Can you Grow Good Date Trees from Seed ?

Many of us like to save the seed from a good fruit that we’ve bought at a market or–dare it be mentioned–stolen from someone else’s tree.

The big question is whether it’s worth it or not.  Fruit from a seed may take as long as six years before finding  out whether an orange seed gives us good tasty fruit.  The reason for the uncertainty is that each seed is the result of the mating of genetically different parents. The re-arrangement of the chromosomes of the offspring is entirely at random so it’s surprising that saved seed (often referred to as “Heirloom”) preserves the original characteristics.  Self-pollinated plants (and tomatoes are a good example)give us the best expectations.  Some orchard fruit trees require a specific pollinator variety and this means that the farmer must plant extra trees that don’t necessarily have desirable fruit for the sake of the main crop that he sells.  Plants that bear both male and female flowers (such as squashes and melons) rely on insects to carry the pollen from one flower to another and the chances of undesirable offspring are increased.  At the extreme end of the spectrum are those plants that  rely on wind pollination (corn is the prime example) and they give us the wildest chances of getting seed that reflects the right combination of characteristics that we so admired in the store-bought sweet corn that we enjoyed so much.

Datepalm trees come in two kinds–female and male–and their propagation by seed is extremely unreliable.  Growers avoid this uncertainty by separating offshoots from the best mother plant they can find and planting them. This is hard work and calls for good planting conditions.

Nevertheless I am so enjoying a box of Medjool dates that I got as a gift that I’m going against all reasonable advice and shall raise my own plants from the seed.  It may be a fool’s errand but it’s an interesting challenge.

First, knowing that the seeds are very hard, I soaked them for a month in water, changing it every day to avoid molds and bacteria.  After about six weeks little white short bumps appeared in the middle of the long pointed seeds. It was surprising but it told me one of two things–the bumps will grow into either a green shoot or a white root. I had expected growth activity at the ends of the seed.

Meanwhile, I had sown some seed in a tray of soil, but did I sow them the “right way up”? I reasoned that I should follow Mother Nature’s way–by throwing up the seed and sowing them the way they landed.  I still didn’t know which way was “up” and which was “down”.  Four seeds in the tray of soil  eventually appeared above ground. Two were actually pushed up into the air and a stout thread turned to re-enter the soil, leaving the seed an inch in the air.  These threads were brownish and the seeds were unopened.  Surely these are roots, I thought.  And so I went back to the reserve of water soaked seeds and sowed some with their little white bumps facing down.

And then something strange happened.  Among the first sown seeds there appeared two straight upright cylindrical shoots with a suspicion of a green tinge to them.  These must be leaf shoots, I thought.

Now, I’m going to have a third tray into which I’ll sow seeds with the little white bumps uppermost in case those growth bumps are shoots and not roots.  In passing, most germinating seeds produce roots first (in order to anchor things down) and then the green shoots come later. Maybe dates are different.

Why am I doing all this against established advice?  I know the box of Medjool dates comes from a commerical grove where trees are planted close together.  This minimises casual pollination from trees in the countryside.  Further, these female trees are hand pollinated when the flowers appear in the spring.  Workers go up thirty feet or more to dust the flowers from a bag of pollen that was collected from Medjool male trees last year. Then the flower cluster is bagged off to avoid any subsequent pollination from other trees’ pollen carried by the wind.  Admittedly, the chromosomes will be re-arranged after the hand pollination and the seed will possibly be a bit genetically different–but only a little.

In my little game plan I won’t get to see the outcome  (good dates to eat) but I will enjoy an achievement in getting to know how to grow an ornamental date plant in a container. Maybe my children will eventually get the good fruit and so I’ll be emulating those patient landowners of old who planted trees for the next generation, and not for themselves.

21 Comments to “Can you Grow Good Date Trees from Seed ?”

  1. Lissa Says:

    Hello, I was considering planting the seeds from the dates (I am currently enjoying) and decided to run a search about it. I happened upon your site and loved this article. Please you must tell me how they are doing, and is there anything in particular I should know?
    Thank you so much for your time.

    Sincerely, Lissa

  2. George Says:

    Dear Lissa,

    Yes, you can grow date plants from seed. It’s a fascinating thing to do.

    I’m doing it now and my plants have about six or even leaves. The way I started a year ago was to get a number of half-gallon plastic milk containers ( or waxed-paper orange juice containers) and punch drainage holes in them. Then fill them to the top with a soil mix containing a lot of organic matter.

