How to Grow Manila Palm Trees

Christmas palm tree with red drupe fruit

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Despite its merry name, the Manila palm (Adonidia merrillii) is a tropical favorite that's attractive year-round. This palm species moniker can be attributed to the glossy fruit, called drupe, which is produced after the plant's creamy white summer blooms fade. The fruit turns a bright, cheery red in the winter that makes the landscape look decorated for the holidays.

The Manila palm is a terrific choice that will not overwhelm a landscape in size or workload (unless you want to contend with the fruit) because it grows quickly to 5 or 6 feet and levels off to a slower growth that reaches its final mature height of 25 feet. Plant it any time during the year when there's no threat of cool weather.

Common Name  Manila palm
Plant Type   Broad leaf evergreen palm
Mature Size  15-25 ft. tall, 5-8 ft. wide
Sun Exposure  Full sun
Soil Type  Clay, sand, loam, well-draining
Soil pH  Neutral to alkaline
Bloom Time  Summer
Flower Color  Cream
Hardiness Zones  10-11 (USDA)
Native Area   Philippines

Manila Palm Tree Care

This species is sought after for its contained growth, tropical look, and easy maintenance, but you'll need to be sure you live in a region that has the right warm temperatures for this species.

The palm, a native of the Philippines, does well in the American yard, where space can be limited. When a statement is needed, two to four Manila palms are often combined for an effective mass planting. A grouping of these palms creates an impressive visual statement as long as the spacing between the planting is considered.

Growing the Manila palm is an easy task if the plant is in the right setting or can be moved indoors and outdoors seasonally to appropriate temperatures. Manila palm trees have small root balls which makes it easy for container growing as well as arranging them close together to create a small grove outdoors. If planting a cluster of three to four saplings, give each root ball the space, preferably 10 to 15 feet away from each other if you have the room. The space will also allow the canopies to grow without crunching together. The trunks of each tree will naturally grow outward from the middle of the grove to create graceful curves. It's also recommended to propagate from seed only (a cutting will not result in a new palm).

Christmas palm tree with red drupe fruit closeup

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Christmas palm tree with red and green drupe fruit

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Christmas palm tree with drupe fruit and leaves

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Light

The Manila palm will do well in full sun or partial shade. Full sun is preferred for best fruit production, which is six to eight hours of sun a day. 

Soil

Clay, loam, or sand all are perfectly suitable soils for the Manila palm. This tree needs good drainage to thrive and it will not tolerate standing water. Soil pH is also a matter of some concern and should be tested before planting. The Manila palm prefers neutral to alkaline soil.

Water

Watering the palm is essential if you live in dry areas. While it is drought-tolerant for short periods, you will notice a deficiency in growth and flowering if left without enough moisture. Supplemental watering of 1 inch in an area with moderate rain should be okay. In dry areas, this should be increased to 2 inches of water. A 3-inch mulching at the palm’s base will help retain moisture.

Temperature and Humidity

The Manila palm is extremely cold sensitive and will not survive for long when the temperature is under 30 degrees Fahrenheit. To ensure the plant’s health, make sure it is planted in the correct zone, USDA zone 10 to 11, or used as a container plant that can be brought indoors when the temperature drops.

Fertilizer

The Manila palm tends to suffer from boron deficiency. It does well in soil with low nutritional values, but boron is always an issue. To compensate, be sure to use a fertilizer specially formulated for palms.

Pruning

Manila palms are self-cleaning, meaning that the frond falls off once it dies without the need to be pruned. The one bit of maintenance that needs to be performed is cleaning up or cutting away dead, rotting, or fallen fruits. Neglecting this can lead to unpleasant aromas, insects, and pathogens.

You can try to minimize the tree's fruiting by cutting off some of the flowering stems carefully with a pole pruner; this type of pruning will not hurt the tree. Though a bit labor-intensive, you can also reduce the inevitable mess by removing the bunches of fruit before they ripen and fall to the ground.

How to Grow Manila Palm From Seed

Collect ripened seeds from the tree from late fall to early winter. Prepare seeds using these steps:

  • Clean off fleshy and fibrous pulp from the seeds so they germinate faster and do not attract fungus growth.
  • If you need to immediately store seeds, put them in a sealable plastic bag with moist soil and store them in a place that is between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • If you are ready to sow the seeds, soak them for at least 24 hours in a pot of clean water.
  • Then dip them in a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Rinse thoroughly in fresh clean water.
  • Place up to five seeds each in small 6-inch containers filled with good-quality and well-draining potting mix. Dig a small hole with your finger and hold the seed up so a bit of it is sticking out of the soil but with enough room so that the root will sit comfortably in the soil.
  • Place them in a warm (no sunlight necessary at this point) location between 70 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Keep containers moist. Dry seeds will die.
  • Germination occurs in one to three months.
  • As seedlings grow, watch for root growth, and move to larger containers until they are ready to plant in the ground or another pot to become saplings.

Potting and Repotting Manila Palm

Though the root ball is relatively small, a Manila palm will grow so you'll need to repot it to larger quarters every few years. Repot it in the spring before blooming time. Opt for a sturdy container or pot to accommodate the top-heavy tree.

Overwintering

While the Manila palm is extremely cold sensitive, it can be grown in a large container and brought indoors during the winter. Place the container in a sunny location indoors. For outdoor palms during a surprise cold snap, mulch and cover bases with a frost blanket.

Common Pests & Diseases

If located in southern Florida, the palm is susceptible to lethal yellowing. This bacterial disease can result in the palm’s fruit falling from the tree prematurely. The tips of the flowers will also yellow and new fruit will not be produced. Plus, the fronds will yellow at the bottom and this will progress towards the top of the crown.

There is no cure for the disease, and necessary annual treatments are cost-prohibitive. The best course of action is removing the infected specimen.

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