How to grow palms [and cycads] from seed

Growing various houseplants from seed can be tricky, however if you’re someone that just needs that extra challenge, then palm, cycad or some tree varieties are the natural next step ;) If you look at pictures of these seeds, they’ve got a very tough outer shell, which means it takes a lot for the sprout to actually be able to pop out! If you’ve tried and failed germinating Coffea Catura or Zamia Furfuracea seeds, or you just want to jump in and learn how to do it, this is the post for you :)

1) Soak your seeds!

Soaking your seeds give them an advantage to break out of that hard shell and germinate. Fresh seeds don’t necessarily need it, but the older the seed, the more soaking helps to revitalize the seed so it can germinate properly for you :)

To soak the seeds, fill a jar or glass with warm water, add the seeds, and leave them there for a day or two. If you choose to soak the seeds for longer than 24hrs, make sure to change out the water daily to prevent any fermentation of the seeds.

2) Choose your setup

Mini greenhouses , grow lights, and a soon-to-be-added heat mat :) The ideal setup! It also keeps Maia the Plant Killer away…

Mini greenhouses, grow lights, and a soon-to-be-added heat mat :) The ideal setup! It also keeps Maia the Plant Killer away…

There are a few different setup options that can work, the one we’ll be focusing on is a greenhouse setup, however the “moss-in-a-bag” method can work too(covered here).

A typical greenhouse setup so that the humidity and temperatures remain consistent.

  • Humidity: should be at least 60%(the higher the humidity, the higher the chances of germination),

  • Light: Grow light is ideal, filtered sun is fine, the key thing is to keep it out of direct sun. Although light isn’t necessary to germinate many palm varieties, it’s better to have it ready so the seedlings can begin to photosynthesize once they sprout!

  • Temperature: The ideal temperature is 80-85F, so a heat mat is best for palm and cycad seeds!

Some sprouting Zamia Furfuracea ‘Cardboard palm’ Seedlings, 2 sprouted within 2 weeks, the others took their sweet time.

Some sprouting Zamia Furfuracea ‘Cardboard palm’ Seedlings, 2 sprouted within 2 weeks, the others took their sweet time.

3) Prep the soil: Soil for palms and cycads should take in water easily but not drain out so quickly that the soil dries quickly, you can get a palm/cycad soil mix or you can make your own. In general, a mix of perlite and peat moss in a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio is best to start off the seedlings, and as they grow you can mix in fertilizer to feed the roots as the plants grow!

4) Plant the seeds: When planting the seeds, the depth depends on the sizing of the seeds. For smaller seeds, plant them a quarter of an inch below the surface, so they can have enough access to light but will also protect them from drying out. For larger seeds(an inch or longer), bury the seed in the soil so a third of it is poking out of the substrate.

4) Maintenance & Be Patient!

These seeds take a long time to germinate so patience is key! Phoenix Robelenii(Pygmy Date Palm), for instance, takes around 3 months to germinate, whereas Zamia Furfuracea can take up to 6 months!

Keep an eye on the greenhouse, check in on it to see how the soil is doing, and water the soil every couple of days or so depending on how moist it seems. The warmer it is, the more water the seedlings will need. Be careful not to overwater however- that’ll rot the seeds! If you have a misting system, that’s a great way to keep these seeds moist as they begin the germination process, otherwise a watering can is best so as to not disturb the seed and seedlings too much. Furthermore, filtered, distilled or rainwater is best, as with most exotic plant varieties :)

A happy brand new Coffea Catura ‘Dwarf Coffee’ seedling! See how moist it looks on the surface? It really needs that humidity to break out of the tough shell of the seed!

A happy brand new Coffea Catura ‘Dwarf Coffee’ seedling! See how moist it looks on the surface? It really needs that humidity to break out of the tough shell of the seed!

5) Seedling care

So once your seeds germinate, what do you do? We just happen to have a post on that right here :)

Quick note on the pot size once you’re ready to pot up your little seedlings, definitely go big, at least 6-8” in depth since the root systems for these plants can get pretty extensive. Make sure to research the kind of care that the specific palm/cycad/tree variety you have to know what light and watering conditions they prefer(usually they prefer bright light and many can tolerate direct sunlight and consistent watering). Good luck!

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