Hands harvesting dates
(Image credit: the.epic.man)

Most palm trees are grown as landscape ornamentals, and each has a common name. The date palm tree (Phoenix dactylifera) is cultivated for its luscious date fruit and is typically called “the date.” 

Date palm harvesting takes place from September to December, often hand-picked since all dates on a tree may not mature at the same time. Ideally, dates are picked at their peak level of sugar content and flavor.

The Date Palm Tree

The date palm tree is a tall, erect palm, growing to 120 ft (36.5 m.). From the ground up, the trunk is covered in overlapping woody leaf bases. The palm leaves are feather-like and up to 20 feet (6 m.) long. 

Small fragrant flowers grow in on a branched spadix divided into 25 to 150 strands, with one inflorescence containing 6,000 to 10,000 flowers. These develop into fruit. The dates ripen into oblong, dark-brown fruit with thick, sweet and a single, slender, very hard stone. 

Harvesting Date Palm Fruit

If you are wondering how to harvest date palm fruit, it is usually done by hand. This is because the fruit is best when allowed to ripen on the tree, picking up maximum sugars, and it does not all ripen at the same time. In areas where dates are grown, large trees have ladders permanently attached to the trunks to allow repeat visits by workers

Another method is termed “thinning harvest.” This is done two or three times a week or two apart. The fruit bag is shaken by the workers so that ripe dates will fall into a large tub below. This helps assure a maximum date harvest.

Alternatively, in some areas workers cut off entire branches and allow them to ripen in warm rooms away from the trees. This is the same system often used for bananas. 

Harvesting Dates

Different varieties of date are mature and ready for harvest at different times between September and December. And even on one tree, harvest make take place over several weeks as the dates ripen. 

Early season dates can be taken by “thinning harvest” as early as September. However, those trees to be hand harvested will usually not be ready until October of November. Late season dates are harvested in November and December.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.