Watering Baobabs – How to to do it properly

Little Baobab, germinated from seed in the wild

Little Baobab, germinated from seed in the wild

Your “baobab adventure” starts with the successful germination of the baobab seeds you planted. It is crucial for the little saplings to survive the first three months – until they are big and stable enough to continue on their own. One of the important factors to make it easy for them is watering them correctly. The little plants do not like “wet feet” at all. That means they should not be over-watered otherwise their roots will rot away since they are prone to root rot. Nevertheless, they need water on a regular basis.

Baobab Seedling, a few hours old

Baobab Seedling, a few hours old

How the roots of a baobab develop

In my short video, I explained how you can help baobab seeds to germinate successfully. Once you have removed the outer shell of the the seed kernels, you can see the leaves and roots developing. The latter is initially a single, white shoot which grows deeply into the ground. Therefore, baobab saplings need pots that require a depth of at least 10 cm. While the little taproot grows deep into the soil it develops a small tuber – usually during the first three months.In it, the baobab stores nutrients and water for the dry season which it would have to face in the wild. The little sapling in the pot on your balcony or windowsill behaves in the same way although it does not necessarily need the taproot to survive.

Baobab Seedling, one day old

Baobab Seedling, one day old

Parallel to developing the roots, the little baobab grows leaves. These support the production of its food through photosynthesis and absorbing water. Sometimes growing leaves works fast. Some baobabs seem to take some rest after they show their first two leaves. One of the reasons could be that the environment around the roots is too wet.

Baobab Seeds on “Turf-Muffins”, different perspective, definitely too wet!

Take the following into consideration when watering your baobab:

  • Baobabs that have just germinated need to get water regularly because they cannot yet store it in their trunk, branches and roots as large baobabs do.
  • The little plants are sensitive – use rainwater if possible
  • The amount of water is crucial: the pot should not get dripping wet – pour a fair amount of water. Usually I use between 100 and 200 ml per pot for small pots that are about 10 centimeters deep. If the pot seems really dry, I pour more water.
  • The frequency with which you pour water is crucial, too. The roots are prone to root rot, so they should not get too much moisture. It is important to take temperatures into consideration. If it is very hot at the location where you keep the baobab, you need to water it more often. On a summer day with normal temperatures I pour water every 2 – 3 days on average. At temperatures around 25 ° C and direct sunlight on the pot, I monitor how quickly the earth is drying. When in doubt, I poke my finger into the soil and feel whether it is still moist or nearly dry. With very small baobabs the soil should not dry out completely.
  • If the temperatures are very high – for example, above 30 ° C – I take the pots with freshly germinated baobabs out of direct sun, or cover the pots (not the plants). Although the plants can tolerate very hot and sunny circumstances the pots could heat up too much and dehydrate too quickly, which could damage the roots. After all, the roots should not “boil” in the sun.
  • Generally speaking, the cooler the site, the less water the baobabs need. Whereby the freshly germinated baobabs feel most comfortable at temperatures around 24 ° C. Even the older saplings in pots appreciate temperatures above 25 ° C. Temperatures above 30 ° C will get the baobabs going wild – then they sprout leaves without end. Cooler temperatures around 15 ° C to 18 ° C are good for the baobab resting phase, when they drop their leaves (e.g. winter in Europe). If it gets too cold for very young baobabs they can simply stop growing.
  • If you have a good feeling for your little baobab trees you can monitor their leaves: they clearly show when they need water as they start wilting slightly. Then, however, you need to pour water immediately. However, care should be taken with this method: be sure that the plants really need water and that their appearance is not the result of a beginning root rot. Because if they have caught root rot, their leaves might look a bit withered in the initial stage as well.

34 Replies to “Watering Baobabs – How to to do it properly”

  1. Hi
    I bought three Baobab seedlings/ saplings from The Kruger Park nursery In Skukuza. Two are about 300mm tall and one is about 700mm long. I have tried to some reading on the best way to grow them with the idea of making bonsais. We live in Nelspruit, and it is hot here. Not as hot as Skukuza, but two or three degrees C below.
    My worry is the water situation. I have read so much about root rot from over watering, but at the same time that they need lots of sunlight.
    So, I put them outside in the sun. Great. Plenty leaves on all of them. Healthy plants.
    Last night, it started raining and is still raining. Weather man says it might carry on for a few days.
    What do I do? Do I bring them inside until the rain stops or do I leave them?
    Thanks in advance for the help.

