With all of the yard clean up that’s been a work in progress since we moved into our new house in June we have learned about new plants that are common in this area. Sago Palms can be found all over Charleston and our yard has 5 of them in the front and side yards of varying sizes. When I was tackling the side bed that we share with our neighbor, Hunter decided it was time to prune up the palms – especially all the yellow and brown fronds. The transformation was CRAZY so now I’m sharing the tips with you in case you have some pruning to do!
- Sago palms are toxic, so wear gloves and be careful when touching the plants. Also don’t let your animals near them or to eat them.
- Prune from the bottom up, clearing the fronds at the trunk by 6″ to 2ft. These are the oldest and lowest leaves and it helps increase air flow.
- Only remove completely dead and damaged fronds. Cutting healthy fronds can weaken the plant, but you can expose the trunk of the palm for ornamental purposes by removing extra fronds.
- Don’t trim sago palm fronds that are between 10 and 2 o’clock positions.
- The best time to prune is autumn when it’s not producing new leaves.
Additional sources: Gardening Know How & Home Guides
Here’s the full process from the first time we cleaned up the side bed with the biggest sago palms, to the pruned version!
Much cleaner right? Sadly, we think one of the palms in the front is dying or diseased, so we’re hoping to see some fronds grow, but it’s not doing well. The other 2 in the front yard are smaller and were pruned up as well.
Go ahead and put this knowledge in the “something I never thought I’d need to learn about” group, but homeownership is full of lessons and learning!
Sago Palm Bonsai
Even though they are commonly called palms and appear to be, the Sago palm is not a true palm, but belongs to an ancient group of plants called cycads. Cycads are a very primitive group of seed-bearing plants more closely related to conifers than to palms. They are very slow growing, usually only producing one set of leaves per year, and taking several years to develop a “trunk” of much size.
Place in an indoor location receiving very bright light year around, preferably with three or more hours of direct or lightly filtered sunlight. Ideal temperatures are from 60° to 75°F, but higher temperatures are tolerated. The minimum night temperature should be 50°F. or above.
Your Sago bonsai may be moved outdoors in the spring when minimum temperatures exceed 50°F, and returned indoors in the fall before the first frost. Outdoors, place the bonsai in light shade in an area protected from wind. If your Sago has been in a lower light situation indoors, do not expose it to direct sunlight outdoors or the leaves will burn.
When the weather is warm, water thoroughly when the top half inch of soil has dried. Do not keep the soil to wet or soggy which can lead to root rot. During cooler months, watering may be reduced to allow the soil to become nearly dry before watering again.
The only pruning that will be required is to remove any leaf that dries out or becomes otherwise unattractive. Cut off the leaf stalk near to the trunk. If only a few leaflets on a leaf turn brown and you wish to preserve the leaf, remove the affected leaflets right at the midrib of the leaf.
Since the Sago bonsai is so slow growing, repot into a larger pot only if the roots are pushing the plant up out of the pot.
Fertilize every six weeks between spring and mid-summer, using regular houseplant food at half strength.
Watch for scale insects which can appear as little brown or black raised bumps on the leaves. Mealy bugs may also attack your Sago, appearing as white cottony masses on the leaves or leaf bases. Remove the dried shells/bumps of the scale insects or the cottony mealy bug mass by firmly wiping with a cloth soaked in soapy dishwater. After the leaves have dried off, follow up by spraying the leaves with an insecticide for houseplants.
Plant material such as this product should not be eaten. While most plants are harmless, some contain toxins.
Ask Mr. Smarty Plants
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So, you’ve added a sago palm or two (or five!) to your garden. And who can blame you?
In warm climates they’re hardy plants that can be grown outdoors, with impressively feathery, shiny dark green foliage that evokes a prehistoric feel straight out of Jurassic Park, the perfect backdrop to the backyard dinosaur display of your dreams.
In colder regions, they make an excellent addition container gardens, or they can be grown indoors year-round if you have the space.
But wait a minute. What’s this? Are those fronds drooping, and beginning to yellow? What are these tiny white flecks? Something’s not quite right here…
Cycas revoluta is not plagued by many types of insect pests or diseases, but there are a few items to keep in mind and look out for, preventive care options, and ways to troubleshoot common problems when they arise.
What could be causing the tips of these fronds to turn yellow? Keep reading to find out. Photo by Gretchen Heber.
Whether you just received your delivery of these plants or you inherited a few mature specimens when you moved into your new apartment (like I did when I first moved to Los Angeles), sago palms are easy to care for.
Occasional watering and a little fertilizer paired with checking the fronds occasionally for signs of poor health is all that’s usually required to keep your sagos happy and thriving.
In case you do run into any issues, we’re here to help!
Here’s what’s to come in this article:
Managing Pests & Diseases in Sago Palm
- Scale Insects and Mealybugs
- Sooty Mold
- Keep Your Plants Healthy and Happy
Let’s dig in!
