Germinating and growing palms from seed
A basic guide for beginners and hobbyists alike.
Growing palm trees in the UK is not always an easy task, given our cool climate, short summers and a palm trees liking for heat and sunshine. A few palms such as Trachycarpus and Chamearops thrive in our climate, others need a little helping hand along the way.
GERMINATING PALM SEED.
When deciding to germinate palm seed, the first thing to do is to try and buy good fresh seed from a reputable source.
Having acquired your seed, it is important to soak it for a few days. When soaking seed it is important to change the water every 24 hours. Here at GardenpPalms we use a seed stimulator, adding 5ml of Nitrozyme to 1 litre of water. Nitrozyme is made from crushed seaweed and contains a powerful natural stimulant to encourage germination. Believe me it works well, and in some cases near 100% germination has been achieved within days. Furthermore subsequent seedling growth immediately after treating with Nitrozyme is strong and vigorous. Results are variable depending on the seed, as some seed coats are woody and prevent Nitrozyme penetrating the shell.
Having soaked your seed , do your research to find out which temperature is best to germinate your seed. Its no good trying to germinate Trachycarpus seed in a heated propagator, and no good trying to germinate Butia on a windowsill !
The best medium for germinating seed is a sterile one. Perlite and vermiculite work well, as does Neem-coir. The best way is to seal your seeds in a tupperware container together with the medium. The medium should be damp but not wet. Ensure than you cannot squeeze out surplus water, if you can it's too wet and the seeds will rot. If the seed requires heat, an ideal place to germinate it is in an airing cupboard or temperature controlled propagator.
After a few weeks your seed will hopefully germinate. Here at Gardenpalms the freshly germinated seed is potted into deep pots with Neem-coir as the medium. This is the most critical phase of the procedure and deep pots are essential for most palms as they like to put down deep root systems. The seedling is very vulnerable at this stage of life and a high percentage of young seedlings can be lost if the grower is not careful. When mixing Neem-coir it is neccessary to add water to the dried and compressed blocks. At this stage we add Palmbooster to the water so that it is soaked into the dried Neem-coir fibres. Palmbooster is a mix of plant hormones and essential vitamins that give the seedling an additional boost at precisely the right time. This ensures that the plant develops a vigorous and healthy root system so that it has a great start in life. It is not usually neccessary to feed the seedling for at least 6 to 12 months as the Neem-coir contains all the required vitamins and nutrients that the seedling desires. I also add 1 part perlite to 2 parts Neem-coir to further lighten and aireate the mix. It may seem that this is an awful lot of effort to go to in order to grow a few seedlings, but having grown palms for 15 years I have discovered that it is fairly essential if you want to grow healthy seedlings.
Palms need warmth to grow well, if you don't provide warmth the roots struggle to take up nutrients and you more often that not get a sickly seedling that dies or turn yellow. I have found that a light medium that contains a lot of air and organic fertiliser such as Neem-coir (especially with added Palmbooster) allows the roots to thrive and take up nutrients even in our cool climate. Neem-coir also contains natural defence against pathogens such as fungus, bacteria and soil borne insect larvae so there are no other nasties to contend with such as damping off or fungus gnats.
I can guarantee that any enthusiast following the above regime will find palm growing from seed easy and rewarding, with little or no rotting off of seedlings. To assist growers new to the hobby we have put together a beginners pack to ensure success from day one, with all of the above mentioned accessories included at a very competitive price.
By Nigel Kembrey