A baobab (Adansonia digitata) is an interesting addition to a bonsai collection. These trees are native to Africa and have an unusual structure and appearance. Some legends say that the tree was cast down from the heavens and landed upside down, where it began to grow. This story is no doubt a result of the tree’s appearance in the winter, when the upper branches of the tree look more like roots than treetops. The baobab has some specific needs, but if you pay careful attention to its requirements, this tree is not difficult to grow and makes an excellent bonsai specimen.
Keep the baobab tree warm, since it is sensitive to the cold. This tropical tree grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and up, but in most areas of the United States, a baobab bonsai is kept only as a houseplant. You can set it outside on warm days, but if the temperature drops below 54 degrees, the tree may die.
Place the tree in a bright, sunny window. Baobabs need at least six hours of full sunlight per day, so a window with a western or southern exposure is best. If your house doesn’t get enough light, supplement natural light with artificial grow lights for 16 hours daily, or less if the tree receives partial sunlight.
Water the tree well about once a month during the growing season or whenever the soil is dry. Never water the tree when it is dormant, since to do so is likely to cause root rot and kill it.
Feed a baobab bonsai a good-quality liquid fertilizer about once a month, applying the fertilizer when you water the tree. Due to the nature of the bonsai pot and root system, the fertilizer must be diluted to no more than half the normal strength, or you risk burning the roots and killing the tree.
Prune the branches of your baobab bonsai as often as they need it to give the tree the shape you desire, pruning or pinching off branches that are growing at odd angles or are too long. Trim early in the spring before new growth appears.
Repot the baobab bonsai every two years in the spring. Remove it from its pot and trim the roots back by one-third to two-thirds of their length, completely removing any that are damaged or dead. Place it in a container that is twice the size of the root ball and fill the pot with a mixture of 70 percent compost and 30 percent salt-free sand. Water well to minimize shock and be sure to keep it warm.
Baobab powder is very nutritious. To obtain it, you can plant and grow your own baobab. We’ll explain you how to do it.
Baobab is the common name of a genus (Adansonia) with eightspecies of trees, 6 species in Madagascar; 1 in Africa and 1 in Australia.
Adansonia gregorii (A.gibbosa) or Australian Baobab (northwest Australia)
Adansonia madaf Zascariensis or Madagascar Baobab (Madagascar)
Adansonia perrieri or Perrier’s Baobab (North Madagascar)
Adansonia rubrostipa or Fony Baobab (Madagascar)
Adansonia suarezensis or Suarez Baobab Diego Suarez,(Madagascar)
Adansonia za or Za Baobab (Madagascar)
The name Adansonia honours Michel Adanson, the French naturalist and explorer who described A. digitata.
One of the earliest written references to the Baobab tree was made by the Arabic traveller, Al-Bakari in 1068. In 1592, the Venetian herbalist and physician, Prospero Alpino, reported a fruit in the markets of Cairo as “BU HUBAB”. It is believed that the name is derived from the Arabic word Bu Hibab which means fruit with many seeds.
Common names include bottle tree and monkey bread tree. Baobab – derived from African fokelore “upside-down-tree”. The story is after the creation each of the animals were given a tree to plant and the stupid hyena planted the baobab upside-down.
The baobab is the national tree of MadagascarWatering Baobabs.
Once the leaves start turning yellow at the beginning of autumn – gradually slow down watenng. Stop watering when plus minus 50% of leaves turn yellow. Do not water trees during the dormant (winter) period. However, some people do water in winter, mainly in hot areas, but according to experience chances are very good that trees will rot and may die.
Slowly start watering again when the trees are sprouting new buds, usually mid September.
Do not over water during this period but gradually increase water and fertiliser (preferably organic) as more and more leaves develop.Only once the tree is in full leaf can it receive as much water and fertiliser as other trees. Always let the surface soil dry out a bit before watering again. Adjust watering during rainy periods.
Where to keep Baobab
Baobabs like direct sunlight for as long as possible during the active growing period. The more sun the better they grow. Preferably keep under a hail net or not more than 30% shade net. Never keep indoors during growing period. During winter the tree MUST be kept anywhere indoors, on a wall unit or even under the bed or in a cupboard. The tree does not need any sunlight during the cold winter months as it is completely dormant. Protect the trees from cold (below 10 deg C) and frost – It is recommended keeping them indoors, this solves the problem of cold and frost and the temptation of watering them where they can also be displayed.
Baobabs are easy to transplant as long as you stick to the basics. Baobabs can be transplanted from September to December. Baobabs have potato like roots – it is edible (some very sweet others not). Always make sure the cut through the root is done with a sharp tool and the cut is clean – the cut should at a right angle (90 degree) with the root to keep the surface of the scar as small as possible. Always seal the cut with a mix of wood glue and flowers of sulphur to prevent rotting of the root. Some bonsai growers burn the freshly cut root. Place the cut root after the application of the flower of sulphate mix in direct sunlight to dry out for about an hour. Transplant in a deep bonsai pot and make sure the tree is anchored if a lot of roots were removed. Do not water for 7 to 14 days, keep in full sun, thereafter water sparingly in the beginning until the tree is full of leaves. Baobabs prefer a well drained soil mixture. Soil mixture of 2 parts coarse aggregate, and one part compost.
Diseases in Baobab as Bonsai
Baobab trees have very few pests. Be careful of rootrot – too much water at the wrong time. Trees with root rot can be rescued if discovered early – cut back until there is no more sign of rot and treat the same as a newly transplanted tree. Regularly feel the base of the tree, it must remain hard because rotting always starts from the roots upwards. They may also be attacked by fungi.
Training Baobabs as Bonsai
To obtain the quickest results, the young seedlings should be transplanted in a big container. The bigger the better. The container should stand on the ground to give the roots the opportunity to grow through the enlarged drainage holes into the ground. Alternatively on top of another large pot filled with soil. This will result in very fast developing trees. The roots inside the pot must be watered to keep them alive. When the tree is transplanted the roots in the ground (larger pot) will be sacrificed and only the roots inside the growing pot will be used. The top growth needs to be trimmed back to compensate for the loss in roots. If planted to grow into open ground, in areas that are very cold and frost occurs during the winter months, the roots should be cut off just below the container and the cuts treated with flowers of sulphur.
All Baobab trees should be moved somewhere indoors to protect them from the cold.
This process should be repeated year after year until the desired development is reached.