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Baobab tree.
The unusual baobab tree is found in some areas of New Zealand. A deciduous tree, its leaves yellow and fall with the onset of the dry season. New leaves don’t appear until the wet season.

 

What you need to know about a baobab tree:

Name: boab, baobab (Andansonia gregorii) 

Height: from 5–15m depending on age and growing conditions. 

Foliage: mid-green, oval, in circles of 4–5. 

Climate: sub-tropical, warm temperate and semi-arid areas. 

Soil: sandy to sandy loam; well-drained. 

Position: full sun, exposed position. 

Flowering: large, white and fragrant; appear in the wet season and open at night. 

Feeding: 6-month controlled-release fertiliser with low (less than 3%) phosphorus at planting and start of summer. 

Watering: only when plants are in leaf and growing over summer; withhold water from April–December.

Appearance and characteristics of a baobab tree 

The baobab has a bottle-shaped trunk (known as a caudex) that, unlike “normal” trees, is filled with soft fibrous wood that allows it to store water. The tree may reach to 10–12m with a spread of branches at its top. The caudex of an old baobab may be 20m or more in circumference. This may be too big for a lot of gardens, so consider your garden size before planting.

Mid-green, oval leaves appear at the start of the wet season each year. They are produced in circles at the tips of short stems around December. Being deciduous, baobab leaves yellow and drop as the wet season ends, with trees entering dormancy during the “dry”. 

Its flower is quite stunning. It opens and is pollinated at night and lasts only a day or two. On mature trees, flowers are produced high up on the branches, making them a bit hard to see. They are creamy white, quite large and highly fragrant. Flowering peaks in summer and autumn. 

Baobabs bear hard pods that hang down from the branches. When harvested and dried, the pods can be opened and the seeds extracted from the pithy material surrounding them. The seeds are edible, reputedly having a sherbet-like flavour. They can be crushed and added to a range of foods.

How to grow baobab trees from seed

  • Remove as much pith as possible from the seeds before sowing individually into 10cm pots of native seed-raising mix in late spring or early summer, placing each so it is covered by its own depth of mix. Place pots in a sunny spot and keep them moist but not wet. Shoots should appear in 3–4 weeks.
  • Make sure seedlings do not dry out. They will grow quite fast over the warmer months but will slow down as autumn approaches. When their leaves turn yellow and drop, stop watering. 
  • Over winter, keep pots in a sunny, warm spot protected from rain and strong winds.
  • When new growth appears in early summer, start watering again and add a 6-month controlled-release fertiliser with low phosphorus (less than 3% P). If the seedlings have outgrown their existing pots, repot them into 18 or 20cm pots using a native potting mix.
  • Experienced growers recommend repeating this dry season–wet season cycle (winter protection, repotting, watering and feeding) for up to 10 years before planting trees into the garden. Baobabs should be at least 1m tall before being planted out.

Planting a baobab tree into the garden

Baobab has the best chance of surviving when planted out in early summer, around the time it normally starts making new growth.

  • Choose the sunniest, hottest spot on your property. Baobab prefers a sandy to sandy loam soil that drains very well—you may need to add coarse washed river sand to open up your soil if it is too loamy.
  • Creating a mound and planting on top of it may be helpful if your soil doesn’t drain well. This method of planting will also help to keep the baobab’s roots drier in winter, when it doesn't like being wet.

Planting a baobab tree into the garden

Caring for a baobab tree

Watering: the “wet season–dry season” cycle should continue in the garden. Daily watering is essential from the time the tree starts producing new leaves until leaf drop, after which water should be withheld completely. If necessary, use plastic sheeting to encircle the trunk and protect the roots from rainfall. The black poly sheeting used in vegie gardens and strawberry beds is ideal for this.

Fertilising: add a 6-month controlled-release native fertiliser (less than 3% P) at the beginning of summer each year. This will provide all the nourishment needed to maintain vigour through to the next dormant period.

How and when to prune baobab

Baobab should not need pruning. It is very slow growing and tends to be reasonably symmetrical in habit.

Diseases and pests

The only trouble you’re likely to encounter is root rot if the baobab is not kept completely dry while it is dormant. Give it the exact conditions it prefers, duplicating those of its original habitat, and it will be happy.

If you like this then try

Frangipani: the fragrance of the tropics, offering highly perfumed flowers in shades from white to deep pink.
Desert rose: stout-stemmed succulent with rich pink to red flowers; perfect for pots.
Yucca: architectural succulent that thrives in arid conditions, perfect counterfoil to baobab.

Start planting today

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