Date Palm Tree
Date palm, which is grown by home gardeners primarily for its decorative fronds (not its fruit), is cultivated as a landscape tree in Zones 9 to 11 in the United States. Growing this tree in Zone 8 requires a sheltered location to prevent it from being damaged by freezing weather.
Some date palm species—such as Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensi)—reach lofty heights of 50 feet or more. An interested gardener needs plenty of vertical and horizontal space to accommodate a tall tree with an enormous root system that spreads out beneath the tree to anchor it and gather water.
Pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) grows 12 to 15 feet tall. When clustered together pygmy date palm forms a dense living fence. This plant can also be grown in a half barrel or other large container. If you anticipate moving the date palm to protect it from cold weather, put the container on wheels to save your back.
Date Palm Care Must-Knows
Slow-growing date palm grows best in rich well-drained soil in full sun (although light shade is tolerated). Deep, even moisture is best for this plant. If well-established, date palm will tolerate drought. But it's likely to suffer significant frond damage—or even die—if temperatures fall beneath 20 degrees Fahrenheit. If conditions are just right, and they get a little help from brooks, streams, other water channels, or birds, some date palms can naturalize to the point of being invasive.
Date palms are best transplanted in spring or fall. Take care when transporting your specimen as the wood is very soft. Make sure the crown of the palm is supported during the process to prevent leaves from snapping off. As done with many other trees, dig the hole twice as deep and wide as the actual root ball. Fill the bottom of the hole with enough loose soil to barely cover the roots. Press soil around the roots, then water well; the root ball should be covered with compacted soil by the time you're done. Feed a date palm with manure in early spring, or use a palm-tree fertilizer high in potassium.
Date palm trees can be destroyed by infestations of palmetto weevils, which are drawn to these plants when leaves are removed by pruning or during transplantation. The weevils lay their eggs in older leaves and the resulting larvae eventually kill the tree by burrowing deep inside it. Treat damaged leaves with an insecticide before the weevils have a chance to take up shop.
All About the Fruit
Fruit production requires both a male and female plant growing in close proximity. It may also require hand-pollination (rather than depending upon the wind), because fruiting is a fickle process. If planted from seed, a female tree will produce fruit in eight years—about 20 pounds of dates during a first crop. The edible fruits are typically oblong, 1 to 3 inches long, and grouped in red or orange masses when mature.
More Varieties of Date Palm Tree
Phoenix roebelinii is the smallest date palm, growing 12-15 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide. Its slender, silvery leaves grow 5 feet long. The stem is armed with long spines, so it's not suitable to grow along walkways. It needs more moisture than other date palms and tolerates shade. Its compact size makes it well-suited for containers, either on the patio or indoors. Zones 10-11
Phoenix dactylifera produces the edible dates most commonly available in markets. Date palm is naturally a clumping tree, but its suckers are usually removed to create a single trunk. It works well to frame a multistory home or as a street tree. Date palm grows 50-60 feet tall and 20-25 feet wide. Zones 9-11
Phoenix sylvestris bears 10-foot-long silvery-blue to bluish-green leaves. They often appear to glow with a metallic sheen. The tree grows 55 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Use silver date as a street tree or to frame a home. It tolerates high rainfall conditions better than other date palms. Zones 9-11