Sago palm care is easy making sago plants an excellent plant for inexperienced gardeners. The sago palm grows primarily in the landscape across the southern states but also grown as an indoor houseplant.
Commonly called the “sago palm” or “king sago palm” they are one of those plants that look like a palm – like the ponytail palm – but is not a palm but a cycad (Cycas revoluta).
The plant produces cones and bears attractive, palm-like feathery foliage making it very similar looking to palms, and tree ferns.
Called a prehistoric plant, sago palms with strong natural defenses against predators adapts to a wide variety of conditions.
Take care if children or pets like dogs tamper with the plant as the leaves are toxic if ingested. Make sure you have the animal poison control center number handy.
General Sago Palm Care
Indoors or out, the sago palm tree prefers a light, well-drained soil with ample sun.
With minimal care, these rugged plants can last a lifetime and then some.
Slow-growing and long-lived your plant may not bloom (produce a cone) in the first 15 years of its life or even ever at all.
Cycas revoluta periodically produces a lovely new flush of leaves called “break” which compensates for its slow-growing habit.
These tender new leaves emerge all at once in a crowning or circular pattern or feather-like rosette.
Several weeks later, the leaves become harder, and stiffer. When plant’s reach the reproductive stage, the semi-glossy green leaves have strongly recurved edges.
Keeping Your Potted Sago Palm
Outdoors, these plants are hardy in USDA zones 8b – 11; however, they make ideal indoor potted ornamental plants as well as bonsai plants and can stay indoors in any region all year round.
Check out these tips to successfully care for Cycad as potted indoor houseplants.
- Keep plants in an area that gets plenty of bright indirect sunlight. The temperature should remain around 75 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the day and between 65 and 75 overnight.
- Protect the cycad plant from hot or cold drafts. Don’t place it too close to a window or a cooling or heating vent. Place the plant between five and eight feet away from very sunny windows. This will protect it from excessive, burning sunlight.
- Place plants out of high traffic areas to protect its leaves from breakage.
- Turn the plant a quarter turn every couple of weeks throughout the year except for in the spring. In the springtime when new leaves begin to grow, simply let the plant sit.
- Check the soil moisture in the pot once a week by poking your finger into the top two or three inches. If the soil is dry, water the plant thoroughly. If it is still moist wait a few days and check again.
- Empty the drip tray under your plant after you finish watering. Don’t allow it to stand in water because this will cause root rot.
- Fertilize your plant when watering using an 18-6-18 water-soluble plant food. Mix one teaspoon of fertilizer into a gallon of water for proper dilution during the growing season. Start in the springtime when you see new growth. Stop fertilizing in mid-fall, and do not fertilize throughout the winter.
- Check plants once a month and trim a sago palm any yellowing or dead leaves and dust the fronds with a soft cloth. When you prune dead growth, be sure to prune it close to the trunk. Use a sharp, clean set of pruning shears.
- In the springtime when new growth appears, check to see if the plant is root bound. If the plant and roots seem crowded in its current container, you will want to consider transplanting your sago palm. Select a pot two inches larger than the pot your plant currently grows in. It goes without saying that it must have good drainage holes in the bottom.
How To Repot Your Sago Palm
Once you select a new pot, place a couple of inches of gravel in the bottom. This facilitates good drainage and keeps the soil from sifting through the holes. Be sure to have plenty of light, well-draining potting soil on hand.
- Carefully remove the plant and root ball from its existing pot. You may need to loosen it a bit by sliding a spade or knife blade between the edges of the soil and the sides of the container. Once loosened, slide the plant out of the container. Don’t pull the plant out.
- Lay the plant on a base of newspaper and massage the root ball to spread and open the roots.
- Put enough potting soil into the pot to bring the top of the root ball to within a couple of inches of the top of the pot. Set the root ball into the pot and fill in the space around it with fresh potting soil.
- Tamp the potting soil down firmly and add more potting soil until you fill the pot to a level even with the top of the root ball. Water the plant thoroughly, and pour the water out of the drainage saucer when done.
Caring For Cycas Revoluta Outdoors
Of course, if you like, set your potted Sago palm outdoors in a sheltered area during temperate times of the year. In USDA hardiness zones 8b-11, the Sago palm can live outdoors year round. In an outdoor setting, planted in the ground after many years plants can grow to a height of 10 feet high!
Picking The Right Spot
Sago palms love full sun, but it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.
In areas with very hot, punishing sun it’s best to place your plant in an area that gets good morning sun and light afternoon shade.
As always sago palm trees need an area with good drainage. Just as with a potted sago, soggy soil can cause root rot.
Light, airy outdoor soil amended with compost or other organic matter works best.
When first planted, keep your sago fairly well watered. Water deeply about once a week. Be sure to moisten the top foot of soil.
Once your plant is established, it will require limited watering. Watch for signs of distress and water deeply if you begin to see wilt.
Sago Palm Fertilizer – Once A Year
Apply it around the base of the plant, approximately eight inches away from the trunk. Water thoroughly after application.
Annual fertilizing should be enough, but unusual yellowing of the leaves may indicate your plant suffers a magnesium or potassium deficiency.
In this case, apply a chelated iron or Epsom salt spray to the leaves spray to the leaves. This will not undo yellowing of older foliage, but as new leaves grow, they should be a nice healthy shade of green.
Prune For Tidiness
Naturally, you will want to trim off yellow leaves as described above. If your plant produces a cone, you will eventually want to remove it as it begins to break apart.
