Sunday, August 17, 2014

How to: Grow Date Palms from Seed

Phoenix is a genus in the family Arecaceae which is composed of about a dozen species. The most economically important of which is Phoenix dactylifera, the true date palm. Fruits of the date palm contain very high sugar content and are prized for the energy they provide.

Date palms generally require very warm and sunny summers with mild winters, typical of many regions of the Middle East. Dates are commercially cultivated in the Middle East, parts of Africa, many islands and subtropical locations, but also in the United States. Dates are cultivated commercially in many states including California and Arizona. In order to ensure successful harvests, dates must be grown in arid regions that have hot summer temperatures and only mild freezes in the winter months. On top of that, fruit production requires a lot of water, despite the fact that dates can withstand long droughts.


Date trees are versatile, serving as much more than a shade tree that provides fruit. Sap can be tapped from the trees, which can then be used as a sweetening syrup or fermented into an alcoholic drink. The leaves are used for a variety of purposes such as roofing for houses, and crafts such as baskets. Seeds can even be used as a feed-stock for animals.

There are over one hundred cultivars of dates grown around the world and the differences between them can be quite stark. For instance, the Deglet Noor date is generally light in color with firm flesh where as Medjool dates have a dark color with thick and soft flesh. Some dates are small, some large, while others are moist with sugars and syrup others can be dry to the touch. Quite possibly my favorite dates are the Jumbo Medjool dates which are especially large compared to typical Medjool or Deglet Noor dates.


Growing date palms from seed:
This method is quite easy but actually yielding fruit from your trees will be a bit more challenging. To grow a date palm simply eat a date, remove the seed and wash it clean of any excess flesh.

Next soak the seeds in water for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours), which will allow the strong seed coat of the date seeds to imbibe water.

There are many methods for germinating date seeds, but there are two easy methods for most date seeds. The first is to sow the date seed (rough side down) about 1" into a small pot filled with soil. Lightly water the soil occasionally ensuring moisture at the seed's depth, while being careful not to over-water the soil.

The second method is to wrap the date seeds in a slightly moist paper towel and put them in a plastic bag. Place the bagged seeds in a warm place, at least 75°F and small white roots will begin to appear from one side of the date seeds. The germinated seeds may then be planted in a small or medium sized pot filled with a palm or cactus potting soil.

Date seeds are really picky when it comes to moisture, they want to be only slightly moist so be sure not to over water the seeds. Other germination methods work better for tricky seeds, and these include the incorporation of sand and vermiculite to help regulate the moisture of the soil.

Potting soil for date palms:
Palm or cactus potting soil mixes are a good choice for planting date palms in, and they are usually available at home and garden stores. Alternatively you may add sand and/or vermiculite to a generic potting soil (in a 1:4 or 1:3 ratio) to provide good aeration and drainage. Adding peat moss to the soil will help the soil retain moisture if it is draining too well. Most palm or cactus potting soils have a good mixture of sand, vermiculite, perlite and peat moss and will be the most suitable for date palms.

Once you have a date palm seedling established, you must cater to its growth by transplanting it gradually to larger and larger pots. Transplant your date palm when you notice that it is outgrowing its container or growing roots out from under the container. Be sure to water the palm well before and after transplanting and avoid transplanting into a significantly larger pot. Alternatively the palm may be transplanted into the ground if your climate supports its growth. Otherwise date palms may be kept in large pots outdoors, on a porch or somewhere receiving maximum sunlight. It may be possible to keep date palms indoors near a window that receives direct sunlight, although its growth will likely be severely hindered.

Date palms are dioecious, meaning that each plant is either male or female. Females are more desired because they will bear fruit, while the males only provide the pollen to fertilize the females. This means that only one male plant is needed to pollinate many females. The pollen grains of date palms are small and can easily travel by wind to pollinate the females, but commercially it is hand pollination that is the method of choice to ensure maximum fertilization.

Growing date palms by seeds results in plants that are not true-to-type, meaning the seedlings will develop into palms with fruits that may be smaller and of lesser quality than the parent. On top of this, only about half of the seeds that germinate will be the desired females. Therefore vegetative propagation is the preferred method of many commercial farms and nurseries. This can be done through tissue culture in a laboratory setting or by offshoot rooting of young date palms.

