You can grow a date tree from a date seed easily.
In the Israeli desert, close to the Dead Sea, near Jordan, date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) grow prolifically. In fact, the date palm is a sign that there is an oasis in the desert, and a source of water. A sight for sore eyes!
The date tree provides shade in the arid environment, as well as nutrition and medicine. In the desert climate dates provide a staple food like potatoes, wheat, and rice in cooler climates. You can even grow a date tree from a date seed, found in a grocery store date.
How to grow a date tree from seed
In commercial date orchards around Israel, date trees are grown by cloning adult date trees. This brings the trees into fruit production faster, an important consideration in a commercial orchard. However, dates palms can also be grown from seed.
To grow a date tree from a date pit, soak several date seeds for a week in cold water, changing the water daily to prevent mold or bacterial contamination.
Plant the seeds in a pot in soil, protected from cold temperatures. Since you don’t know which seeds will germinate and which won’t plant several seeds in one pot. Keep the soil surface moist but not so wet that mold begins to grow. I grow mine on a sunny window sill in the house. It takes several weeks for the seeds to show above the surface of the pot.
The seeds will send up a single green shoot that turns into a flat, tall leaf, 12 to 18 inches tall. After a few months a second leaf will join the first leaf.
Once the date leaf is 6 to 8 inches tall, carefully remove the leaf and its seed from the pot and transplant it into a new pot that is at least 8 inches deep. You’ll notice that the leaf grows a little ways away from the seed rather than directly above it. Carefully remove both the leaf and the root system together so that you don’t damage the plant.
You’ll transplant the date palm into larger pots as it grows.
Don’t give up
Date trees are easy to grow from seed. In fact, in Israel a date tree was grown from a seed that was 2000 years old. However, if after a few weeks your date seeds don’t germinate it could be that the dates you bought were irradiated when they were imported into your country. Try to find dates that are certified organic in the store, or ask a friend to bring dates back with them from a trip to a date growing area like Israel, Jordan, or even Arizona or California.
Both fresh dates and dried dates have pits that will grow.
Growing conditions for date trees
- Well drained, loose soil
- Slightly dry soil
- High magnesium soils
- Full sun
- Fertilize every second year with magnesium sulfate
- Zone 9 to 11 (outdoors)
- Hardy to 20˚F (6˚C)
- Protect newly planted date palms from frost
Garden space needed
Regular date trees grow up to 30 feet tall and have a spread of 20 feet. Pygmy dates grow only 10 feet tall with an 8 foot spread. If you have a lack of space, choose a pygmy variety of date tree.
How to get dates to produce fruit
Date trees are either male or female. You won’t know from the seed whether you have a male or female tree. To get date fruit you’ll need one male tree and at least one female tree. One male tree will fertilize many female trees.
Date palms are pollinated by the wind. To ensure fruit set, you’ll have to hand pollinate the female flowers with the male pollen. Since you will be hand pollinating you don’t need to have the trees next to each other if space doesn’t allow it. In a commercial date orchard the male pollen sheaths are sometimes purchased in the market, saving the available space for the female trees to increase fruit production.
A date tree planted from seed will produce fruit in 8 years, when grown in full sun in a warm Mediterranean climate. Cloned date trees produce fruit about 4 years earlier, in just 4 to 6 years. In cooler areas the date tree may fail to produce fruit, while the tree might appear healthy and grow well.
How to hand pollinate a date palm
The male tree produces pollen in sheaths each spring. Gather the male pollen in a bag, when the pollen is ready.
Dust the female flowers with the pollen as they open.
How to care for a date palm
Date palms have long, spiny thorns that grow up the trunk as the plant matures. To prevent injury you can snip off these thorns close to the trunk. It doesn’t hurt the tree to snip off the spines.
Plants grown indoors or in containers may have problems with spider mites or white fly. Use an insecticidal soap to keep indoor plants pest free. Outdoors in North America, date palms are relatively pest free.
Squirrels and birds will rob date trees once the fruit begins to ripen. In a commercial orchard the ripening dates are kept in mesh bags to preserve them from predators.
Once the dates are ripe the dates fall from the tree. You’ll want to harvest them just before they fall.
Container growing of dates
Once the dates reach several feet high with a trunk, you’ll want to transplant it outside in the ground. Pygmy dates can be grown in a half barrel or other large container. You’ll want to allow for the 10 foot height of the tree. If you’ll be moving the date palm to protect it from winter temperatures (temperatures below freezing) put the container on wheels to make transport easier.
Varieties of dates
There are 20 varieties of dates grown commercially throughout the world. The most common date in supermarkets is the Medjool date. Considered the king of dates, Medjool dates are found in many areas of the world. Medjool dates are semisoft, with sweet, moist, but firm texture. However, in date growing areas several other varieties can be found.
Israel grows 7 varieties of dates, each known for its special flavor and attributes.
- Barhi dates: are medium-sized, thin-skinned fruit with soft, tender flesh and a sweet flavor. Late ripening.
- Deglet Noor dates: A semisoft date that is seen on the boulevards in Israel. It has firm flesh and a color range from light red to brown when ripe. Late ripening.
- Halawi dates: These soft dates are thick-fleshed, caramely, and sweet. Their appearance is wrinkled and the skin ranges from yellow to amber. The flavor and texture is often compared to chocolate. Ripens midseason.
- Khadrawy dates: Similar to the Halawis, these soft dates have a caramel-like texture and sweet flavor. Ripens midseason.
- Thoory dates: This is a dry date with firm skin and chewy flesh. It is high in fiber. Often used in baking. Late ripening.
- Zahidi dates: The Zahidi, a semisoft date, with crunchy fibrous flesh, and is often processed for sliced dates and date sugar products. Early ripening.
The next time you eat a dried or fresh date, plant a few date seeds and grow a date tree from a date seed. And if you are one of the blessed who lives in zones 9 to 11, consider growing dates for their fruit. In cooler climates, date trees can be grown for their unique beauty and shade.
And while you are waiting for your date seeds to germinate check out this tutorial on growing meyer lemon trees from store bought fruit.