Salaam everyone - I thought I would add to the list of exotic fruits/plants keen gardeners have been talking about on this really helpful website!
It's easier than you think (apart from cleaning the seed!) but the key word I will keep using is PATIENCE!
1. First thing I did was to buy a packet of dates from the supermarket - there are usually 2 types, deglet nour (smaller more chewy) and the Medjool (much larger and meatier) - choose the smaller ones as I've struggled to germinate the larger ones! With Ramadan coming up in Sept there should be plenty in the supermarkets.
2. Eat the dates and put the seeds into a plastic tub (or anything with a lid) of tepid water for 3 days to soften the fruit / flesh off the seeds to prevent them from going mouldy when they are sown in compost.
If any of the seeds float don't use them because they might not germinate.
Leave the tub on a window sill preferably with plenty of light and sun (see picture B) .
Change the water every 24hrs but before changing it cover the tub and give it a good shake for a few minutes - this helps loosen off more sugary flesh off the seeds.
3. After 3 days put the dates on a warm, light windowsill to dry off - 24hrs is more than enough.
4. Next the tricky bit, Scarification or cleaning - the seeds that i've successfully germinated were the ones that I scarified or cleaned thoroughly.
The method is simple, take a small sharp knife or a scalpel (I prefer scalpel becoz its easier to handle) and scrape off the medium brown outer layer (endocarp). Under this layer should be a whiter / lighter coloured layer (see picture C - cleaned dates on the right hand side). This will help water penetrate the bony shell of the seed which in turn will help it swell up hopefully speeding up germination by a week or two. Now I did say this was very tricky becoz of the size of the seed and having to use a sharp object between your fingers so be careful and patient! Also be careful not to cut into the seed as this will damage it.
Other safer ways are to rub fine sandpaper on the seeds or to place them in a lidded tub with small gravel / stones (see picture D) and shake it for a few minutes but neither is as effective.
5. Once cleaned place the seeds into a decent sized pot (at least 5-6 inches deep) with a 50 / 50 mixture of compost and sharp sand or any mixture with good drainage as palm roots tend to rot quickly if too much water is present. The seeds need to be planted no more than a couple of centimetres from the soil top.
6. Add a small amount of water and place in a warm spot such as sunny windowsill or conservatory and water once a week or when the soil is drying out but don't be tempted to over water them.
I've read many different ways (on the net) of trying to germinate palm seeds from placing in a tub in vermiculite (light sterile material) to wrapping in damp tissue and placing in the airing cupboard or a sealed bag - none of these worked for me - doesn't mean you shouldn't try them! Also some people say you need really high temperatures to germinate palm seeds - this isn't true - my seeds germinated at normal room temperature.
The compost / sand method is the only method that worked for me - maybe becoz I live in the colder north!
7. The long wait - I almost gave up! The first seeds germinated in about 3-4 weeks so PATIENCE is a must. There will be a small green leaf (see picture F) that takes about 2-3 weeks to become longer like a blade of grass (see picture). At this stage you should repot as the main root of the seedling will grow quite long (see picture) and a deeper pot will help to maintain strong growth. I waited too long to repot my seedlings and you can see how the main root has curled up!
Palm seedlings grow very slowly so don't expect rapid growth and only water when the soil is almost dry.
I've not put my seedlings outside yet - too scared! Maybe next summer I'll put them outside with the larger palms I have in the garden
I've now started trying different palm types such as the difficult windmill palm and with great success - the first seedling has come out last week (about 5 weeks to germinate - see picture G). Next I will retry the Medjool but the main problem I've had is the seeds going mouldy!
I'm waiting for the 2nd leaves to come out and I'll post more photos in the next few months as the palms grow bigger!