    Date seeds send out long deep roots and they do best in summer temperatures. After you’ve eaten the fruit you can spit out the seeds, they don’t need any special preparation. Cover themwith an inch of soil, laying them on their sides—one seed per container. Keep well watered and wait. They need a long time to start and I don’t bother to nip the seed to let moisture in quickly.

    Interestingly, the seed sends down a thick white spongy root and then the seed is pushed up into the air. Don’t try and push it down again.

    Keep the soil moist all the time and have your containers in a sunny place. Dates like their head in fire and their feet in water. I kept mine in a greenhouse all summer.

    Remember that dates are open pollinated by wind from male trees, so you are likely to get a genetically different tree than that which the seed came from. I used Medjool seeds and like to think that the grower used Medjool pollen that his workers placed on the open female flower clusters of Medjool trees in hs grove. This should give a high probability of purity. In any case you won’t know how your seeds turn out until some ten years later. Apart from being genetically changed you won’t know whether they have turned out to be male trees or female trees.

    I hope you can stand the long-term excitement!! Good luck.

    George

    When the roots of your seedlings appear at the bottom of the container it’s time to move the plants into larger containers. Keep doing this until you have them in fifteen gallon containers, after which they can be set out in the ground.

    Good luck!!

    George

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  4. Adrienne Says:

    I currently have a flat of germinated seeds. The second leave sprout is just appearing. I was wonder about the best soil mix to transplant. I was thinking of mixing a sandy based soil with potting soil.

    Also, should they be in clay pots versus plastic?

    Adrienne

  5. jennie Says:

    I have two plants that are over a year old and they have 3 long slim green shoots about 2 feet tall. I don’t know the name of the date that I eat and then planted the seeds from which they came. But I am very proud of them.

  6. Ahmed Says:

    Hello,
    how is your majdool date plams that you planted late 2007. how tall are they now. I remeber my father planted date palms froms seed and they started giving fruit in 3-4 years.

  7. Roopa Says:

    Greetings!
    I put a few seeds in water after cleaning all the extra meat on them…and in about a fortnights time…i was very happy 2 see little white bumps in the middle of the seeds!! and i have just planted them…wish them luck …so tat they grow into beautiful date trees!! :)…thanx a tone for all the guidance!!!…it workd right for me!! :)

  8. director Says:

    Dear Roopa,

    Well done with your date seeds!. The little white bumps are just what you need and it won’t be long before you get the root going down and lifting up the seed above the soil level. The warmer your soil, the quicker you’ll be getting green leaves which start off as narrow spear-shaped pointy things. It’s going to be awhile before they open up into their characteristic feathery shape. Keep your seedings in sunshine and keep them warm. Gooc luck. George

  9. R B Kshirsagar Says:

    I have planted more than one hundred seeds well cleaned ans soaked for a week or so and very happy to see the germinating seeds, while changing it from bags to small plastic glass. More than twenty have germinated and will grow under proper care.

  10. R B Kshirsagar Says:

    I will be delighted to purchase the offshoots from Barhee dates in quite good number of four yrs age at a cost for my further plantations as I can get the female plants.Can anybody fuide me on this?

  11. Jane Says:

    I eat Medjool dates all the time. Do they grow well in the mid-west?

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  13. M. Rafique Says:

    How we can differenciate between a male palm tree and a female palm tree? How we can determine whether it is a pollen of a palm tree or it is flower of a palm tree? Please define very clearly’ Thanks and regards.

  14. Lawrie Says:

    I found a date seed in my garden that had sprouted quite a hard/firm shoot that, I thought, was/is what will be the above ground parts of the plant. I didn’t notice any rooty looking appendages. I was so happy since I love medjool dates (this seed probably came from organic fresh, not refrigerated, fruit).
    Now I’m questioning whether that straight pokey looking appendage was possibly the root? It did have some tinge of green on it and that’s why I thought it would be the beginning of the trunk. So, I planted it with the sticking up.
    What do you think?
    THANK YOU for your time, and I hope your date trees are growing well.

  15. Barbara Smith Says:

    WHERE is George?
    I hope he is still with us.
    He did mention he wouldn’t be around to enjoy the fruits of his labor that perhaps others would…
    Six years after his post…people like myself,
    are still inquiring about date palm being grown by seed…
    Thanks George for letting us know
    your experience as well as some info on the date tree itself…

    Blessings-wherever you are dear soul

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