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.

12 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,
      Heike

    • 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!

    Thanks,

    Eve

    • 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?

    Thanks,
    Dave

    • 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

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