Managing Pests and Diseases
Sagos are generally easy to care for, and you should have no problem maintaining them in good health as long as they are planted in the proper location and tended to appropriately.
For more helpful tips, you can read our full growing guide.
It would be fantastic if you never face any issues. (Your thumbs are so green! My eyes! Must look away!) But here are a few potential problems that you may encounter:
Scale Insects and Mealybugs
C. revoluta is susceptible to scale, which can be managed by hand picking, blasting the affected areas with water to wash the invaders away, or by applying a horicultural oil or insecticidal soap.
Bonide All-Seasons Horticultural Oil Spray, 32 Fl. Oz.
Insecticides like malathion have also been used with some success.
Garden Safe Insecticidal Soap Insect Killer, 2-Pack
Organocide is another product that is often recommended to combat these pests. It’s a nature-safe organic combination insecticide and fungicide, made of sesame oil, fish oil, and other ingredients that are safe for use around pets and children, and that won’t harm the bees.
Organic Laboratories Organocide 3-in-1 Garden Spray
Natural predators like lacewings and ladybugs can help to take care of scale insects as well.
In Florida, Cybocephalus nipponicus, the scale picnic beetle, and Coccobius fulvus, a type of parasitic wasp, have been introduced to help combat Asian cycad scale. Read more about beneficial insects and what they can do for your garden here.
Aulacaspis yasumatsui, aka cycad aulacaspis scale (CAS) or Asian cycad scale, is native to southeastern Asia. It has been detected in Florida, Texas, and Hawaii, with future spread predicted.
The bugs known as scale are flat, oval insects that thrive in warm and dry environments. They’re commonly tan, white, or brown. And they will suck sap from your plants, depriving them of nutrients.
Mealybugs are another type of scale insect, with soft bodies rather than hard external armor. They appear as soft, white flecks, barely resembling insects at all when viewed with the naked eye, like those pictured above. Like aphids, these bugs excrete what’s known as honeydew, which can encourage the growth of sooty mold.
Asian cycad scale (Aulacaspis yasumatsui) and false oleander scale (Pseudaulacaspis cockerelli) are the most common pests of this type known to plague cycads. While the Asian cycad scale insects will commonly set up shop on the underside of fronds first, false oleander scale bugs apparently prefer to dine right-side up, on the surface of leaves.
Though they may appear to be tiny flecks of cotton fluff or squirrel dandruff at first glance, mealybugs really do look like insects close up.
Keep in mind that even after they are dead, these pests will often continue to cling to leaves, sometimes making it difficult to determine whether you have a new infestation on your hands.
Employing integrative pest management practices in your garden is an excellent way to prevent future problems from arising, track and keep an eye on unwanted visitors, and control their effect on your plants. You can read more about IPM here.
Maintaining good weeding practices around the base of your plants is also a good idea, to keep unwanted insect visitors to a minimum.
Sooty mold is a fungus that looks like black soot. Once you’ve gotten rid of the pests that introduce it to your landscape, it can be washed off your sagos.
On the other hand, heavily infested plants may die. If you’ve determined that yours are beyond treatment, pest-ridden and diseased plants should be removed and properly disposed of in sealed bags with your household trash (not thrown on the compost heap) to avoid spread to the rest of your garden.
Sooty mold and scale insects on a citrus tree. We’re happy to say that we couldn’t find photographic evidence of any on the sago palms currently.
A heavy coating of sooty mold can prevent life-giving light from getting through to the leaves, interfering with photosynthesis and further damaging the health of your cycads. Get rid of any scale insects that have taken up residence, and then clean the fronds thoroughly.
Several types of rot may affect C. revoluta. It’s important to act quickly if you notice signs of fungal disease, particularly if you have other cycads or true palms growing in the area, to avoid spread throughout your yard.
Root rot is common in sagos that have been planted improperly, and those that are receiving too much water. Commonly caused by Phytophthora fungus, this disease is marked by leaf wilt, and yellowing fronds.
This citrus tree succumbed to root rot. Don’t let your cycads be next.
Moving up to the top of the plant, as its name suggests, crown rot will first appear at the crown of C. revoluta where new leaves are developing, progressing outward to the next set of larger fronds.
Fronds will yellow, appear bleached or burned, display brown lesions, wilt, and eventually turn brown and die. Younger fronds may rot and fall off while mature greenery may remain attached, and you may notice sap oozing from the base of leaves.
This disease is caused by the same type of fungus as root rot, and application of a fungicide may save your plants. Mefenoxam products have been used with some success, particularly when treating younger cycads.
Problems may originate at the crown of the plant, which can be difficult to see on mature cycads. Photo © Ralph Barrera.
Pink rot, or Gliocladium blight, is another disease common to palm-type plants, noted by pink spore clusters that may appear on any part of your cycads. Trunks that are oozing brown sap are another indication of poor health related to various types of fungal infection.
