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.

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