Do this carefully and avoid damaging the growing point underneath it.
Pests And Problems
Read this article on how one nurseryman uses coffee grounds for Asian scale and other cycad pests.
As for Sago palm disease, the only problems I’ve experienced with a fungus or rot started with a wound to the trunk.
Propagating Sago Plants
Sago palm trees propagate in several ways, none of them are fast and easy. Sago cycad plants are either male or female.
The male cone produces pollen which fertilizes the female cone where the seeds are then produced.
How To Plant Sago Palm Seeds
Sow ripe sago palm seeds in a shallow flat or pot with a soil mixture containing lots of sand.
Keep temperatures in the high 70’s. Months can pass before tiny shoots begin to show, and another 3-6 months or more before seedlings can be moved or repotted.
Side Shoots Sago Bulbs or Pups
Old mature plants sometimes develop bulbs or side shoots on the stem. These bulbs can be cut off and rooted. Remove leaves from the side shoots as they pull lots of moisture.
Stick the “bulbs” in soil (I like pure sand) keeping the mixture on the dry side until new roots form over a few months.
Section Of Trunk
Just like the “bulbs” or side shoots, sections of sago trunks can be planted. This is often done with “collected” plants.
No matter what propagation method selected, it is a time-consuming, slow process and for many difficult.
Seed germination takes many months, growing them to size takes many years.
Collecting And Moving Cycads
Growers collect old “stumps” since these slow growing large Cycas revoluta specimens can be regrown.
The stumps pictured are decades old and collecting stumps, digging and moving cycads can be a very taxing task.
The long and fibrous roots of Cycas revoluta can cause trouble.
In fact, some grounds, walls, and concrete pavements crack due to the underrated power of the intertwining strands of roots that comprise the root system.
Also, the plants or “stumps ” can become damaged. Take care when collecting them.
Sago Palm Care In The Winter
If your location endures short cold snaps, your plant will probably not suffer much harm. These tough plants can withstand very low temperatures (e.g. 15 degrees Fahrenheit) for short periods of time as long as you provide with some protection.
Steps For Winterization
In areas where the temperature becomes cold but not freezing, cut back on your watering in the wintertime and allow the plant to go semi-dormant.
Late in the fall, prune off dead growth and mulch heavily (approximately three inches) around the roots to protect them and conserve moisture throughout the winter.
During the winter months, when you expect freezing temperatures, provide your plant with protection by covering it with a blanket or burlap bag to prevent freezing.
Uncover it when temperatures rise above the freezing point.
Even with this care, your cycad will probably suffer some dead leaves through the wintertime. When spring arrives, cut back any dead foliage, fertilize and get ready for new growth.
In areas that remain very cold for extended periods of time, you will need to bring your potted sago palms indoors for the winter.
Remember, overwintering a plant is different than keeping a houseplant year round.
When overwintering, you want to keep the plant in a cool area with indirect light.
Water sparingly as the plant will go into a dormant state throughout the winter months. Don’t fertilize during this time.
Less Is More
Cycas revoluta should be a fairly foolproof type of plant for most gardener’s. Unfortunately, many people simply overdo when it comes to care.
Extremes of temperature, excessive watering, and too much sun are enemies of cycads.
If you can remember to provide steady temperatures, light watering and moderate sunlight, you can look forward to enjoying success with Sago palms.
Common Sago Palm Tree Maladies
Because of its strong natural defenses, these are fairly trouble free plants. If you provide ample light, well-drained soil, light watering, occasional fertilizing and a new pot every couple of years your plant should go along happily for a very long time.
Of course, some problems may arise. One of the most common is the sago palm turning yellow. As with any other type of plant or tree, when leaves become old they turn yellow, then brown before falling off.
To avoid a scruffy appearance, trim the leaves or fronds back to the base when they begin to yellow. This will make room for fresh new leaves.
If trimming does not resolve this problem, or if yellowing appears on new growth, it may be an indication of some other problem, such as:
- Fertilize more frequently. Be certain you fertilize using the right amount of a balanced fertilizer.
- Look for a pest infestation (e.g. scale bugs). If you find pests on your plant, pick them off my hand or address it using a natural sprays of neem insecticide oils or beneficial insects.
- Check to see if you’re watering too much, or your plant may not have efficient drainage. If this is the case, you may need to repot your plant, if outdoors, amend the soil around it.
Growing In The Landscape
In the landscape, they can sago palms provide an “Oriental Influence”. Here is how one designer described using the cycas revoluta in their landscape plan…
The Japanese lantern mounted on a pedestal, with pleasing freeform lines, was carved from lavarock (feather stone one of the many types of landscaping rocks available). Dramatic growing Cycas revoluta among coral boulders, makes an interesting background.
Sago Palms For Sale – Buying Tips
You’ll find sago palms for sale in many big box garden centers being sold as a “dwarf palm tree.” Since sago palms do not have a real “season,” purchase them at any time of the year. When buying a Sago plant look for foliage with clean undamaged leaves and dark green foliage.
Some stores may offer for sale potted sago in 3-gallon pots.
Larger sago plants used and planted in the landscape are available from landscapers. The plants are heavy and difficult for the average homeowner to handle.
When buying a Sago plant look for foliage with clean undamaged leaves and dark green foliage.
In the landscape or as a houseplant the Sago Palm is versatile addition.
This article originally appeared in plantcaretoday.com