Planting sago palm pups

Female plants produce a round, felt mass in the center
of the leaf mass. Bright orange to yellow seeds mature
on the female plant during mid-summer to fall.
Males plants form a yellow, cone-like structure
that grows 12-24 inches.

A. Congratulations! You are fortunate, as you have both a male and a female Sago Palm. What you are describing are the male and female flowers of the Sago Palm, which by the way, is not really a palm at all. What we have always been taught to call a Sago Palm is actually a Cycad. Cycads are a very old group of plants that are closer to conifers than to palms. They go back at least 200 million years, which is older than the dinosaurs.

The scientific name is Cycas revoluta, which in Latin identifies the plant as a cycad and describes the revolute nature of the leaflets.

Cycads are dioecious, having both male and females. When the sago plants have sexually matured, the female sagos begin to “flower” producing a basketball-sized structure. The male sago produces a long thick structure, or the male cone. At this point you have the opportunity to propagate more sago palms to plant elsewhere in your yard or share with your friends.

In order for the female plant to produce viable seed, it must be pollinated by a male sago palm. If you are lucky enough to have both a mature male and a female plant, this will not present a problem for you. The pollination can be achieved by the wind or insects, but you can get in the act and ensure pollination by dusting pollen from the male to the female flower yourself. You can tell when the female flower is ready to be pollinated as it will slowly open up. This usually happens in this area in the late spring to early summer. Be patient. Sago palms grow slowly and their seeds develop slowly as well.

If you decide to undertake propagating your sago palms I suggest that you do a little reading. Information is readily available at your local library or on the internet. The process is not difficult and the plants will do most of the work, but can be very rewarding.

Considering that sago palms are quite valuable, have a long history behind them and enhance your property with their stately presence, you should view those two plants in your yard with a new found respect and appreciation, especially if you are the proud grandparent to a whole new generation of sago palm.

Sago ‘Palm’ care and cultivation

These three plants are probably close to one hundred years old if not more

The leaves of the Cycas revoluta are deep, glossy green and nearly plastic-like in texture, growing up to three to four feet in length (in very old and shaded specimens). Plants grown in deep shade can develop leaves even longer than that. The leaflets are needle-like and reminiscent of their pine-needle forming relatives, the conifers. However Cycas needles have a distinctive midrib. These leaflets arise off either side of the rachis at a distinct ‘V’ angle in cross section as well as a ‘V’ when looking down at the leaf. The leaflets themselves also have a bit of an arch to them as they bend slightly back towards the plant near the tips- this is an example of a revolute leaf shape (hence the name ‘revoluta’). New leaves that are just flushing from the center are pale green, soft and slight fuzzy. The leaves are very delicate at this phase and should not be handled or they may break off easily or grow into deformed shape. As leaves age, they yellow and eventually turn brown, dry and may fall off given time. Most trim them off at this point, however. Old Sago Palms have very rough stems armed with sharp leaf bases (though most eventually fall off). The base of each cycad leaf has somewhat shortened leaflets that are extremely sharp and stiff making their handling without gloves a bit risky and uncomfortable.

Cycas revoluta leaves from above (left) and from the end of the leaf, showing the subtle ‘V’ of the leaflets coming off the rachis (midrib of the leaf) on right

closer shots of the leaf of a Sago Palm (left or above) and even closer of the needle-like tips of the leaflets and grooves down their centers (right or below)

As one gets close to the leaf bases, the leaflets get stiffer, shorter and sharper, making pruning these leaves a hazard. One can also see the typical short spines at the very bottom of the leaves seen on most Cycas species. These spines are also very sharp

above photos show progress of new leaves

Care of Plants in the ground

In many climates throughout the southern US Cycas revolutas can be grown in the ground. Well draining soil is recommended, but these plants are fairly tolerant of clay soils as well and seem to adapt pretty well to many different soil types. Temperatures below 15F briefly can be damaging to the leaves, and below 10F to the stem as well. If exposed to such low temps for longer periods of time, the stem may be permanently damaged. Temperatures over 110F for a long period can damage the stem as well, and hot, dry sun exposure will sunburn the leaves (making them unsightly, but will do little damage to the health of the plant).