    • Hi Neil, how are your baobabs doing? I was travelling and did not have time to respond. Generally speaking, I would not leave baobabs in a pot in the rain for too long. You do not necessarily need to bring them indoors – you can leave them outside in a spot that does not get wet until the rain stops – unless the temperatures drop significantly. Then I would put them in a dry and warm spot until the sun shines again. Generally, baobabs in the wild can cope with lots of rain and drops in temperatures – but those in pots live under different conditions and need a bit more care. What they do not like at all is too much water at their roots. And they are not keen on windy spots. Hope that helps. Kind regards,

    • I think Baobabs are not that sensitive if the water drains properly. I live in tropical region where we get heavy rain for months. I have a little Baobab which is only about 2 years old. Except for first few months I haven’t taken any care of it. I planted it when it was 6 months old under a small tree where it can get little shade and water doesn’t get logged. Since then I haven’t watered it when it is dry or haven’t moved it inside when it rains for months heavily. It is still alive, when it is dry it just drops leaves and sleeps, when it rains it grows. It has survived 1 dry season and two rainy seasons. Now 2nd summer is going on and it is sleeping happily.

      • Hi Sathwik, thank you for your comment – you seem to live in the right place then. As you mentioned: your baobab has good drainage and lives in a warm place. From your post I assume that it sits directly in the soil and not in a pot. Circumstances for plants in a pot are a bit different and one needs to make extra sure that the drainage is good and that the soil around the roots gets a chance to dry. All the best to you & your tree! Heike

  2. Hi, I have a 4 month old baobab which I’m growing in the UK. My intention is to bonsai so it is living in a 1.5l pot at the moment. It’s the only one I have and the seed is from Tanzania so I’d very much like to keep it alive and healthy!
    Can you help with how much I should be watering at this stage? Also We had a very hot day here (for us) a few days back and I left it in the sun all day and the leaves tips turned a light brown with a few brown scars all over. Have a hurt the plant at all or has it just been lightly burnt? Any other tips would be great thank you!

    • Hi Ryan, thank you for your patience and for sending photographs. It is quite difficult to do a diagnose without and even with pics – no guarantee. You wrote in your mail & your FB message that your baobab is 4 months old. Baobabs are very sensitive during the first months/year of their lives and I am afraid that repotting has disrupted the little tree. During their first threes months they develop their tap root and I usually recommend not to repot during the first year because it can affect root growth and growth in general. They are a bit stronger when their shoots/stem start to get “woody”. A second factor that may have led to your baobab reacting the way it does is that you have taken it outside. It might sound funny but to the tree that may mean another stress factor. For us as humans the change in air temperature or micro climate might not seem drastic but that tree is still very small. I would not go as far to say it has “feelings” – lets just say it is sensitive to any change in its environment. The climate (temperature, moisture…) in Great Britain is not quite comparable to the circumstances in Tanzania where they grow naturally. I do not think the leaves caught sunburn. It may be a reaction to the disruption it experienced. In the worst case this could be a sign of beginning root rot. So, what can you do: keep on monitoring your tree and make sure it is placed at a spot where it is warm – baobabs like the sunny side best. I can see signs of moisture on your window. In general the place where it is and the soil seem a bit too moist from my perspective. In addition baobabs do not like draught (wind). Make sure it is placed in a dry environment. Be careful with watering! The soil should not to be too wet inside the pot near the roots constantly – test with your fingers first before watering – and the tree needs soil with good drainage because the roots catch root rot easily if kept with too much moisture. Give the tree some time – it needs to digest the changes it experienced. I hope this helps you & I shall keep my fingers crossed that your tree is getting better quickly. Kind regards, Heike

  3. Hi! I’m just about to plant some baobab seeds and I wondered if you have any specifics about soil humidity? I have a humidity probe so it would be great if I knew a range to keep within!



    • Hi Eve, thank you for contacting me & for your interest in Baobabs. I have never used a humidity probe and therefore cannot tell you about the range to keep within – sorry that I do not have any specifics for that. To my taste it sounds rather complicated and I usually just poke my finger into the soil near the roots of my baobabs to find out whether the soil is dry enough for rewatering and the trees therefore need water. The soil should be dry before you water your baobabs again as they are very prone to root rot. All the best & good luck! Heike

  4. Hi,
    I recently planted a few baobab seeds and I have four out of five that cake out within two days of planting. I’m in the uk and it’s pretty warm here and they are in my conservatory with all my other bonsais. I didn’t think I would get as many as I did and I have two in one pot and two in another. I planted them on the 25th May and they are now I would say just over 5cm in height with their 2nd group of leaves forming. I understand they like to be alone in pots but I didn’t know this at the time. I was under the impression I could repot them in three months but from your comments on here I see even that early could cause distress. What would you suggest is the best thing for me to do? Also when do you start only watering them once a month and giving fertiliser? Thank you in advance. Sam x

