Planting baobabs is worth the effort

Baobab, Mashatu, Botswana

Baobab, Mashatu, Botswana

Baobabs are great plants with fantastic characteristics – they have adapted perfectly to their environment. They provide food, housing and shelter for humans and animals alike in their countries of origin. Nevertheless they seem to have a hard time when it comes to reproduction: Their habitat is under pressure. Agricultural land is increasing and the giants are sacrificed for the sake of cotton or grain. Numbers of cattle, goats and chicken increase and eat the small shoots.

Initiatives like the Baobab Foundation of Dr Sarah Venter in South Africa try to stop that process and started to plant baobabs. Together with the women in villages in the Limpopo Province they grow baobabs from seeds. The women are “Baobab Guardians” and plant them in their homesteads. The women take care of the small trees during their first years. The guardians protect them from animals feeding on them and water them. Until the little trees can make it on their own. After about three years the baobabs are tall and strong enough to survive.

Baobab Seeds

Baobab Seeds

Baobabs are easy to grow from seeds – if one follows a few steps. The seeds have a hard shell. Therefore, it is important to get an opening in the shell. This can be done in various ways: by saw, file, or drill. Some people throw the seeds into boiling water briefly, others do so into an acid. The treated seeds are placed into warm water for 48 hours. They soak up the water and inside of the shell the seedling develops.

After two days in the water, the seed shells are softened and can be peeled off the seedling. Those are then placed on moistened kitchen towel in a container. It is closed with a lid and placed at a warm spot. After two more days, the seedlings are ready to be planted.

Baobab Seedlings 2016

Baobab Seedlings 2016

It is best for the trees, if they are planted outdoors which works only in frost-free areas. The Baobabs do not like temperatures below 12 ° C – especially when they are small. Big, old baobabs can survive colder days. Nevertheless, baobab friends in frost regions do not have to miss out on the giants. The trees are excellent as potted plants. Even those who love bonsai enjoy the trees.

However, one has to take into consideration that baobabs develop a large root system. Small baobabs form a taproot during the first three months of their lives. They gather nutrients to get ready for the dry seasons in the wild. Later on when the trees are larger, they form a pronounced flat root system. Baobabs in the pot, like their big relatives in the wild, are frugal contemporaries and do not need much care.

During the growing season in summer, they need water only as the soil in the pot gets dry. They do not like to stand in water with their roots. Therefore it is important that the soil in the pot is as dry before they are watered again. Baobabs appreciate fertilizer every now and then – but not too much. Every two years the soil in the pots should be changed.

17 Replies to “Planting baobabs is worth the effort”

  1. Pingback: How To Grow A Baobab Tree - Baocare

  2. Hi there. I really love your website and all the knowledge available. I was wondering if you could write a blog about planting a baobab out. With regards to what type of soil it likes and whether it can handle wind I am particularly curious. I am working on a farm in Cape Town and have grown two baobabs as per your instructions and am now wondering about the next step. The soil I work on has been added with nutrients over the last few years, and is clay loam. Can baobabs be planted here or do they need sand? Kind regards and more baobab lives needed. Arron Darcy

    • Hi Arron, thanks for your comment about my website and your interest in baobabs – they are lovely trees. You may find the information you are seeking spread out in several of my articles – I therefore give you a quick summary to your questions as I do not have the time to write a blog post at the moment:
      – make sure that the temperatures outdoors do not drop below 12 ° C!!! (I think that is quite difficult in the area in and around Cape Town…) Baobabs – particularly the young ones do not like the cold and DO NOT tolerate frost and they do not appreciate too much water around the roots for longer periods of time! If you want to put them outside make sure you can protect them properly
      – soil: they like sandy soils with good drainage. They might grow on clay/loam but my experience is that they do not like it moist around their roots – drainage is important. That is why they love it in Limpopo so much… Clay keeps the moisture. You could put pebbles and/or sand into the soil before planting but you still have the challenge of temperatures. Nutrients is fine – although baobabs live on meagre soils in most of the areas where they are at home
      – wind: baobabs are not fond of wind at all – although they grow in windy places at times – this depends on where their seeds germinate. If you want to do yours a favour then do not plant them in a windy environment. I am a bit short today as work keeps on piling on my desk – nevertheless I hope that my lines help you to take a good decision in favour of your baobabs. Good luck & If you like please let me know what you are planning to do. Kind regards, Heike

  3. I am interested in planting baobabs for reforestation in Senegal. First, I want to start by planting some in my land (2.5 acres) as an experiment hoping that I will get the local populations behind the idea. Unfortunately reforestation is usually done with none native species which is verh problematic.
    Any advice/resources or like minded initiatives would be helpful.