Growing in the ground in Fullerton, California, and in the snow in Seattle, Washington (right or lower photo by cazieman)

Watering newly planted plants with little or no root damage should be done immediately after planting and at least weekly as long as soils are fairly well draining. Once established, watering can be more or less often depending on the weather and how fast you want your plant to grow. These plants are fairly drought tolerant once established and can go for months without water unless soils are very sandy and/or temperatures are hot and dry. Watering frequently in cold weather while growing in poorly draining soils can sometimes lead to root rot, but this is more of a concern with young plants than older, well established ones.

Trimming off yellowy, older leaves as well as the dried, dead ones is recommended to keep plants looking healthy. Trimming all leaves off plants may be necessary at times if plant got too dried out, or had a bad attack of scale, or for any other situation in which all the leaves died for some reason. Removing all leaves from a well established or larger plant rarely seems to have an effect on the overall health of the plant. Even young plants usually tolerate leaf loss, but it sets them back more. Removing leaves from plants suffering from nutritional deficiencies is not recommended, however, as this may worsen the plant’s overall health.

Plant I dug and and moved to my yard about four and a half feet tall… I cut off all the leaves and they regrew eighteen months later.

When planting a Cycas revoluta in your garden, it is best to select a spot where water does not collect (do not plant in a ditch). If you live in a climate that is arid and hot, protection from afternoon shade is best. However, plants growing in deep shade will get etiolated and weakened eventually and may be prone to rot so generally as much light as your climate will allow is best. Here in California most Sago Palms do fine planted in full sun, though those planted inland can get a bit yellowy in late summers from sun damage to the leaves. Plant thinking of the future as these can grow to be fairly wide (so not right next to a high traffic area). They can get tall, too, but generally not too tall in one’s lifetime. I have seen some Cycas revolutas in Los Angeles over fifteen feet tall but I think those plants are well over one hundred years old.

When putting a plant in the ground it is best to plant at the same level the plant was in the pot or box. There is no reason to put the plant in more deeply and this can end up allowing the caudex to rot. There are many cycads with subterranean caudeces, but this is not one of them. There is little unique to planting Sago Palms. Plant as you would most other plants in the ground, digging a hole larger and deeper than the pot. Plants that have been kept in a pot for a long time tend to be somewhat root bound, so care should be taken to remove the pot without tearing off too many roots. Root-bound plants however, plant fairly easily with minimal setback normally.

Planting large plants can take multiple people as these can get well over a thousand pounds. I have planted a few large plants that weighed several hundred but I have no personal experience moving box specimens (usually a crane is involved). The larger the plant, the more careful one has to be not to damage the delicate stems. A cracked stem can mean death of the whole plant, so these need to be moved with some support and gently. Minor cracks or damage to stems will usually result in a leaking of a self-sealant these plants naturally produce (a clearish gel-like matieral).

moving and planting this huge boxed specimen will take help and possibly a crane to do it successfully. Right or lower photo shows goo that comes out after cutting or injuring a Sago Palm- sort of a self sealant material.

Root damage in Sago Palms is less of a concern, but the less root damage the better. However cutting all the roots is likely to end in death of the plant. If one is moving a smaller plant and cuts or damages a root, it is best to treat the cut end with rooting hormone and/or some antifungal goo or sealant to protect the surface from fungal infection. These plants should probably not be watered right away, either. Large plants can easily survive for many weeks without being watered and this may give them time to heal over their root injuries.

When moving larger plants, one must be careful not to get injured. Sago Palms have lots of sharp parts. For convenience sake, I usually cut off all leaves before trying to move one of these, though this decreases the plants ornamental appeal for many months or even years, so avoid this if you are doing some professional landscaping. The trunk can also do quite a bit of damage, too, so one should wear long sleeves as well as gloves.

Some plants experience set back after being moved about and may not put out a new set of leaves for over a year (I had one that took two and half years to start growing again, but it is fine). The less root damage, the less set back.

