Huw's Pleasure Garden
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Palm Seed Germination

[ The Collingbourne Palm Germination Method ]

Anyone can grow their own palm for almost no cost. This is good news since, in the UK at least, it will cost you a great deal to buy an adult palm. Even the seeds of most varieties are fairly expensive and, unless you've already mastered the basics, you may be unsuccessful in growing your seeds into plants.

For these reasons, I recommend starting out by growing your own date palms (Phoenix dactylifera). You can get the seeds of these easily. Just buy yourself a packet of dates from your local supermarket. Eat the dates and keep the stones. Just about any dates will do - either fresh or the more readily available dried ones. Although the dried ones are normally sugar-coated, that doesn't affect their viability. The only dates that aren't suitable are stoned ones or chopped ones - because, obviously, neither of these contains the seeds!

Once you've got your date stones, soak them overnight in a cup of water. Then clean the stones carefully to remove all fragments of date flesh. You can then, if you wish, simply pop them into pots and wait for them to sprout. However, this is a very haphazard method and will probably produce disappointing results. If you want a more reliable method of getting from seed to seedling, try out the following steps:

 

The Collingbourne Palm Germination Method

When I first started growing my own palms from seeds I was very disappointed by my poor success rate. Most of the books on palms and on propagation in general were a bit vague on the specifics. So I had no choice but to carry out my own experiments. As a result, I have now developed a system which gives me good results with most species I have tried growing. If you've had problems germinating palms, give it a try and let me know how you get on.

Note: To see a step-by-step pictorial guide to palm-seed germination, take a look at my Grow A Date From Seed page.

Soak the seeds for 24 hours (sometimes longer for very hard-coated seeds). Change the water several times during this period. Keep the soaking seeds in a warm place such as a kitchen or airing cupboard.

Clean the seeds. Get rid of any flesh or hairs (if possible) adhering to them. Fungus is a big problem with some germinating palm seeds. Although you can treat them with fungicides, these are not always particularly efficient. Fungus loves the flesh of seeds, so clean it off!

Place the seeds in a sterile medium which is only barely moist. The biggest problems I had when I started growing palms were due to the fact that the germinating medium was too wet. This grew lots of mould, but not many palms. These days, I use a 1 pint measure - about 550ml - of vermiculite (available from garden centres), moistened with 30ml - about two tablespoons - of water. The resulting vermiculite should feel quite dry to the touch. Nevertheless, don't be tempted to add more water. I have germinated seeds in as little at 10ml of water to 1 pint of vermiculite.

Seal the seeds in an airtight container - such as a plastic sandwich box (recommended) or a plastic bag.

Place it in a warm-to-hot position, say above the hot-water tank. Temperatures of 90 degrees Fahrenheit (about 32 C) are ideal.

Inspect the seeds daily. If the seeds are fresh (a big if!), you may find that many species germinate in as little as one or two weeks, in spite of the fact that the books tell you they are likely to take 2 or 3 months!

When a root appears, carefully put the seeds into well-drained compost (e.g. 50/50 standard potting compost and coarse grit), and keep warm until the shoot appears. When the shoot appears place the palm in a warm, light place. If your room temperature is fairly cool, be very careful not to over-water as the roots of some palms (even the humble date palm) will rot if the compost is kept wet when the palms are not actively growing.

Good luck.

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Troubleshooting!

Trachycarpus Germination - the seed that nearly defeated me!

Long, long ago, in the early days of my attempts at seed growing, the supposedly 'easy to germinate' Trachycarpus fortunei just about defeated me. I tried several batches of seed or, rather, as I discovered later, batches of fruit - since Trachy seeds are covered with a thin, hard layer of dark flesh which, when dry, is virtually impossible to remove. Eventually, I did solve my Trachy germination problem. And here's how...

Simple, really: I ordered a new batch of Trachycarpus seeds from California (previous batches came from Europe). These seeds has been thoroughly cleaned. The dark blue covering of flesh had been completely removed, leaving only the medium brown seed. I only wish I knew how they manage to clean the things this well! Whenever I've tried cleaning previous batches myself, I have failed to remove all the flesh. Result - they go mouldy! Anyhow, the good news is that I've had tremendous success with these clean seeds, using my normal germination technique, in vermiculite at fairly high temperatures.

I think the moral of this story may be: When all else fails, find a different seed supplier!

 

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Germination Media
Many people dislike vermiculite as a germinating medium, mainly because it can become slimy and 'clogged up' if over-watered. Personally, I don't find this a problem. Indeed, I regard 'slimy vermiculite' as a good indicator of incorrect watering.

Although my germination method works most of the time, there are exceptions. I have experienced problems with certain seeds going mouldy for no obvious reason. Sometimes this seems to be due to the fact that they are just old and no longer viable. You can't grow a dead seed, no matter how well you look after it!

It is now my general practice to grow seeds that aren't completely clean (e.g. seeds with dried fruit-flesh or hairs attached) in deep pots of well-drained compost, pressing the seeds into the surface and covering them with a very thin covering of compost then half an inch of vermiculite. The close texture (compared to vermculite) of the compost and the airy conditions of an open pot (compared to an enclosed box) generally combine to suppress the moulds.

Even so, this is only my 'standyby' method for dealing with problem seeds. I find my usual vermiculite-based method to be far more reliable and easily maintainable when dealing with seeds that can be cleaned.

 

 

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