How to Grow and Care for Manila Palms

Christmas palm tree with red drupe fruit

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

The Manila palm (Adonidia merrillii) is a tropical favorite. This palm bears a glossy fruit, called drupes, produced after the plant's creamy white summer blooms fade. The fruit turns a bright, cheery red, making the landscape look festive during winter holidays. The Manila palm grows to 5 or 6 feet and levels off to a slower growth that reaches its final mature height of 25 feet. You can plant the tree during any season as long as there is no threat of cold weather. 

Common Name Manila palm, Christmas palm
Botanical Name Adonidia merrillii
Family Arecaceae
Plant Type  Tree
Mature Size 15-25 ft. tall, 5-8 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Clay, sandy, loamy, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral to alkaline
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Cream
Hardiness Zones 10-11 (USDA)
Native Area  Asia

Manila Palm Care

This species is sought after for its contained growth, tropical look, and easy maintenance, but the tree must grow in a proper climate to ensure healthy development. Growing the Manila palm is easy 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, making them easy to grow inside containers and arranging them together to create a small outdoor grove. 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 tree requires ample sunlight and adequate water if you live in a dry area. The Manila palm is very sensitive to the cold and should be overwintered indoors. Pruning isn't necessary, but you may remove dead leaves or fruit from the tree's base to help prevent infestation or fungal growth.

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 grows best in full sun or partial shade. Full sun, six to eight hours a day, is ideal for fruit production.

Soil

Clay, loam, and sand are all suitable soils for the Manila palm. The tree needs good drainage to thrive and will not tolerate standing water. The Manila palm prefers neutral to alkaline soil, but you should test pH before planting.

Water

Watering the Manila palm is essential if you live in a dry area. While it is drought-tolerant for short periods, you will notice a deficiency in growth and flowering if the tree receives inadequate moisture. Supplemental watering of 1 inch is optional; 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 in temperatures under 30˚F. To ensure the plant’s health, ensure it is planted in USDA zones 10 to 11.

Fertilizer

The Manila palm tends to suffer from boron deficiency. It does well in soil with low nutritional content, but you can compensate for the lack by using a fertilizer specially formulated for palms.

Pruning

Manila palms are self-cleaning, meaning the frond falls off once it dies and doesn't need to be pruned. However, cutting away dead, rotting, or fallen fruits is good practice. Neglecting this can lead to unpleasant aromas, insects, and pathogens. For aesthetic purposes, you can minimize the tree's fruiting by cutting off some of the flowering stems carefully with a pole pruner.

Propagating Manila Palms

Manila palms cannot be propagated using cuttings. However, they may be propagated by using seeds.

How to Grow Manila Palms From Seed

  1. Clean off fleshy and fibrous pulp from the seeds so they germinate faster and do not attract fungus growth.
  2. Soak the seeds for at least 24 hours in a pot of clean water.
  3. Dip the seeds in a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Rinse thoroughly in clean water.
  4. Place up to five seeds each in small 6 inch containers filled with well-draining potting mix.
  5. Dig a small hole with your finger and place the seed so a bit of it is sticking out of the soil but with enough room so that the root will sit comfortably.
  6. Place the seeds in a warm location between 70˚F and 100˚F.
  7. Keep the containers moist, as dry seeds will die.
  8. Allow the seeds to germinate over one to three months.
  9. Watch for root growth, and move to larger containers until they are ready to plant in the ground or another pot.

Potting and Repotting Manila Palms

Though the root ball is relatively small, a Manila palm will grow large enough that you will need to re-pot every few years. Re-pot the Manila palm in the spring before blooming, and opt for a sturdy container 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 its base with a frost blanket.

How to Get Manila Palms to Bloom

When in bloom, the Manila palm will produce white flowers and red berries that grow in clusters. It blossoms into slender leaflets, and flowers emerge during the summer, attracting pollinators. To promote bloom, you can deadhead fronds at the bottom of the tree. The tree usually produces flowers yearly, but it may take up to five years of growth before blooming. The more tropical the climate, the faster the tree will blossom.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Manila palms can be affected by sucking insects like mealybugs and whiteflies. These infestations can lead to fungal diseases such as black mold. The Manila palm is also susceptible to lethal yellowing. This bacterial disease can result in the palm’s fruit falling from the tree prematurely. 

Common Problems With Manila Palms

While Manila palms are relatively easygoing, they can develop issues throughout growth.

Yellowing

The most common issue with Manila pines is yellowing leaves due to lethal yellowing. The tips of the flowers will become yellow and new fruit will not be produced. There is no cure for the disease, and necessary annual treatments are cost-prohibitive. The best course of action is to remove the infected specimen.

Dying Leaves

Nutrient deficiencies, such as a lack of potassium, can cause leaves to curl and fall off. Symptoms of deficiencies usually occur on the tree's oldest leaves and spread to new leaves as the issue progresses. In addition to dying leaves, you may notice translucent yellow or orange spots accompanied by black spotting. This can be treated by adding slow-release magnesium and potassium sulfate to the soil.

FAQ
  • How long do Manila palms live?

    With the proper environment and care, the Manila palm can live from 20 to 50 years.

  • Can Manila palms grow indoors?

    You can grow a Manila palm indoors if you ensure ample sunlight and moist soil. Make sure that your tree isn't coming into contact with cold air from drafts or air conditioners.

  • Can you eat Manila palm berries?

    You can eat Manila palm berries. They are often used as an alternative for betel nuts, grown from the areca palm.