    • Hi Sam, I suggest you leave them in their smaller pots for a couple of months – during their first three months they develop their tap roots and do not take disturbances very well. I rather leave mine in their pots even for longer periods. I would not say water your baobabs once a month – that could work during their resting phase in winter. In summer, once temperatures are much higher, they need water at least once a week. To determine whether they need water either monitor their leaves or poke your finger into the soil close to the roots. If it feels dry, rewater. I do not use fertiliser on my trees. You can repot every 2 years – that should do the trick if you use regular soil with a mixture of sand for better drainage. In the wild they live on meagre soils and are used to make the best out of it. Hope this information helps. All the best & congratulations for growing baobabs successfully! Heike

  5. Hi Heike. One of my saplings was doing after coming out the kernel, but when being stored in a moist paper towel, the container opened slightly and the little one dried up. How likely is it that this little one will come back?


    • Hi Dave, I am sorry – but that is really difficult to say. You can try to put it in water for a few minutes and then in a damp paper towel again and monitor it… all the best!!! Heike

  6. Hi! A have a baobab plant that is a couple of months old. Recently its been moved inside after being initially grown outside. It looks great so far. It has about 15 cm. I live in Poland and its starting to get a bit colder as the summer ends. My question to you is this – do baobabs like being sprayed with distilled water? I do it to my other less exotic plants and it works miracles. Since baobabs like dry climates I wonder if spraying the leaves is a good idea. Also do you have any other advice about taking care of it in the upcoming months? Please let me know what you think.

    • Hi Maciej, thank you for your inquiry regarding your baobab. As they prefer dry climate I have not tried to spray them. If you feel you’d like to try – go ahead. I just recommend that you keep the soil of your baobab as dry as possible. Before watering over winter check with your finger if the soil is dry enough and do not water as much as during the summer months. As I am very limited with my time at the moment I recommend that you browse through the “taking care of” section of my website – see links below.
      All the best to you and your baobab – Kind regards, Heike

  7. Hi Heike
    Thanks for your past advice. Chris Skellenger here, in Northern Michigan, USA. I did not read about NOT watering a dormant Baobab and I watered it a couple of times. It has leafed out, grown like crazy, but now the new leaves are drying up and falling off. Did I incite some rot rot?

  8. a couple weeks ago, i put 5 african baobab seeds in their container, (all of them sprouted when put in between tissues, so when they went into the soil lall 5 were alive), now 1 has sprouted, and is showing his 2 leaves, but he is below soil level (still visible, but lower than soil generally) and his leaves are yellow. the other 4 haven’t come up yet.

    is it normal that the leaves are yellow since it is fall, or am i doing something wrong (wrong time to plant, watering or something else)?
    I live in the Netherlands, maybe it is too cold here even indoors?

    Kind greetings,


    • Hi Leander, thank you for contacting me. Some of the stages of germinating baobab seeds can be tricky – if the one with leaves is strong enough it will push through the soil. As it still is covered with soil (if I understood you correctly) it is normal, that the leaves are not completely green right away – once it gets full daylight the leaves might turn green – at least that is what happened to one of the germinated baobabs that I had treated in August – it took the leaves about two days to turn from yellow to green once it had gotten light. In addition: it is not quite the ideal time to have baobab seeds germinate. It is much more successful if you start in May/June – then they are big enough in fall when they usually start dropping leaves. Germinating baobabs like constant temperatures around 24 °C best. In my opinion all you can do at the moment is wait & do not water them too much but do not let them dry out completely either. All the best & good luck! Heike

  9. Good day
    We have got a Boabab tree 1.6m from a guest as a gift to the lodge. I wanted to plant the Boabab next to our Moringa tree on our lawn. But now I am worried that it will get rotten roots as the lawn gets water basically daily. We are in Namibia, very very hot between 30 – 40 daily. Very little rain. I do not want to make a mistake and loose this beauty.
    Kind regards

    • Dear Sarah, thank you for getting in touch. Well, it is quite difficult to say what will happen to the roots once you plant the tree next to or on the lawn that gets watered daily. As the baobab is still young and probably used to getting water on a regular basis, I assume it may be ok if you plant it where you planned it – I am not sure about the watering daily. You write it is very hot in the area – so the tree may need water often anyway. Usually, little baobabs benefit from getting water regularly and grow faster than other baobabs who have to exist from the water they get during rainy seasons. I know of baobab projects that pay women to take care of little baobabs which includes watering the trees frequently – but they may not water them on a daily basis. Another crucial factor is the soil: if it allows good water drainage, your tree should be fine. It is very important that you do not plant it on clay. Baobabs prefer sandy soils. I think growing on or next to a law that gets water frequently mainly causes problems to older trees – for example if they grew on a spot for hundreds of years with only little water available and all of a sudden someone grows a lawn next to the tree and waters it on a daily basis. That may cause trouble for the tree… Hope this helps with decision making. All the best to you and your tree! Heike