Care of plants in pots

Cycas revolutas perform very well in pots and since they are so slow growing, they do not need to be potted up very often. The soil ingredients of potted plants are much more important than they are in garden-planted plants. Just because these cycads will tolerate somewhat poorly draining soils, or even sandy soils in the garden does not mean they will do well in the same soils in pots. Potted soil should be fairly rich, well draining (but not too well draining or plants desiccate easily) and should have either some slow release fertilizer, or you will need to be fertilizing these plants regularly (2-3x a year outdoors and maybe yearly or less indoors).

My own sun room plant happily living in a small pot

Though these tend to be relatively decent indoor plants, they do need a lot of light (the more the better, though full sun through a window can be a bit harsh). Plants grown in darker rooms develop long, weak leaves and are more prone to rot if even slightly overwatered. As slow growing as these plants are, they are even more so indoors. So plants seem to never outgrow their pots. One must make an effort then to change the soil every two to four years and leach it out every 4-6 months or too much salts will accumulate and damage the roots. Fertilizing should be yearly or less for most indoor plants.

This indoor plant is in too low a light evidenced by the bizarre, etiolated new leaves coming out two to three times as long as the pre-existing leaves (photo by bootes)

Root binding is not a huge concern with most cycads, but it does slow their growth down significantly (which may be a good thing for a potted plant). However, cycads do not like being root bound as much as most commonly grown potted palms do, so eventually one will need to pot their Sago Palm up a size or two (palms seem to be happy in most pots until they get so root bound there is either no soil in them, or they break the pot apart).

Bonsai Care

These plants can do very well in surprisingly small pots, though one either has to grow them into that size or root prune them carefully to fit them in such shallow pots. Once they are set up, soil should be kept fairly moist. Bonsai plants do not tolerate getting too dry, and like all plants used for bonsai, desiccation is the most common reason for failure. Even this species, which is relatively drought tolerant, can easily die if let dry out too long. Humidity also can be helpful for bonsais though it seems to matter little for Cycas revolutas grown in normal pots or in the ground. Misting regularly can be helpful as can a catch basin below the pot (aka humidity tray). While one can get away with rarely fertilizing in ground plants (except in particularly sandy or deficient soils commonly found on the east coast), or yearly in most potted plants, these should be fertilized four to five times a year with a diluted liquid fertilizer. Prune old leaves after each new flush.

Nice bonsai Cycas revoluta at plant show

Sago Palm propagation

Cycas revolutas can be reproduced in several ways. The easiest is just to take the suckers/offsets and root them. This gives one a huge head start over growing cycads from seed and it also gives one a good idea what sex of baby cycad they have (as long as the adult has coned at this point). Offsets can be removed from along the base with either a sharp trowel or some sort of garden knife. Even if you don’t want more cycads, removing offsets will keep your plant growing faster and looking more elegant. The larger the offset, the more easily it will root (large ones may have some roots of their own already). Very old plants may start offsetting along the trunk. One may not have the luxury of waiting for these to get really large as they may start to form a branch and then your cycad may become huge and ungainly. But super small offsets from trunks can be a bit tricky to root. Applying rooting hormone to these smaller offsets and letting them ‘dry out’ a week or so will make them less like to rot in a rooting medium (usually perlite or pumice and something else- sphagnum moss, sterile potting soil, sandy mix etc.). Most offsets will root within six to twelve months. Check periodically for softness (NOT a good sign). Immediately remove rotting or soft offsets to keep the fungus from getting to the other plantlets.

Plant showing suckers around base (left or above) and much older plant with trunk covered in small suckers (right or below)

Growing cycads from seeds is a bit more fun but this takes a lot longer and requires two different sexed plants. If you only have one plant, you will not get viable seed (seed from a female plant without a male around will never germinate). But if you happen to have many maturing plants, chances are you will have at least one male and female in the group. Thankfully most Cycas revolutas cone about the same time of year (mid to late spring). However, if you have a male cone and no females are ready, you can store the pollen in small paper envelopes in the freezer for years and it will usually remain viable. By the same token you can get pollen from someone else’s plant this way if you only have a female.

mature male and female cones at the same time late spring, Los Angeles (male plant in front and female in back)

Male and female cones are easily to tell apart- more so than with most other genera of cycad. Cycas species have unique female cones that are often erroneously referred to as ‘flowers’ since they are large mound-like structures with many ‘petal-like’ parts throughout the mound. No other genus of cycad has female cones like these. The male cone is a taller, slenderer structure that looks a lot like a huge version of a cone one might encounter on many different kinds of conifer.

