Date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) are a wonderful fruit and landscape plant that can be found growing everywhere in the south. Their natural appearance and easy of care makes them a great landscape plant. The fruit is also an additional plus but when planning on using this plant, make sure to choose the location wisely. In some situations, the fruit will fall off and land on sidewalks and cars. In doing so, this can create a mess. To avoid this issue, make sure to plant them in location that will not interfere with modern living.
At this point, you may wonder why you may want to start your own date palm in the south. I mean you can find them everywhere, which includes lining the streets, in yards, and at garden nurseries. For this reason, one may want to start their own to save money but before you jump into the car to “harvest” your date palm, continue reading. There are pros and cons to this inexpensive approach.
Date Palm Propagation
While there are three approaches to propagating date palms, I will only cover two. The two I pick are the most convenient for home gardeners.
Prior to discussing how to propagate the date palm through seeds, let’s take a look at the cons and pros.
- Date palms come in either male or female. When growing date palms from seeds, one has no way of knowing the sex of the seedlings since a date palm will not begin to flower until they are seven years old.
- Most that will germinate will be female, which in itself is a problem.
- Female date palms produced in this manner produce dates later and these dates are of poor quality. This can mean size, shape, and taste.
- Many factors affect the genetics of date palms. In doing so, there is no guarantee that the seeds collected will even come close to looking like the parent.
- There are only two pros. One, it is fun to experiment and see what you get. Second, if you live in the south your seeds can be free.
Now that you have the cons and pros of starting date palms from seed, let’s learn how to do it. The first part of this process is to collect your seed. Do this part of the process in the summer when the fruit is ripe. How do you tell if the fruit is ripe? Well, that is easy. You want fruit that is dark brown with a wrinkled appearance. Once you have found your source, make sure to pick more than what you think you will need. This will increase the chances of getting a male and having viable seed.
Once you have your seeds home, remove the pulp and make a snack with it. Next, place your seeds in a bowl of water and soak for 24 hours.
While your seeds are soaking, prepare your container. First, you will need to find several 6-inch containers with drainage holes. Once found, you will need to sterilize the containers by first soaking them in a bucket of warm water with a capful of bleach. Scrub to remove any remaining soil and hard water stains. Do not skip this step if you are using new pots. The point in the sterilization process is to remove bacteria and fungus that can harm the seedlings.
After you have scrubbed the pots, rinse in clear water and place outside in the sun. The solar radiation will do the last step of the sterilization process for you.
At this point, your seeds should have soaked for their allowed time and you are ready for the next step. This step starts off by removing any seeds that have floated to the top of the water. These seeds are not viable. Next, drain the water off and remove any remain flesh on the seeds. This is very important because remaining flesh can cause rotting and draw unwanted insects.
The next step is to create your own sterilized planting medium. This is easily done by using these two new ingredients. If you use new bags of peat and perlite, you are guaranteed that the medium is sterilized and in doing so you will not have to do that yourself. Once you have your peat and perlite, mix the two mediums together in a 1 to 1 ratio.
After your planting medium is mixed, fill all your 6-inch containers. Now that is done, water the containers in until you see water coming out of the bottom of the containers. At this point, you are ready to plant.
Now you are ready to plant your seeds but date palms are a unique seed. Normally you would plant a seed this size deep but date palms are simply placed on the surface and pushed down. You do not want to push down so hard that you cannot see the seed. Instead, push the seed down so that half of the seed is in the planting medium. Top the planting medium with a thin layer of course sand. Repeat this process until all the seeds have been used. Once that is done, water all the seeds in.
Top each one of the pots with plastic wrap and place in a warm location that receives indirect sunlight. To aid in germination, consider also placing the pots on a propagation mat that is set at 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Monitor soil moisture at this point can be tricky. If the soil is too wet, you will develop mold and fungus problems. On the other hand, if the soil is too dry the seedling will die. To solve this problem let the soil dry out. Once that has happened, water the container until you see moisture coming out the bottom of the container.
In three to eight weeks, you should begin to see little grass-looking shoots begin to appear. Once that happens, keep everything the same until the shoot is two weeks old. At that point, you can remove the plastic wrap and turn off the propagation mat.
Once the seedlings are 2-inches in height, replant each one in its own 1-gallon nursery pot. This pot will need to be sterilized and filled with a sand-based planting medium. Place your young seedlings outside in the shade and near a south facing wall. This location will be home to your date palms for a year. The only thing you will need to do is to make sure they receive 2-inches of water a week.
After your date palms’ first summer, you can gradually move them into a sunny location. Leave them here for the next year and monitor their soil moisture. Water the date palm as needed. Once the second year has passed, your date palm is ready for a sunny location in your landscape.
Offshoot propagation is easy and the most preferred. It should start only with the lower shoots and only after these shoots have started to send off their own offshoots. At this point, the oldest offshoot has formed its own root system.
To begin this process one will need to get a special offshoot chisel that will aid in removing the shoots. In the south, you can easily find these in garden nurseries.
Once you have your tool, sterilize it by cleaning it with alcohol. After that is done, you are ready to go out to the garden. The first step is to study your date palm and select the older offshoots. Next, you will need to remove the lower leaves so that you can see where the offshoot is connected to the mother plant. To aid in the cutting, you will also want to tie up the remaining leaves to keep them out of the way.
Next, cut the offshoot away from the parent plant and place it in a hole that is twice the diameter of the root mass. While the depth is important, you cannot dig it too deep since you are going to fill it in with equal parts of top soil and seasoned manure.
After the hole has been filled, water in until the bubbles stop coming to the surface. Now, place your offshoot in its new home making sure that all the roots are covered. For the next eight weeks, monitor soil moisture and water every second or third day as needed but do not let the soil dry out. After the eight week mark, you should begin to see new growth. Keep your date palm in this location for at least the first year before relocating in your landscaping.
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