The date palm tree (Phoenix dactylifera L.) has been a critical fruit crop for many arid regions. In fact, the dates harvested from the palm tree have been a primary income source and food staple for the local communities where the trees were initially planted.
The date is the oldest known fruit crop cultivated in North Africa and the Middle East, dating back some 5,000 years, according to researchers and their studies.
But do date palm trees exist in North America today? And if so, how can they be successfully cultivated and cared for?
Most of the date palm trees growing in the United States are located in California and Arizona, where the climate is ideal. While Florida does have palm trees, the rainy season and intense humidity cause the date palm fruit to rot and mold before it can mature.
Date palms require temperatures above 20 degrees to sustain life, and pollination only occurs when the thermometer reaches a minimum of 95 degrees. Therefore, for adequate cultivation, the fruit needs dry, hot temperatures with warm nights.
One of the most important things to remember is that you need a male and female tree to produce fruit. Otherwise, it will only be an ornamental tree in your landscape.
Date palms have been known to grow some 120 feet tall and can live for a century. With a vast spreading root system that helps support the tree while gathering water from the ground’s surface, they need room to grow and should not be planted too close together. They prefer full sun locations with soils that are well draining.
While the tree can tolerate mild droughts when flowering, the tree needs plenty of water for the fruit to mature. Otherwise, minimal watering is preferred as excess moisture can inhibit growth.
Date palms require consistent nutrients and pest and disease control. Many pests attracted to the date palm tree are highly invasive and, if not caught early, can be fatal. Therefore, inspect your trees regularly for any signs of browning leaves or odd markings on the trunk. Common pests include rhinoceros beetle, spider mites, South American palm weevil (SAPW), and palm beetle. Common diseases include leaf spots, as well as root and bud rot.
The date palm produces a low growth at the base of the trunk called offsets or “pups.” These should be carefully removed with a handsaw and propagated in a small bed or pot, preferably with a mix of sand and soil. While it can remain in a pot for a few years, it should be planted in the ground with adequate space to grow once viable roots are established.
For more information on caring for your date palm tree, contact your local SavATree branch today.