Male plant on left or above and female on right or below

early male cone on left or above and mature on right or below (right photo Thaumaturgist)

early female cone (left or above) and open, receptive female cone (right or below)

Male cones mature to the point where they start to open up (you can see the spaces between each scale). This is a mature cone and pollen can be obtained from it by cutting it off at the base and shaking it either over a ready female cone, or over a piece of paper. Then the pollen can either be stored or taken over to the female cone and dropped on it when it’s ready and open, too. Female cones develop from relatively smooth looking mounds to spikey, flower-like structures. To improve the chances of fertilization shaking some pollen on the open female cone should be done over several days. The natural pollinators for Cycas revolutas do not exist in the US, but sometimes ants or even wind can do the job accidentally, so even if one does not actively pollinate a female, a few fertilized seeds may grow as long as one has both a male and female coning at the same time in proximity.

one method that seems to work pretty well, particularly with Cycas species, is to cut off the open, pollen-producing male cone on top of the open, receptive female cone and let the pollen fall off where it may.

Seeds will turn from yellow to orange (even if unfertilized) over the summer and eventually develop to the size of a somewhat flattened ping-pong ball by winter time. By the end of winter, the seeds will be as large as they are going to get and should be harvested. Usually ripe seed grows larger than unfertilized seed and it also should sink in water (unfertilized seed usually floats).

looking for seed in a fertilized female cone (left or above) viewing the early seed formation (right or below)

seed turning orange (left or above photo ginger749) Old seed that was not fertilized and a new flush of leaves on top (right or below)

fertile seed developing (left or above) and almost ripe (right or below)

Seeds need to be cleaned (the orange fruit should be removed), and then dried for a few days. You can either plant the seed now or store a few months in a cool dry place. But then you will need to soak it a few days before planting it.

ripe seed and unfertile seed (left or above); cleaned seed (or partially cleaned above) right pr below photo htop

Some grow seeds in large community pots with very well draining but moisture retained medium, deep enough to allow good root formation. Others grow their seed in warm humid greenhouses on top of a layer of pure pumice until the seeds send a root down a few inches, and then move them to individual pots (this is particularly done with more expensive, delicate and rare species). If you are going to use the community pot of flat technique, it is easiest to plant the seeds about half way to ¾ way into the soil on their sides (flattish sides up and down, not with one of the narrow sides shoved straight into the soil).

Do not try to grow seeds in full sun as they will dry out too easily or the seedlings will fry. Sago Palm seeds and seedlings do not necessarily need a greenhouse to be grown in and extra heat does not seem to be necessary to grow this species… but it can help, particularly if you are growing these in winter in a cold climate. Keep soil moist the first year.

Toxicity

Like all cycads (as far as I know), Cycas revolutas are toxic. Basically all parts are toxic, though the fruits seem to be more toxic than the rest of the plant. This might surprise some since ‘sago’ is an edible starch extracted from the trunk of Sago Palms (as it is from many ‘real’ palms as well). Though historically a cheap source of sago, there have been several methods adopted in processing this sago to make it less toxic. However, eating sago from Cycas revolutas (and many other species of cycad) have still been associated with many cases of human poisoning.