Date palm propagation by offshoots:
Young date palms, about ten years of age, will begin to send offshoots from the basal portions of the trunk. These offshoots are directly connected to the parent plant, and thus receive all of their nutrients and water from the parent. Overtime they will develop roots that will bury into the soil to support their independent growth. This may be facilitated by building soil up around the offshoot if it appears close to the parent trunk. Over time these may be severed from the parent plant and potted in a process that should only be done by experts to ensure success. Although this is a long and time consuming method of propagation, it results in true-to-type clones of a female plant that will have a head start over date palms started by seed.

Above are ripe fruits of the Silver Date Palm (Phoenix sylvestris) which is a date palm with a sweet sap that is used to make palm wine. The fruits are edible but have only a small layer of flesh, though I find them to be delicious.

This is an inexpensive box of Iranian dates the cultivar of which I do not know. There is a huge difference between these low quality dates and those that fetch over a fifty dollars a kilogram. I found these dates to have a soggy texture and a thick outer skin.

Green, firm immature fruits can be seen on this date palm (Phoenix dactylifera)

A closeup of this date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) shows mature offshoots that were allowed to grow, and the many small knobs from offshoots that were cut back long ago. Notice the roots that emerged from the old offshoots.

34 comments:

  1. How do you tell between a male or female plant? Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, you have to wait until maturity in order to examine the inflorescence before determining this. There is some literature about doing genotyping to determine the sex of date palm seedlings, but for the average horticulturalist this would be unpractical.

      When mature the flower stalk (inflorescence) will appear different between males and females.The female inflorescence is usually long with small bead-like flowers, whereas the male inflorescence appears fluffly with many small white flowers.

      Delete
  2. Informative and well-written. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Took the chance to plant it behind my house here in Ghana though the fruit seller said it can't be grown here in ghana. About five seeds were germinated but only one pulled through during the transplant
    Now I only Have one 3yrs old which is about a meter tall and there is none around will it bear fruits in future

    How do I differentiate between a male and female seed

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kweku,

      I'm based in Nigeria and have heard that it can't be grown here also.

      Glad to hear that yours is doing well. However you will need both a male and female plant (this is why i've germinated about 10 seeds in the hopes having 1 successful male and female).

      I hear that our climate (Nigeria + Ghana) is too wet/humid for growing date palms. Did you start growing your plant indoors or outdoors? Do you have any tips for me? How does the plant do in the raining season?

      Delete
  4. Excellent article. I am an After Dinner Gardener and have all sorts of stuff at various stages of growth. Of course my challenge is my zone 5B - but what the heck.

    I know I will never see fruit on my clementine,pomegranate or pineapple. :-) Ate some delicious Medjool dates tonight and can't wait to plant the seeds.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pineapples take just over 2 years to bear fruit. My father has done so many times and I had one come to fruit! I'm in Ohio, not sure what zine that is but we've always just kept them outside in pots in the summer months and then brought them in during colder temps but still in a sunny spot. Hope that helps!

      Delete
    2. Hi Daisy,
      I was in Mason, OH and grew a pineapple which yielded a pineapple. I covered it with a plastic bag and had slices of apple to create ethene, which began the fruit bearing process. After eating the new pineapple, I planted its crown, grew it, and got a second home grown fruit. I found that if I don't force them with ethene, they just get really long sharp-pointed leaves.

      Delete
  5. @Zombit Patrolman Ive grown so much stuff here and im zone 5A.
    Heres a list of stuff ive grown. and some even bore fruit.


    Pineapple, from the top of a store bought - but died when an animal got to it.

    Dwarf pomegranate seeds from ebay (and it gave me tiny delicious 2" fruits).
    The best part is it flowered indoors!
    Then Died from fert burn.


    Coffee plant. Killed it when i took its fruits wrong. im planting this one again this year. look for "coffea nana"


    oranges, died outside in a nasty freak early stow storm at 2yrs old. on the deck
    thatll teach me to trust August in zone 5.

    Banana! yes thats right banana! there are verieties that are ok for as low as zone 6 and 7. they do well and will flower indoors. make sure to get a dwarf type as anything else will grow over 6'.
    Oh those were good... but i gave it away.

    Natal plum; these will flower indoors as well.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have germinated a seed and the plant has grow to a thin, single stalk about 12 inches tall. I look forward to nurturing this plant. I live in New England so it will need to be a house plant. Any hints on going forward? I will watch for roots at the bottom to repot.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I live in Lagos, Nigeria and right now we're approaching the end of the raining season.

