The Christmas Palm (Adonidia merrillii): complete indoor care guide

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Written By Martin Cole

Plantsman, gardener, plant-obsessive

Christmas Palm - Adonidia merrillii
Christmas Palm. Image by Dinesh Valke is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Christmas Palm has lush, green fronds and delicate fruits that turn bright red and resemble little Christmas ornaments. These colourful fruits are what give this palm its name.

When grown indoors, this slow-growing palm reaches heights between 4 to 8 feet tall with an elegant single straight trunk covered in old leaf bases. The leaves form an elegant rounded crownshaft, typically 2 to 3 feet wide.

I always think the the crownshaft is one of the most striking and beautiful features of this kind of palm. It gives the plant an elegance that is missing from some palms.

The Christmas Palm is a medium sized palm with a bold structure, that mixes well with other houseplants. But, in my opinion it probably looks best as a specimen plant to show off that elegant look.

Place this easy-care palm in a bright location to showcase its graceful appearance and ornamental fruits.

Christmas palm: key facts

  • Scientific name: Adonidia merrillii
  • Meaning of name: Adonidia honors the French botanist Michel Adanson. Merrillii recognizes American botanist Elmer Drew Merrill.
  • Common names: Christmas palm, Manilla palm, dwarf royal palm
  • Plant family: Arecaceae
  • Place of origin: Philippines and Malaysia
  • Type of plant: Palm
  • Size: 8 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3.0m)
  • Foliage: Green palm fronds
  • Flower: Small white flowers pollinated by insects.
  • Fruit: Green spherical fruits turning red when ripe

How to growing the Christmas Palm indoors

The Christmas palm is often grown outdoors as a landscape plant and is said to be naturalised in Florida and the West Indies. But unsurprisingly, given its place of origin, it is not hardy, so those of us who don’t enjoy frost free conditions need to grow this palm indoors.

How best to grow the Christmas palm indoors are set out for you below in the quick house plant care guide and the following paragraphs.

Christmas Palm quick care guide

  • Light: Thrives in bright, indirect sunlight. Avoid direct southern exposure. Insufficient light causes slow, weak growth.
  • Water: Allow soil to partially dry out between waterings to prevent fungal issues. Brown leaf tips signal uneven moisture.
  • Humidity: Prefers 40-50% humidity or higher. Mist leaves or use a pebble tray.
  • Temperature: 60°F (15.5°C) plus
    • The ideal range is 65-80°F (18 to 27°C)
    • Minimum: 60°F (15.5°C)
    • Avoid sudden temperature drops and cold drafts
  • Soil: Use a rich, organic mix that retains some moisture but drains freely.
  • Fertiliser: Light balanced liquid feed every 2-4 weeks during active growth periods.
  • Propagation: Mainly by seed.
  • Repotting: Every 3 to 4 years.
  • Pruning: Remove dead and damaged fronds as required.

Light Requirements

The Christmas Palm flourishes when grown near a sunny west or lightly shaded south-facing window, lit brightly but protected from direct afternoon sun that burns delicate leaf tissues.

Slow growth and greener foliage indicate too little illumination. For the best growth and frond colour, provide the highest light levels possible without causing scorching.

It is a good idea to rotate the palm occasionally to ensure all sides receive equal ambient light. Wiping leaves with a damp cloth every few weeks eliminates dust buildup that blocks sunlight absorption.

House plant bright light

Proper Soil & Watering

The Christmas Palms require an organic, loamy potting mix amended with composted bark or similar organic matter to help to retain moisture and nutrition while still draining adequately.

Add grit or perlite to maintain soil structure and prevent compaction. Add a thin layer of pebbles as a mulch on top of the soil to reduce evaporation between waterings.

To maintain the health of your Christmas Palm, try to establish a careful watering regime.

Check moisture levels by inserting a finger into the soil. Water deeply again once the top inch becomes slightly dry, taking care not to saturate or leave standing water.

Aim to water it once every 7-10 days during the growing season (spring and summer) when the top inch of soil becomes slightly dry. During the dormant season (fall and winter), reduce the frequency to once every 2-3 weeks.

Soil moisture meters accurately indicate water needs. Tip browning or yellow lower leaves usually signals uneven watering requiring immediate correction. Yellow and droopy leaves may indicate overwatering.

Pruning

Only minimal pruning of the Christmas Palm is required. Focus on removing discoloured or dead lower fronds to maintain a attractive shape and display.

The lowest leaves naturally yellow and drop over time as part of the plant’s natural cycle. Removing them improves appearance and air circulation and helps prevent the buidl up of pests, such as scale insects.

Sterilise sharp pruning shears with isopropyl alcohol before making each cut to avoid transmitting diseases through fresh wounds.

Repotting

Younger Christmas Palms may need repotting every year or two to accommodate expanding root systems. Mature specimens require less frequent transplanting, but benefit from fresh soil added or root pruning every 3-4 years.

Repot in early spring before full growth resumes. Gently loosen root masses when shifting into a slightly larger container to encourage new growth at the root tips, as it is these that taken in teh water and nutrients. Thoroughly water after repotting to settle soil around the roots. 

Propagation

You can propagate Christmas Palms from seed when the plant produces the colourful red fruits.

Christmas palm

Harvest ripe fruits and soak pulp away to reveal seeds. Sow while fresh for best viability into a seed starting mix, burying about 1 inch (2.5cm) deep.

Maintain constant soil moisture and air temperatures around 75-80° F until sprouting occurs.

Acclimate seedlings gradually to higher light levels once several adult leaves appear.

Given very slow growth, propagation by division of basal shoots generally proves impractical for the home plantsperson.

Common Problems & Solutions

Christmas Palm troubleshooting quick guide

Leaves and shoots

  • Tip burn – if the ends of the fronds go brown and crispy, increase humidity, improve watering consistency.
  • Yellowing of fronds, especially lower ones – Correct uneven moisture or overwatering.

Roots

  • Weak growth or stunting – Check for root rot and improve drainage
  • Petiole collapse – Often indicative of age or transplant stress. Check for root damage, ensure sufficient moisture and humidty is present and await recovery.

Pests

  • Mealybugs, scales – Apply horticultural oil or insecticidal soap sprays
  • Spider mites – Use oils and soap spray products according to label guidelines
  • Inspect closely for small sucking insects like mealybugs or scale, as these can distort plant tissues, excrete sticky honeydew and cause disease.
  • Treat isolated infestations by hand removal.
  • Apply horticultural oils or insecticidal soaps to suffocate soft-bodied pests while being gentle on the palm itself.

Diseases

  • Leaf spots, blights – Apply appropriate commercial fungicides
  • Root rots – Avoid overwatering soil
  • Overwatering encourages fungal root rots and leaf diseases. Allow soil to dry out partially between waterings.
  • Discard severely damaged foliage to limit disease spread.
  • Maintain good air circulation around the plant.

Winter Care

Protect your Christmas palm from cold drafts during winter months.

Heat sources quickly dehydrate the fronds, so mist the fronds to keep high humidity levels around the palm.

Reduce watering frequency in winter when growth naturally slows.

Read our winter care guide for more details on how to look after your indoor plants in winter.

Other indoor palms

Read our guide to the 16 best indoor palms to grow and our individual guides to caring for these other indoor palms:

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