From a veterinary point of view, Cycas revolutas are one of the most significant sources of pet poisonings in the US (and perhaps around the world). The reason for this is not only the very toxic substance (Cycasin) present in most parts of the plant, but also the Sago Palms’ unusual lack of a bitter or bad taste, so characteristic to most of the world’s toxic plants species. There are at least a dozen more toxic commonly grown garden plants than Cycas revoluta, and long lists of many hundreds more toxic plants found in many gardens throughout the world, but all of these other plants (with a few exceptions) taste terrible and are only eaten by the most determined pets in large enough quantities to result in significant poisoning. And thanks to this plants’ rising popularity and ubiquitous presence in nearly all nurseries, pet cycad poisonings are on the rise. This plant is probably associated with a higher percentage of pet dog fatalaties than from any other toxic plant ingestion. So if you have curious pets (dogs primarily) or young children for that matter, please be very careful with exposure to these household members with this plant (and all other cycads as well).

Problems

Poorly draining soils can lead to root rot (or even rotting of the lower part of the trunk). This is not a common occurrence in planted Sago Palms unless there have been climatic extremes beyond what is recommended, or the plants are planted in swamps. These are pretty tolerant of wet, sloggy soils or they would not do so well in California clay. This is more likely a problem in pots. If noticed early enough, one might be able to save the plant by removing the roots from the pot and cutting off any thing rotten, treating the cut ends with fungicide and rooting hormone, and letting the plant dry out for a week or two on a dry table before replanting. I have saved many myself this way. However, once the stems starts to rot, there is little turning back unless one does an extreme surgery and removes all the soft and necrotic stem tissue and has a lot of patience (hard to get these to recover completely).

Crown rot from overhead watering is a fairly common problem in shade-grown plants. It is far better to water most palms and cycads with drip or low emitters that do not touch the sensitive growth centers of these plants, especially in cool or cold weather and in shade. If caught early enough and the rotting tissue removed and treated with antifungals, some plants will recover. However, they may set back for a very long time, and start growing abnormally from that spot (eg. branching).

Desiccation is also reversible if one gets the plant watered at the earliest symptoms (usually wilting or loss of all the leaves). Desiccated plants have to be coddled for a while as often there has been significant root necrosis and overwatering at this time will be far less tolerated.

Nutritional problems are pretty rare on the west coast, but in the sandier soils of the east coast, Magnesium and Nitrogen deficiencies can be fairly common. Nutritional problems are not uncommon in potted plants, either. These are usually evident by yellowing of new leaves or patchy leaf necrosis. Frizzle top is a specific disease resulting in the new leaves being frizzled and brittle and is caused by Manganese deficiency. Note that yellowing of leaves is not a very specific symptom however and many things from overwatering to too little or too much light can also cause a variety of yellowing of the leaves. Usually all deficiencies can be fixed with adding of some iron sulfate and a good, well balanced fertilizer. For those plants growing in sandy soils, this may have to be a monthly routine.

frizzle top

Sometimes OVER-nutrition can be a problem (excessive fertilizer or fertilizer burn), usually resulting in the tips of the leaves turning brown (or death of the plant in severe cases). I have found most cycads to be fairly resistant to fertilizer burn, at least compared to true palms, but it can still happen so careful.

Cycads are pretty tough and not very tasty plants, but they still have their share of pests and parasites. The most important one is probably the Asian scale (aka Aulacapsis Scale), which is quickly becoming a widespread problem even on the west coast of the US where it was not seen until recently. Most scales are more annoying than anything else can be easily killed with most plant pesticides (though the scale itself remains even after death- needs to be wiped off by hand then). But Asian scale can quickly overwhelm a plant and even kill them. To treat this, most recommend removing all the leaves and retreating with some good pesticides. Often all the Cycas species in a collection will need to be treated to avoid reinfestation.

snow- like material on cycad leaf- scale (left); scale damage on this rare form of Cycas revoluta with forked leaflets (right)

However spider mites and mealy bugs can also be problematic for Cycas revolutas, particularly those grown indoors are in deep shade. Shade is the mealy bug’s friend and they take advantage of lack of sunlight in many ornamental plants. These bugs particularly like new growth and can permanently damage or kill the new leaves. Spider mites are primarily and indoor or greenhouse problem and love plants growing where there is no air flow. Spider mites leave a fine webbing on the underside of the leaflets and a yellowing to spotting on top. Treat routinely with miticide and increase air flow from now on.