    My seeds have just begun to sprout leaves. Should I keep it as an indoor plant until the dry season properly starts?

    ReplyDelete
  8. please can i plant it directly to the ground no time for pot issue. i already have the seeds. secondly each hole should contain how many seeds.thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, you can plant the seeds directly in the ground if you're going to be growing in a climate amenable to date palms. You should plant one seed per hole.

      Delete
  9. My country was being humadity,We tray what's varities is be suitable for planted in the Area,and can be fruitten

    ReplyDelete
  10. What color are dates whan they are ripe

    ReplyDelete
  11. How deep should I plant my date palm seed? It's Medijool

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you're planning on keeping it as a houseplant you should sow the date seed 1-2 inches deep, but if you're growing it outside (especially in an arid region) it may benefit from being planted deeper than that.

      Delete
  12. Thanks for the info, we are looking to start some in Southern India!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi im johari from Philippines my friend gave me a pack of dates from UAE those are dried dates would it be possible to grow here.. And do I need to follow the direction how to plant it like soacking in water first?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, if you just follow the instructions above, you shouldn't have any problem getting them to germinate. However, depending on your local climate, they may be difficult to grow outside. Date palms can be sensitive to high humidity and rainfall. Though, it would never hurt to give it a try!

      Delete
  14. hello
    What about growing them inside a greenhouse when they get to big. I live in northeast usa and could not keep it outside all year without my greenhouse to bring it in for winter. I have germinated 5 mahjool dates so does that mean I could possibly have a female and a male, maybe, if I am lucky?? Even if it not I will still be excited to have the plant to grow. I know it would take a long time to get any dates anyway. I probably do not have the proper conditions even with a greenhouse. I am so happy to have found this website.
    Patty in USA (state of NH)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your interest! Date palms generally have a stunted growth in greenhouse conditions and won't grow as tall as outdoors. Although, depending on the size of your greenhouse, it may be difficult to get fruit to set. The main reason that I ever grew date palms in my greenhouse was purely for the novelty, and to experiment with something new and fun!

      Delete
  15. Hi! What's the longest time does it take for a medjool date palm to germinate? Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have usually noticed germination within a couple of weeks. The longest time to germination that I'd expect is about a month.

      Delete
  16. I love dates, but all of them I have ever bought have been seeded. Where do you buy your dates to get seeds?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, these dates seem to be popular in the U.S., although you can certainly find some with seeds at most international or middle eastern groceries.

      Delete
  17. Hello! Thank you for writing this post ... it is very interesting and informative! You mention that their growth will be severely hindered indoors, even by a window. Have you tried or had any success with using a sun lamp with date palms? I have two planted indoors that are about a foot tall and am considering trying a sun lamp to help them out!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I haven't tried growing dates indoors with added light, although this would certainly help. Date palms usually grow fine on window sills without added light, but don't develop strong trunks and will have a dwarfed growth habit (and you would definitely not get any fruits off of them in this case).

      Delete
  18. Hi I have a hardy palm tree but I'm not sure when the seeds are mature they turn green to brown please help me

    ReplyDelete
  19. I think you have to save the pollen stalks from the male date tree and use these pollen to feetilize the female flowers in the female tree

    ReplyDelete
  20. Great article. I am always trying, sometimes with success, and other times not so much, to grow from what we eat at home. Today I was eating dates and wondering what plant they came from. After reading they came from a Palm, I got overly excited. I'm in Austin TX and we are in the 8B hardiness zone according to the US planting zones. We have several palms that grow around the area, potted and in the ground. And while we have range from year to year with severe droughts, to severe flooding, I'm going to try my hand at planting some of the medjool date seeds from what I just had as a snack. I've mixed them in my usual sandy potting mix I use for most tropicals I already have. I'll start in a pot, and transplant ad needed, hoping to plant eventually in the ground on our new property in the hill country after we finish building our house. We do have occasionalost hard freezes, though very infrequent, but most palm owners around the area wrap the palms well with thick canvas to avoid the damage to the trees. I will do the same if my plants succeed to that point.

    Thanks everyone for your wonderful insight.

    ReplyDelete
  21. How many years before the plant flowers after planting?

    ReplyDelete
  22. how many years will it take date palm to reach maturity?

    ReplyDelete
  23. Will date palm grow in the savannah zone and humid tropics of Afrca

    ReplyDelete