An elegant palm with an arching canopy of silvery blue-green fronds, the Medjool date palm (Phoenix dacytlifera 'Medjool') is particularly tolerant of warm climates with higher humidity. It is a large-growing palm that needs full sun, fertile but well-draining soils and winters that do not get too cold and wet. Date palms bear a branching flowering structure in the warm of spring and summer that are pollinated by insects and wind, leading to the formation of the renowned fruits. The sweet dates become a bi-colored blend of golden yellow and orange-red when ripe for picking.
Choosing a Site for the Palm
Determine first if the Medjool date palm is hardy in your region. Growing well in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 8 through 12, it tolerates light frosts and mild subfreezing temperatures in climates that do not have heavy, wet soils during the chill of winter.
Find a location in the landscape that will be exposed to as much full sun as possible each day. Any spot receiving more than 6 to 8 hours of direct sunshine is ideal.
Investigate the soil in the location selected for the date palm. Make sure it drains well after rainfall and irrigation events. Avoid soils that are soggy or constantly moist, as the palm roots will rot readily if wetness lingers around them. Date palms have remarkable tolerance to dry soils as well as those near the ocean and have an alkaline pH.
Acquire a Medjool data palm from a garden center or specialty palm or fruit nursery in your area. Consider your options in plant size. Container-grown palms are smaller and easier to move and plant, whereas larger palms with significantly sized trunks are heavy and require heavy machinery, labor and time to dig, transport and plant.
Tie a loose knot of an elastic rope or nylon strapping to the fronds of the palm. Wrap the rope around the canopy of leaves and tighten it, causing the fronds to bend upwards into a tidy upright bundle. Gently but securely tie-off the strapping so that the fronds remain upright during the planting process.
Dig a hole with a garden shovel or backhoe digger the same depth as the root ball of the purchased Medjool date palm. Making the hole slightly shallower than the root ball is fine, but no more than 40 percent of the root ball should be above the average soil line at the top of the hole. Definitely plant the palm higher in soils that are heavy, like clay or organic-rich loams.
Broaden the width of the hole so it is twice that of the palm root ball.
Set the palm in the hole. For container-grown plants, slide the palm out of the container and place into the hole. For large-sized specimens, a hydraulic lift or other heavy machinery may be employed to hoist the bare-rooted palm up and into the hole.
Upright the palm in the hole, checking the placement and height of the root ball. Add or remove soil as needed from the base of the hole to rock the palm into a position and depth that matches that set in Step 1.
Replace soil around the base of the palm, tamping the soil in firmly to instantly stabilize the palm as more soil is used to fill the hole. Heavy soils should not be packed or tamped as firmly as more friable sandy soils.
Fill the hole to 90 percent and then add water to the hole with a garden hose or series of buckets. This initial watering eliminates air pockets in the soil as compacts the soil particles so the palm rests firmly.
Move the remaining soil into the hole once the water soaks in. Taper and mound the soil around the root ball, but do not bury the swollen base of the trunk under soil. Creating a small berm or moat around the base of the root ball will help retain irrigation water as the palm establishes over the next 6 to 12 months.
Consult your local Cooperative Extension office for recommended fertilizers for your climate and soils. The date palm will prosper if given appropriate amounts of fertilizer in spring and summer when soil temperatures are warmest and root and frond growth is most active.
Continue to water the root ball of the newly transplanted palm for the first growing season. Soil should remain slightly dry to moist, never bone dry or soggy wet. In winter, reduce watering so that the soil is slightly drier than the watering regime you did in the growing season. In general, cold winters with wet soil conditions are not favorable for date palm survival.
Remove palm fronds only when then turn brown and dry. Premature cutting of healthy green fronds robs the palm of food and can lead to poorer health, increased susceptibility to pests or diseases and can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Yellowing fronds are good to retain since the nutrients are drained from the dying fronds and used elsewhere in the plant.
About this Author
James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for Learn2Grow.com's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.