Sooty mold is not really a disease, but an annoying condition in which the leaves are coated with a dark, unattractive mold that grows on the materials oozed from insects that are problematic (primarily mealy bugs in the case of Cycas revoluta). The mealy bugs are in turn brought to these plants by ants. So ultimately, if one wants to get rid of sooty mold, one needs to control ant infestations. Cleaning off sooty mold requires some detergents usually as it is held in place by some really sticky stuff, and just wiping it off is not always that easy.

However, in general, these plants are pretty problem free and among the easiest of the ornamentals to grow and keep looking perfect, even in marginal climates.

For more on the care and cultivation of Cycas revolutas see the following links:

http://www.junglemusic.net/cycadadvice/cycads-sago-palm.htm

http://www.rhapisgardens.com/sagos/

For more information on cycads in general, see these links:

http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/41/

http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1442/

http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/PlantNet/cycad/

Looking forward to growing these attractive plants in your garden? Learn How To Grow Sago Palm Pups and to maintain their continued healthy growth.

Botanical Name: Cycas revoluta

Other Names: Sago palm, King sago, Sago cycad, Japanese sago palm

Sago palms belong to the Cycadaceae and are cycads. They are hardy and evergreen plants growing on alluvial, sulfidic, and sandy soils in tropical climates. They have a thick and glossy, needle-like frond, appearing like a palm, but they’re not a palm.

Sago palms are slow-growing and have two varieties–King Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta), which is considered male, and Queen Sago Palm (Cycas rumphii) considered as female. Both of its varieties produce pups at the base of their trunks, after attaining maturity.

Removing Sago Palm Pups

Mature sago palm, both the male and female varieties, produce pups or suckers around the base of their trunks. These pups can be used to grow a new sago palm plant. For removing sago palm pups, follow these steps:

  1. Harvesting the pup should be done in the months of spring or winter. To pick the pups, water around Sago Palm’s base to hydrate its roots.
  2. Take a knife and keep it immersed in a bleach solution (10% bleach and 90% water) around half an hour. Let it dry.
  3. Wear gloves before fetching the pups from the palm, as Sago is toxic.
  4. Using the sanitized knife, chisel the pups from the tree. Try to move the pups back and forth to loosen them so that they can easily be detached. Make sure not to damage the mother plant. The pups look like light bulbs, having reddish-brown outer skin.
  5. You can choose both leafless or leafy pups but prefer pups with less foliage. Avoid brown pups as they can be rotten.
  6. Once you fetch the pups from the tree, fill the soil back to level the surface.

How to Grow Sago Palm Pups

  1. Clean the pups off leaves or roots, using a knife after harvesting them.
  2. Rinse the pups thoroughly to remove any debris from their surface. Dip the pups in a rooting hormone and let them dry.
  3. Keep them in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight at least for a week, letting them develop the callus.
  4. For propagating sago palm pups, choose a small pot of around 4-inches and fill it with a well-draining potting mix, containing half part of potting soil and half part with sand or peat moss.
  5. Place the pups in the soil, in the middle of the pot, and water them thoroughly.
  6. Put the pot in a partly shaded area and water it regularly and deeply until roots start appearing, which can take a few weeks to some months.
  7. Don’t fertilize them until some leaves and roots start to emerge.
  8. Once they attain their growth, repot them into a bigger pot with drainage holes.

Also Read: How to Grow Sago Palm in Containers

Caring for Sago Palm Plant

Keep the plant in full sun or partial shade. Provide ample water (avoid overwatering), especially during spring and summers, but reduce watering during winters. Since it is a toxic plant, especially the seeds, always keep your pets and children away from this plant. To learn on How to Care for Sago Palm, .

Sago Palm Division: Tips On Splitting A Sago Palm Plant

Sago palms (Cycas revoluta) have long, palm-like leaves, but despite the name and the leaves, they are not palms at all. They are cycads, ancient plants akin to conifers. These plants are so lush and lovely that nobody can fault you for wanting more than one. Fortunately, your sago will produce offsets, called pups, which can be split from the parent tree and planted solo. Read on to learn about separating sago palm pups to produce new plants.

