The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) has a commanding presence. Its arching, gray-green, waxy fronds can reach more than 10 feet long, forming a stately crown at the top of the tree. Panicles of pale yellow flowers generally appear in the spring. And they give way to the edible oblong fruits (the dates) that begin as green and then typically turn to brown as they ripen. The palm is slow-growing, gaining a few feet per year on average. It can be planted in the spring or fall.
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|Common Name||Date palm|
|Botanical Name||Phoenix dactylifera|
|Size||50–80 ft. tall, 20–40 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Sandy, loamy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline|
|Hardiness Zones||8–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Africa, Middle East|
How to Plant Date Palms
When to Plant
Either early spring or fall planting is suitable for date palms. If you'll be transplanting a tree rather than starting from seed, aim to plant on a day that isn't too windy. Otherwise, the tree might sustain damage to its fronds as it's moved.
Selecting a Planting Site
Pick a spot that has plenty of space for the tree’s full size. It should get lots of sun and have sharp soil drainage. Make sure nearby plants won’t shade a young palm too much as it grows. Container growth for young palms is also an option.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Dig a hole twice as wide and slightly deeper than the palm’s root ball. And make sure to take into account a mature palm’s 20- to 40-foot spread when determining its positioning near other plants and structures. A support structure generally won’t be necessary, but you might want to protect a young palm from strong winds until its roots become established.
Date Palm Tree Care
In harmony with its preferred dry, hot climate, the date palm loves plenty of sunshine. It can tolerate light shade but does better in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days.
Well-draining soil is the most important factor to consider when choosing where to plant your date palm. This palm does well in sandy or loamy soils and is tolerant of salt. It prefers a slightly acidic to alkaline soil pH.
The date palm is drought tolerant, especially once it's established. However, during its flowering and fruiting season, it should have even moisture to produce a healthy crop. Young trees also will need more water than mature trees. Don't allow the soil to fully dry out, but also prevent it from ever becoming soggy.
Temperature and Humidity
These trees prefer hot, dry, and sunny conditions. In fact, temperatures need to be around 95 degrees Fahrenheit for pollination to occur. The date palm can tolerate temperatures down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. However, cold weather can cause damage to the fronds or even kill the tree. As for the fruit of the date palm, it also does best in dry heat. Too much humidity and moisture can lead to rotting.
To fertilize your date palm, manure makes an excellent option. If you’d rather use packaged fertilizer, specialty palm tree fertilizer is recommended. Apply fertilizer following label instructions during the late winter or early spring to prep the tree for its flower and fruit production in the coming months.
Date palms have separate male and female trees, and only the female plants bear the fruits. It's recommended to have at least one male plant per every six female plants. Pollination happens via the wind.
Types of Date Palms
There are several types of date palm trees that produce luscious fruits. Here are some of the most popular ones:
- 'Barhi': This variety produces a solid, savory fruit that is best eaten straight from the tree.
- 'Deglet Noor': The fruit on this variety is golden and has a honey-like flavor.
- 'Fard': This tree produces the fruit most of us recognize as the common date with a dark brown exterior.
- 'Dayri': This variety produces an elongated fruit that changes from red to brown to black.
Date Palm vs. Palm Tree
Date palms are part of the palm family. So all date palms are palm trees, but not all palm trees are date palms. Most of the plants within this family have large, evergreen, feather-like fronds and are native to subtropical and tropical climates. They produce a variety of foods, including palm oil, heart of palm, dates, and coconuts.
Fruits will begin to ripen in the late summer to early fall, and not all of the bunches will ripen at the same time. Expect around 20 pounds of dates in a young tree's first harvest; mature trees can produce hundreds of pounds of dates.
Once the fruits are soft and brown, not green, cut off the bunch with a sharp knife. They can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for about a month or in the refrigerator for up to six months. They also can be frozen for up to a year. Eat them raw, in baked goods, in smoothies, and more. Just be careful not to eat the pit inside.
How to Grow Date Palms in Pots
It’s possible to grow a young date palm in a container. This allows you to move it into optimal light conditions and a location that is protected from strong winds. Select a container that’s slightly larger than the palm’s root ball. An unglazed clay container, such as a terracotta pot, is ideal because it will allow excess moisture to escape through its wall; the container should also have drainage holes. Use a well-draining palm potting soil in the container.
This tree generally does not need pruning beyond removing fronds that are damaged or diseased. You also might want to remove any suckers that begin to grow around the base of the trunk, so the tree can put its energy into the main trunk.
Also, as your tree begins to bear more bunches of fruits, it’s recommended to thin the unripe bunches to promote better airflow around the ripening fruits and ensure that they don’t rot. Thinning the bunches also can increase the fruit size.
Propagating Date Palms
Date palms are easily propagated via the suckers, or offshoots, that grow at the base of their trunks. These offshoots are clones of the parent plant. Propagating this way not only will save you money on a new plant, but it also will get you a new fruit-bearing plant more quickly than if you were to grow it from seed. Here's how:
- Identify a healthy offshoot. Gently separate it from the parent plant, trying to leave as many roots attached to it as possible. It’s often easiest to do this by hand.
- Plant the offshoot either directly into its permanent garden location or in a container filled with palm soil. Gently firm the soil around it, just covering its roots.
- Evenly moisten the soil, but make sure it doesn’t remain soggy.
- Keep the new tree out of harsh sunlight until its roots take hold. You also might need to add some stakes to help it grow straight as it becomes established in the soil.
How to Grow Date Palms From Seed
Starting your date palm from seed is another way to grow more palms. Here’s how:
- Remove the seeds from ripe dates.
- Soak the seeds in water for at least 24 hours, discarding any that float to the top.
- Place each remaining seed in its own small container of a seed-starting mix. Press the seeds into the soil, so they are about half covered.
- Place the containers in a spot with bright, indirect sunlight. You also might want to place a plastic bag on top of the containers to help retain moisture. Keep the soil lightly moist and warm. Expect germination in roughly a month.
Date palms need special care if they are grown in an area that can receive cold weather. If you expect a cold snap, use fabric to wrap the tree to protect it. Bring container date palms indoors if possible.
Are date palms easy to grow?
As long as you live in the right climate and have suitable soil conditions for a date palm, it is a fairly easy plant to grow. These palms generally don't experience any serious pest or disease issues and can tolerate drought once they're established.
How long does it take to grow date palms?
Female date palms take around eight years on average to begin producing fruits when they are grown from a seed. Trees grown from offshoots will start fruit production in a shorter amount of time.
Can you grow date palms indoors?
It's possible to grow date palms indoors if you have a bright enough window. However, they often don’t thrive, and it's unlikely that they will produce fruit.