  10. Good Day Heike,

    I’m Rajan from India. It’s absolutely delightful to be routed to your website today as i was really in a problem and i’ve been looking for help all around.
    I had a great Baobab seed grown tree around 5-6 feet tall but suddenly it has got root rot because of overwatering most probably. I was not able to notice it for some time and thats why it happened.
    I’ve now removed the rotten portion and applied fungicide as well and i wanted to know whether it’ll be able to grow the roots again and what should be the procedure if you can guide me on that. Help on type of soil will be a great help too.
    I got this plant 5-6 months back from a nursery and the soil with which it came is normal garden soil but i’m not sure if same soil can be used to grow its roots again all over.
    Many thanks in advance.

    • Hi Rajan, thank you for getting in touch and sorry to hear that your baobab caught root rot. Well, it really depends whether you could cut off all the rotten parts or if some of it was left. Was the whole root affected? It is very crucial that you exchange the soil completely. If you use garden soil, mix it with rough RIVER sand (no sand from the beach). The pot you grow your baobab in needs to have GOOD DRAINAGE. Watering: pour water once and then let pot get dry. Test with your finger whether soil in pot is really dry – only then pour water again. Yes, usually baobabs do grow back their roots. Some people cut roots on purpose because they say it makes the stem grow thick faster. Good luck and all the best. Kind regards, Heike

  11. Thanks for replying Heike. And comforting to hear that there is a possibility as it was a beautiful tree.
    Yes the root is completely gone and i actually had to cut it a lot to remove every trace of fungus.
    Is there any substitute for River Sand, would gravel, cinder or perlite etc serve the purpose?

    • Hi Rajan, I am very sorry to hear that you had to cut the root completely. If the stem of the tree is affected, you have to cut those parts off, too. One of my precious baobabs died recently of root rot which I detected too late, too. The root was gone completely and the stem was affected – it felt soft upon squeezing it. I cut a big chunk off and put the remaining stem into a glass of water. A few days later I could see new leaves developing on the branches. But patience is necessary – the new leaves showing have to grow and that is the tricky part… With respect to river sand: that is you best option. What exactly do you mean with gravel? Is it little pebbles? If you place them at the bottom of the pot, that may help, too. With the other materials I do not have any experience. Good luck & all the best! Heike

  12. Thanks Heike. I had to cut it into 5-6 pieces actually but thankfully the main stem was almost intact and is around 10-12 inches in dia..
    I’ll check in different mediums and try.
    Thanks again for guidance.

    • Dear Rajan, oh no – that must have been a really nice tree. I am sorry that it caught root rot! Yes, good luck with the tree & all the best to you. Kind regards, Heike

  13. Hi,
    I have baobab tree that is 18 months old. Everything was going well untill may of 2021 when the leaves started to hang down along the trunk.
    They do not dry out nor fall down.
    The leaves on the head are looking fine.
    I tried more water, less water. Nothing works.
    Please help me out. I could send a photo if it helps.

    • Hi Alain, thank you for getting in touch. I am sorry to hear that your baobab is not doing well. Have you checked for pests? Yes, a photograph may be of help. I shall contact you via mail. Kind regards, Heike

  14. Hi
    I bought a small baobab, about 30cm tall. It’s in a pot. It’s rotted at the level of the soil, probably from over watering. The roots still look healthy, they have not rotted and the soil lower down was not very wet. The upper part of the plant also looks healthy. Is it possible to save it by replanting replanting the roots or the tree part? What’s the best way to do this?

    • Hi David, how do you knoe that your baobab is rotted at the level of the soil? Is it soft & slobbery? Unfortunately, your description is not very precise. Is the tree in two parts – roots separated from the stem? Or are there soft spots at the stem? If the latter is the case you’d have to cut out the slobbery part and repot the tree into new soil and clean pot. If the tree is in two parts you can try to safe the upper part by putting it into water so that it may grow roots. Sometimes that works with cuttings from branches. I am not sure if the same works with the roots but you could give it a try. Can you send a pic? Kind regards, Heike

  15. Hi, I have read that you have to take 3 times more seeds than you want to grow. So I have put 10 seeds in the same pot, expecting one or two to grow, and now I have 8 baobabs growing. The problem is the space. When is it safe to repot them? There is not much space in the current pot for all of them. I love these little trees so much. Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Tamara, thank you for getting in touch & congratulations for growing your baobabs from seeds! Well, baobabs put a lot of energy in the development of their roots during the first three months. I therefore try not to disrupt their growth during that time. Usually I give them more than 3 months to do so. Hope that helps you. All the best to you and your trees! Kind regards, Heike

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