over boiling water and left them in water for a day, planted next day.
    Germination rate is high.

    Thanks,
    Vas.

    • Hi Vas, thanks for your comment & sharing your experience. As mentioned in my other mail there are different ways in getting baobab seeds to germinate. Congratulations that you mangaged it with your method. All the best, Heike

    • Hi Heike,

      I have tried your method and first time (I take one seed at a time), I filed it as in your video then left in water for 2 days and then removed outer shell and left it in moisture container for 2 more days although it smelled like it was rotting when it was time to plant it and the embrio had no extra growth like in your video, I am doing the second seed now making sure heat is correct and I am in day one of embrio in moisture although still no visible change in embrio like in your video.

      Hi Vas,

      Please walk me through your method as well, if you dont mind?

      Any suggestions or relevant information or steps I might need to look at?

      Thank you kindly
      #Desperate Learner

      • Hi Sean, thank you very much for trying to grow baobabs. Sorry that your first attempt did not work in your favour. There are quite some different ways to get baobabs to germinate and I have tried most of them – except using acid or boiling them in water. The method I describe in the video is the one that has by far the highest success rate with respect to germination for me.

        When it comes to getting the seeds started the important thing is to open the outer hard shell of the seed so that water/moisture can penetrate the shell. This is the impulse that initiates germination in a healthy seed. Why your seed did not germinate as expected can have different reasons. It might be too old or the temperature was not right or it had too much moisture… or it was simply not the right time for it to grow or it did not get enough hours of daylight. I live in Europe and our days are getting considerably shorter at the moment. Therefore I do not try to germinate seeds at the moment. I wait for next spring. If this is the case for you as well you could try to give them some extra light with growth lamps (I am not sure if you call them like that).

        I have spoken to a number of researches and they confirmed that not all of the seeds will germinate – some only do so after some years, some never will.

        Good luck for your next attempt in growing baobabs & don’t give up!

        Kind regards,

        Heike

    • Hello! My experience is also quite different. I have successfully sprouted seeds that were 7 years old, having been stored in a mason jar during that time. I soaked them for 8 hours, then drained wrapped them in a towel, and placed them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a few weeks. I then removed them from the refrigerator and planted them in moist soil, with a lid on the plastic cup. Once the sprouts poked out of the soil I removed the lid from the cup and gingerly removed the seed husks. It is worth noting that the husks removed easily from those that had well-developed leaves trying to burst free. A few were ready almost as soon as they popped out of the soil. Others required a day or two more, which I then sprayed these husks with water and allowed them to soak up the water for 10 minutes before removing them from the plant. This works well as long as I am careful not to hurt the leaves inside.

    • I have successfully sprouted seeds that were 7 years old, having been stored in a mason jar during that time. I soaked them for 8 hours, then drained wrapped them in a towel, and placed them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a few weeks. I then removed them from the refrigerator and planted them in moist soil, with a lid on the plastic cup. Once the sprouts poked out of the soil I removed the lid from the cup and gingerly removed the seed husks. It is worth noting that the husks removed easily from those that had well-developed leaves trying to burst free. A few were ready almost as soon as they popped out of the soil. Others required a day or two more, which I then sprayed these husks with water and allowed them to soak up the water for 10 minutes before removing them from the plant. This works well as long as I am careful not to hurt the leaves inside.

      • Thanks Jered, for sharing your experience & congratulations to your success in germinating baobab seeds. There are quite a few methods to have them germinate and yours sounds interesting, too. All the best for you and your little trees, Heike

  2. Hello, I have germinated baobab seeds severally and they have been working. I used to scratch seeds using sand paper, soaking them in water, then put them on wet paper towels and wait for them to germinate. To germinate a large number of seeds, simply soak the seeds in 98% sulphuric acid for 1-2 hours to peel the seed coat, then rinse 3 times then put them on paper towels. I achieved 80% germination. However, moulds are a nuisance to my seedlings, do you have any idea on how I could handle that?

