If you love palm trees, sooner or later you will want to experiment with sowing them.
All palm trees can be propagated by seed.
In addition, some species can also be propagated by removing suckers.
Why sow palm trees?
It’s the cheapest way to have a palm tree.
Seeds are usually quite inexpensive, especially when compared with an older plant.
The downside is that most palm trees grow very slow the first years. The 1st and sometimes 2nd year, you will have a fairly silly looking plant with one or two leaves that do not look like palm tree leaves.
Growth accelerates with age but you have to wait a few years before you get something that looks like a real palm tree.
Where can I find seeds?
Own crop or harvest from friends:
You can harvest your own seeds or get them from friends.
This is the most reliable source because you can be sure of the freshness of the seeds.
It is strongly advised not to take seeds from abroad because they can be seized by customs and you may be prosecuted or possibly have to pay a penalty.
Additionally, the seeds might be of a protected species and you might threaten their survival.
Whether a species is endangered or not, can be checked on the CITES website (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
There are many seed dealers on the Internet.
rarepalmseeds.com is a renowned German company that specializes in palm trees, cycads and other rare exotics.
Personally, I prefer to buy seeds. If buying on eBay, only order from sellers with a very good score.
The biggest problem with buying seeds on the internet is that you usually do not know when the seeds were harvested. With good sellers, even abroad, however, this is rarely a problem.
In any case, it is recommended to sow the seeds as soon as possible after arrival.
Preparation of seeds:
The seeds should be completely stripped of their pulp. If pulp is left on the seeds, it can be infected by fungi which in turn can infect the seed itself and kill it.
This can be done manually, if necessary using a sharp knife.
If the pulp is difficult to remove, let the seeds soak a few days in water, the pulp will be easier to remove.
Check the freshness of the seeds:
Cut one of the seeds open:
This way you can visually check whether the embryo looks fresh and white but not rotten or dried.
If you squeeze a seed between your thumb and forefinger, the seed must be hard.
If the seed crumbles between your fingers, it’s dead.
Put the seeds in water. In most cases, floating seeds are dead and viable seeds sink to the bottom.
For some species viable seeds will float though, so this test does not give a 100% certainty.
Soak the seeds:
Most species benefit form a 24 hours soaking in water. This helps to jump start the germination process.
If you have soaked the seeds to remove the pulp, you can skip this step.
If you soak the seeds for a few days, change the water every 24h.
You may add growth hormone to the water to encourage the germination.
And optionally a fungicide (cinnamon powder is also an effective fungicide).
Choose a sterile sowing substrate.
If you use soil, sterilize it first. Small amounts of soil can be sterilized in the microwave oven.
If you plan on growing your palm trees in hydroponics afterwards, do not use soil.
Pot, tray, ziplock bag or PET bottle?
You can sow in different ways.
In an ordinary pot or tray it can be difficult to keep the substrate moist.
It is better to sow the seeds in a plastic or ziplock bag or in a PET bottle.
Fill a plastic bag with some moist substrate, add the seeds and close the bag. You can easily check visually whether the seeds have germinated. This is called the baggie method.
A PET bottle can be cut in half. Fill the bottom half with moist sowing substrate and add the seeds. Then slide the top half over the bottom half of the bottle. You now have a mini greenhouse from which the water does not evaporate.
The advantage of a PET bottle is that the seedlings may be kept longer in that bottle, you do not need to repot it as soon as with other methods. The leaves become too large for the PET bottle? Simply remove the top half of the bottle.
Depending on the size of the seeds, they can be sown individually or together in a pot.
And, of course, some species can be sown directly in the garden, depending on the species and climate.
The substrate should be kept moist but not soaked.
As long as the seeds have not germinated, the substrate must remain moist. If the substrate dries out and germination process was started, your seeds will die.
The temperature depends on the species: some species germinate at room temperature, others need soil heating.
For that you need to check the ideal germination temperature for the species you want to sow.
For most seeds the presence or absence of light does not matter. Some species however need light to germinate.
Because this depends on the species, you will need to look this up.
Germination time varies widely depending on the species: some species of palm trees germinate after a few days or a few weeks, other take months.
You can also check this by looking up the characteristics of the species.
Sometimes germination may take as long as 6 months or 1 year, so do not throw away your seeds too fast.
Repot the seedlings:
As a rule of thumb, seedlings may be repotted after the appearance of the first leaf. But you may wait until the appearance of the 2nd or 3rd leaf.
Seedlings grown with the baggie method may be repotted once germination has taken place, even before the first leaf appears.
Seedlings in a PET bottle do not need to be repotted as soon: as long as the leaf is small enough, the PET bottle functions as a mini-greenhouse. When the leaves get too big, remove the top half of the bottles but keep the seedling in the bottom half, as if in an individual pot.
Seeds themselves do not need fertilizer. Seedlings do not need fertilizer before the 2nd leaf appears.
From the appearance of the 2nd leaf, provide liquid fertilizer diluted to half of the recommended amount.