With their tasty fruit and stately growth habit, date palm trees (Phoenix dactylifera) have a long history. They thrive in hot, dry climates in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11, where they add a tropical look to a yard. Date palms grow readily from seed gathered and started in spring, but the resulting trees mature slowly and may take six to 10 years to bear fruit.
Collect and Prepare the Date
Date palm seeds stay viable for months but will germinate most reliably when sown immediately after being removed from the fruit. The cylindrical, grooved seeds slip easily from the fruit, but they must be soaked in hot water for 24 hours to dissolve any residue left by the flesh. Stored or commercially sold seeds require a lengthier soaking to soften their seed coat and ease germination. Soak them for two to five days, changing the water daily to prevent bacterial growth on the seed. Give the seeds a final rinse after their soak, then blot them dry on a piece of paper towel before sowing.
Date palm seeds need a balance of moisture and air to germinate. Use a porous, sterile medium such as a mixture of 3 parts milled coir and 1 part coarse sand or perlite. Fill a 4-inch pot with the mixture, leaving the top 1 inch empty. Use a pot with a drainage hole. Date palm seeds sprout from the tip and must be positioned horizontally so their roots and shoot can develop correctly. Lay two seeds on the surface of the mixture, 1/2 inch apart, and press them into soil until they are halfway buried. Cover them with a 1/2-inch-thick layer of perlite or coarse sand, then water them until the excess water trickles from the pot's drainage holes.
Date palm seeds need warmth and consistent, light moisture to germinate. Light does not play a key role in germination, so the seeds can be started indoors where the moisture level and temperature can be more easily controlled. Maintain soil temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit by placing the pot on a propagation mat or in a naturally warm spot, such on top of the refrigerator. The growing medium may dry out quickly at these temperatures, so check it daily. Water the date palm seeds whenever the soil feels nearly dry just beneath the surface. Most date palm seeds will germinate in one to two months, although some may sprout in two weeks.
Under natural conditions, date palm seedlings become established under the shade of their parent tree where they are sheltered from temperature extremes and direct sun. Mimicking their natural establishment phase will give them a good start in life, which will help ensure their long-term health and vitality. Once the seeds germinate, transplant the date palm seedlings into 8-inch pots filled with palm-formula potting soil. Grow them in a bright, sheltered spot, providing 1 inch of water weekly during the summer. Slowly acclimate them to direct sun in fall of their first year. Transplant them into a sunny, fast-draining bed in spring of their third year.
Date palm seeds have an equal chance of producing a male or female tree. Both are required to produce fruit, but the female trees are more desirable both for their fruit-bearing capabilities and for their lack of pollen. Many people are allergic to the pollen, making the male trees a poor choice for your yard. It is virtually impossible to differentiate between male and female date palm seedlings, so propagating them from seed is a gamble. For that reason, most date palms sold at nurseries are propagated vegetatively from female trees so the sex is known.