    • Dear Nyamohanga Justus, thank you for sharing your experience with germinating baobab seeds – that is well appreciated! And congratulations for your high rate in germination. Well, yes. mould can cause a problem. When does the mould occur with your seeds/seedlings? Before planting or after? The only thing that I can suggest at the moment is that you try not to put them on towels that are soaking wet. Each seedling needs some space around it, no contact to other seedlings so that the air can circulate freely. They should be kept in a warm spot, not direct sunlight and no wind. There needs to be some moisture but not soaking, dripping wet – before you plant them… As soon as you put the germinated seeds in a pot (one seed per pot or if planted in a garden with enough space between the seeds) they need soils with good drainage. No clay and no thick/rich soil. Baobabs are used to meagre soils in most of the areas where they come from. I hope that this helps you. Let me know how your seedlings are doing – if you like. Good luck and all the best, Heike

  3. Dear Heike,

    This the most helpful information that I have received to date.
    I have been collecting Zim Baobab fruits for years and then trying to grow them at home in South Africa with little success.
    I have tried countless methods to seed preparation all with 98% germination success. The issue comes in a several days later when the saplings are unable to break away from the hard shell entirely and die.
    Peeling the seeds as per your instruction is definitely going to work – I was always under the impression that if I did that the seeds would rot.
    I have just laid several seeds on damp cotton and things are looking good.
    Shall keep you posted.

    Thanks a gazillion.

    • Hello Storme, thank you so much for your positive comment – you made my day as I read it early today. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that your baobabs seeds will grow into healthy strong and huge trees. In case of any questions feel free to contact me and I shall see what I can do. All the best during these challenging times & kind regards, Heike

  4. Hello!
    Thank you for your great post and recommendations!
    We’ve successfully germinated the seed, and planted it in the right soil mix.
    We do not get sun everyday here in Montreal, so we use a growing lamp, but the initial leafs of the seedling are a mix of green and brown, and it is growing very slowly. We are unsure the amount of artificial/natural light the seedling needs for the first month of growth, and how often/much to water, and if we should use spray vs direct watering.
    We would like to share some picture via email if you can help us out!
    Thank you!

    • Hi Daniel, thank you for your interest in my website & congratulations for having seeds germinate successfully. And yes, the adventure now starts – watering can be a challenge. For this I have included two links to posts that should help you answer your questions. Generally: you can pour water into the pot but you have to be careful with the amount – to make sure you do not overwater: poke your finger into the soil. If it feels dry or nearly dry you can pour some more water. Use rainwater if possible. With respect to growth lights: I have had other people explain that they use growth lights successfully. I have never tried them myself – that is because I start with my germinating projects by the end of May as there is enough light and the temperatures are usually high enough. Make sure your baobabs have constant temperatures – they should not be below 20 Degrees C.

      https://baobabstories.com/en/baobab-leaves-growing-in-spring/
      https://baobabstories.com/en/watering-baobabs-how-to-do-it-properly/

      If those posts & my ansers leave questions open feel free to contact me again.
      All the best & good luck with your lucky trees – Heike

  5. Please advise

    I have been growing them for years in the USA in zone 6.

    They are about 2 feet tall and coming out of dormancy and growing.

    Can you advise how best to prune them to make the trunk thicker control size?

    Thank you

    • Hi Michelle, thank you for contacting me & congratulations to growing baobabs successfully! Well, it really depends what you’d like to do with them – would you like to trim them “Bonsai-like” or would you just give them a chance to get a thicker trunk? Generally speaking: during their first couple of hundred years they invest in height, getting a thick trunk is basically their last period of growth. If you keep them in a pot, they get thicker trunks quicker if you cut back the new shoots. I do not know how many branches your trees have and the size does not seem to be too high either. You could give them some more time in growing higher. You can cut them back at any height. If they have just started sprouting new leaves I would not cut it in a way that the tree has no more leaves left (although it can survive that as well) because the tree needs the leaves to absorb the WATER. If left with no leaves it could develop root rot and die. Hope this information helps you. All the best, Heike

  6. Hey,

    I have planted mine in to soil. They began to root in the most environment of the Tupperware so I transferred to the soil. It has been a week now and I haven’t seen any progress or any growth out of the surface of the soil. Is this normal or is there anything I can do?

    • Hi Tom, thank you for contacting me. It is difficult to tell from far what has happened. I am not aware of the temperatures in the environment where you keep your seedlings – indoors, outdoors, rainy days, dry & hot? If the temperatures are below 20 ° C then they could take longer to break through the surface. If you kept the soil too wet, they could have started to rot – because baobabs can catch root rot easily… Maybe you could describe what you did? Kind regards, Heike

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