To avoid all types of fungal disease, good planting and care practices are a must. Be sure to plant only in well-draining soil in a location with adequate light, and in containers with sufficient drainage holes.
Do not pile mulch around the base of your plants, since this can serve to retain excess moisture, and avoid overcrowding to allow proper airflow.
Avoid excessive pruning, since wounding cycad plants can weaken them, and make them susceptible to disease. Prune only with sanitized tools, to prevent the spread of infection around your garden.
Allow the soil to dry out between waterings, to prevent wet feet. And be sure to water only at the base of plants, in the early morning if possible, avoiding the leaves. Never use water that may be contaminated with fungal growth to irrigate your plants.
It’s unfortunate that many sagos infected with rot will succumb to fungal disease, and your best option is to remove plants that are unhappy in their location.
Mature sago palms do not typically respond well to transplanting, but it may be worth a shot if you can catch a potential problem early. If you must relocate your sago palm, the best time to do it is in winter or early spring, when the plant is dormant.
Gardeners in cold climates should really stick with container cultivation for this one, and be sure to bring potted plants inside before the risk of cold damage becomes an issue. If a brightly lit location is available, indoor container gardening year-round may be your best option.
If you spot new growth that turns yellow, this may be an indication of a nutrient deficiency, namely a lack of sufficient quantities of manganese.
If you notice yellowing, you can supplement with manganese sulfate. Keep in mind that this is not the same thing as magnesium sulfate, the active ingredient in Epsom salts. Fronds that have already begun to turn yellow will not recover, but supplementing with the proper nutrients will help to restore good health to the rest of the plant.
Yellowing on new foliage may also be an indication of poor drainage, or overwatering.
When I had the occasional problem with yellowing or fronds dying off on my patio in southern California, we were in the middle of a drought, with occasional flood rains in the winter just to change things up. The plants predated my arrival at this location as a tenant, already planted in sturdy, incredibly heavy containers on the back patio.
I never amended the soil, and I couldn’t tell you whether they had good drainage in those containers or not. Honestly, I was just happy to have something already living that was growing relatively happily when I moved in.
These sagos were located in partial shade and they were watered occasionally by myself, or by a landscaping crew hired by the landlord that paid little mind to the actual needs of the plants (ask me about the time they lobbed off the top three feet of the cacti that were also growing there, to my horror).
Since they were potted, these plants were not very large. The frond damage eventually resolved itself, with dead foliage that was easily clipped, or that would dry and fall off on its own. This didn’t affect the overall health of the plants, and it was safe to assume that this was not a sign of disease since the problem did not spread.
Root rot due to overwatering may be the culprit here, but fronds also yellow with age.
Fronds will also begin to turn yellow with age, eventually shriveling and turning brown. This isn’t a sign of an unhealthy plant, but rather, simply a process that is typical of cycads. Dead fronds can be removed.
Fertilize regularly to prevent or treat a nutrient deficiency. Follow package directions for the size and location of your sagos, whether grown in the ground or in a container. Soil testing may also help you to determine exactly what it is that your soil lacks.
Furthermore, don’t go crazy with the watering! Established cycads are drought resistant, and should be planted only in well-draining soil that is allowed to dry out between waterings. Standing water or saturated ground is not your friend if growing these plants.
Keep Your Plants Healthy and Happy
Armed with this information, we hope you’ll be able to prevent and identify common problems that Cycas revoluta may encounter, and apply our suggested remedies when the need arises. Gardening can sometimes be a bit of a guessing game, but it certainly helps to know what you’re looking for.
Test your soil if necessary, don’t overwater, and be sure to plant in a mostly sunny location with some shade that isn’t already too crowded with plant life, or in appropriate containers. If you see signs of a problem, act quickly. And don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions – we’re happy to help.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.
What changes have you made to your garden to keep your sagos healthy? Have you encountered any problems that we forgot to include here? Let us know in the comments below.
For more helpful info on combating pests and disease in your garden, check out the following articles:
- Doing Battle with Stink Bugs
- Are Plants that Repel Mosquitoes a Scam?
- Getting a Grip on Flea Beetles
- How to Identify and Control Sooty Blotch and Flyspeck on Apples
Photo © Ralph Barrera reprinted with permission. Photos by Gretchen Heber © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Bonide, Garden Safe, and Organic Laboratories. Uncredited photos: . Revised and expanded from an article originally written by Gretchen Heber.
About Allison Sidhu
Allison M. Sidhu grew up with her hands in the dirt in southeastern Pennsylvania, and she is now based in sunny LA. She holds a BA in English literature from Swarthmore College as well as an MA in gastronomy from Boston University. When she’s not in the kitchen making a fresh green juice or whipping up something tasty for dinner, Allison enjoys perusing the latest seed catalogs, tending her patio garden, and reading up on the latest in food and agriculture policy.