Follow these steps to grow baobabs from seeds successfully:
- Baobab Seeds: nowadays it is easy to buy baobab seeds online. The seed coats or shells are very hard and make germination difficult. Slightly crack the outer seed coat and let it soak for two days in lukewarm water.
- Give it a “Boost”: Take the seeds out of the water. After soaking them they should have reached twice their original size. Look for the spot where you have cracked or scratched the outer seed coat. Carefully peel the brown outer shell off the seed with your fingernail. You should see where the seedling has started to build a root and where the leaves will be.
- Support Germination: Take a bowl with a lid. Soak a paper tissue (or similar). Put the seeds in and cover them with another soaked paper tissue. Leve them for another 1 – 2 days. The moist and warm environment helps the seedlings to get stronger. If you do not want to wait that long you can skip this step and proceed to step 4 immediately.
- Soil: Your best choice is cactus soil. Mix it with sand (preferably coarse-grained river sand because it helps with drainage) . The ratio should be 2:1. Garden soil is ok as well – the mixing ratio is the same as with cactus soil.
- Pot: From early on, little baobabs form taproots. Thus, the plant needs plenty of room. Therefore, take a pot that is at least 10 cm high, a higher pot than this is even better. Fill it with soil and spare the top three centimeters.
- Sowing: take the soaked seeds and put them on top of the soil in the pot. Cover them with a two-centimeter-thick layer of sand. This helps to avoid waterlogging which baobab do not like at all. In addition, it keeps away little black flies (Dark-winged fungus gnats).
- Care: Water the seeds regularly – about every two to three days should be alright – at the latest when the sand gets dry. Do not allow the seeds to dry out. If possible use rainwater.
- Light: to germinate, baobab seeds need a combination of warmth, nutrients and sufficient water. Best place the pot on a sunny spot at a window, on the balcony or the terrace.
- Heat: Seeds require a warm environment – make sure that the temperatures are around 20°. I have read that they need constant 24 °- I cannot confirm that. My baobab seeds have germinated despite somewhat lower and varying temperatures.
Being patient is very helpful for your “Baobab” project. Sometimes it may take weeks and months for the seeds to germinate – they follow their very own schedule. From others I have heard that they have watered their seeds for up to one year on a regular basis and had almost given up when the seeds finally germinated.
It seems that I was lucky this year: one of the seeds drove out a leaf after about a week, the second a week later. After six weeks, the third seed germinated.
Even after germination the little baobabs need to be watered regularly. But they have a tendency to develop root rot if drainage of the pot is not good. If they have made it through the first three months they are likely to survive.
Although they grow rapidly during the first few weeks, they invest a lot of energy in their taproots. There they store water and nutrients that will help them in times of scarcity to ensure their survival.
If you planted several baobab seeds in one container, you can repot them after about three months. Baobabs are “loners” and do not like the close company of other baobabs – even if one sees small groups of baobabs in the “wild” every now and then.
A word about the pests that affect baobabs outdoors. As you water the small seedlings regularly, Dark-winged fungus gnats might settle in. The flies like it warm and moist and place their eggs in the soil. The larvae attack the roots and can cause damage. As mentioned above distribute a two centimeter thick layer of sand on top of the soil in the pot. Flush lice and other pests from tender baobab leaves with water. More options are described here.