    • Dear Amadou, thank you for contacting me and for sharing your idea about reforestation in Senegal with indigenous species. As I am placed in Berlin I may not be of much help for your efforts in Senegal but maybe you could contact a company named biomega which operates in West Africa and I think even in Senegal. They are based in Austria but may be able to help you.
      I think it is a good idea to start planting some trees on your land and involve other people later – so that they can see progress. With baobabs you’d have to make sure that you plant them far enough apart as with age they tend to become enormous. In addition – if you grow baobabs from seeds and plant them on your land you have to make sure to protect them from browsing animals like goats, cattle, chicken and antelopes (if there are any in the vicinity of your land). Best way is to fence them. In addition you have to make sure that you water the trees frequently during their first 3-5 years as they are not strong enough to survive long periods without water. There is an initiative in South Africa that does planting of baobab trees with local communities. The programme is called baobab guardians and it is very successful. Maybe it is worthwhile to have a look on their website? I have been in South Africa and have paid some of the baobab guardians a visit. See results here:

      I hope this email helps you a step further. If you like – keep me updated on your progress. All the best & have a wonderful time. Kind regards, Heike

  4. I am growing a baobab in Naples, FL. (Zone 11B) It’s gotten to about 3 foot tall in a pot. Funny how it’s bloomed as over the winter I thought it died. A few questions that I can’t find anywhere. How big do you think it needs to be to plant in the ground. Also, should be doing any trimming of it as it grows? Been trying to find answers to these questions. Any links would be appreciated

    • Hi Robert,
      thank you for contacting me & congratulations for successfully growing a baobab in Florida. I have no idea what Zone 11B means. If you’d like to grow a baobab outside you have to make sure that the soil you plan to plant it in allows for good drainage as the roots of baobabs are prone to root rot. And you have to make sure that the tree does not get frost. It should be safe in Florida, right? Baobabs drop their leaves during the dry season which is “winter”. So, that is totally normal behaviour – as oaks and other trees do, too. Baobabs love full sunlight. I think if those conditions are given in your garden, you may as well plant it outside. You have to check for pests as lice etc love to feed on the leaves. And if you keep livestock in your garden (farm?) you have to protect the baobab with a fence as goats, cattle & chicken consider baobab leaves a delicious treat. About trimming: if you grow it outside and do not want to keep it as a bonsai I would not do any trimming. The small baobabs try to gain height as quickly as possible and therefore can grow more than a meter/year if you take good care of it – that means, you’d have to water it regularly as long as it is still small (for lets say 3 – 5 years). For further reading please find the links below.

      All the best to you & your baobab & greetings from Berlin Germany, Heike

  5. I got a few seeds some 10 years ago. They all came up an i planted some in small pots for bonzai but two in huge pots. The two grew so tall, about 4 meter and i gave them to a friend who has a farm in Ellisras. I gave away a few plants and kept two as bonzai.
    I want to know if one can eat the roots and how.

    • Hello Hugo, thank you for sharing your experience with growing baobabs from seeds & getting in touch. Yes, you can eat the roots of young baobab shoots. Basically you can prepare the tap root like you would do with carrots, for example cook it. Hope this helps. Kind regards, Heike

  6. Hi, thank you for such a great article. I live in Fort Myers Florida. I have just bought 2 small Baobab trees. I want to keep one small as a bonsai and plant the other in ground. I know that it has a deep and extensive root system. I would like to know what is the best distance to plant it away from the house. In order to avoid the roots damaging structures, plumbing and septic systems. Thanks

    • Hi Jessie, thank you very much for your interest in baobabs, your feedback regarding my website and for getting in touch! As your tree outside will most likely find good growing conditions (including water, I suppose) it might grow quickly. It will not cause a problem during the first decades but rather later on. Nevertheless, I recommend that you plant it as far away from structures, plumbing and septic systems as possible as it will need space once it gets older. The tap root may not be the problem as most of the baobabs tend to lose it after some years – it is important for their survival during their first years. Later on they spread their roots widely and to a depth of approximately 1,80 meters into the ground (quite shallow). I hope that helps. All the best to you and your baobabs & take care, kind regards, Heike

  7. Hello, thanks for the article and am loving the recently discovered baobab community.

    I live and work in Tsavo national park in Kenya, and as you will know this ‘mid band’ of Kenya is highly populated with Baobab.

    I am building a lodge around a majestic old one and was curious about transplanting semi mature baobabs? Is it possible, how big can they be (from a health standpoint, obviously logistics would be a determining factor) any tips would be appreciated.

    Salaams, Lengai

    • Hi Lengai, thank you for getting in touch about baobabs. Generally speaking it is possible to transplant baobabs and it has been done in several places that I know of. I am sure you followed the news in Kenya regarding the uprooting of mature baobabs in September 2022 – it has caused a lot of publicity. I hope you understand that I do not want to give advice in transplanting baobabs to new locations. You can start growing your own trees and plant them in the garden of your lodge. Here is how you can proceed in growing baobabs from seeds: Good luck & all the best! Heike

  8. Hello, I’m living in the island of Lanzarote in the Canary islands and last year I planted a baobab in my garden beside the house at about 2 meters from the walls. I would like to ask you if I made a big mistake planting this beautiful tree so close to the house, since the plant is still young and small, should I move it in a more roomy place?
    Thank you so much and best regards,

    • Dear Luca, thank you for getting in touch re baobabs. I understand your challenge. During the first years you will probably not run into a problem with the baobab growing too close to the walls of your house. Later on you may. It all depends on how fast the tree is growing. Nevertheless, if you want to prevent problems in future you could consider replanting it to a spot with more space for the stem & developing roots… Hope that helps & all the best, Heike

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