Can You Split a Sago Palm?

Can you split a sago palm? The answer to that question depends on what you mean by “split.” If your sago palm stalk has split, forming two heads, don’t think about dividing them. If you split the tree trunk down the middle or even chop off one of the heads, the tree will never heal from the wounds. In time, it will die.

The only way to split sago palms is by separating sago palm pups from the parent plant. This type of sago palm division can be done without injuring either the pup or the parent.

Dividing Sago Palms

Sago palm pups are small clones of the parent plant. They grow in around the base of the sago. Splitting a sago palm pup is a matter of removing the pups by snapping or cutting them off where they join the parent plant.

When you are splitting a sago palm pup from a mature plant, first figure out where the pup attaches to the parent plant. Wiggle the pup until it pulls off, or else cut the narrow base.

After separating sago palm pups from the parent plant, clip off any leaves and roots on the pups. Place the offsets in the shade to harden off for a week. Then plant each one in a pot a couple of inches bigger than it is.

Care of Sago Palm Divisions

Sago palm divisions must be watered thoroughly when the pups are first planted in soil. After that, allow the soil to dry before adding more water.

When you are dividing sago palms, it takes a pup several months to produce roots. Once you notice roots growing out of the drainage holes in the pots, you’ll have to water more frequently. Don’t add fertilizer until the pup has strong roots and its first set of leaves.

by Matt Gibson

Looking to add a sago palm plant to your garden? Like some ferns, the sago palm plant has been around since the prehistoric era, and the sago palm is one of the oldest groups of plants in the known world. How cool is that? Despite its namesake, the sago palm is not a palm tree, but instead is a member of the plant family called Cycad, of the genus Cycas.

The sago palm may not be a palm tree by name, but it does look like one, which is how the sago palm came to gain its somewhat misleading name. This slow-growing houseplant produces just one new set of leaves for every year of care from the gardener. The most recent year’s fresh crop of leaves are soft to the touch as they emerge, but as the foliage starts to grow and mature, the leaves each morph into a hard, pointed spear.

Varieties of Sago Palm

There are around 40 known species of sago palm in the Cycas genus, but only one type is commonly grown in the United States. Unsurprisingly, that type is known as the common sago palm, also called Cycas revoluta. The common sago palm is grown in two different forms: one male and one female version of the plant.

King Sago

While the male plant, referred to as king sago, grows large enough, new crowns begin to appear as the plant starts to branch out. Once king sago plants become established in the garden, the space-claiming effect becomes noticeable as new branches begin to emerge from the tree’s two- to three-foot trunk.

The king sago plant is much smaller than its female counterpart, reaching maturity at around eight feet in height and width. King sago is commonly grown as a houseplant, while its queen requires an outdoor environment, as it is too large to grow indoors.

Queen Sago

The female, or queen sago—counterpart to the king sago palm, is a mammoth from the age of the dinosaurs. Queen sago is really more of a tree than a shrub, growing as large as 15 feet in height and 12 feet in width once maturity is reached.

Growing Conditions for Sago Palm

Sago palm trees prefer bright but indirect light, so take care to choose a place to plant your sago palms (and select a spot to store them) in a location that does not receive direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist throughout the spring and summer months, then reduce your level of watering during the winter. Sago palms thrive in warm, humid climates and cannot perform well in zones with climates where they’ll experience freezing temperatures and extreme winds.

If you’re growing your sago palm plant in a container, make sure that you use a well-draining potting mix with lots of organic matter and a neutral pH. You’ll also want to make sure to fertilize your plant both at the beginning of the spring and throughout the growing season. Let the soil dry out completely between waterings.

How to Plant Sago Palm

The best way to get a sago palm plant of your very own is to ask a gardening friend who owns a mature plant if you can have one of its pups. Though sago palm plants are most commonly propagated by seed, the sago palm is rarely grown from seed at home by hobbyist gardeners. This phenomenon is because the sago palm is a bit reproductively finicky in that it requires both a male and a female plant to be present in order to produce viable seeds.

Once you get your hands on your own sago palm specimen, begin by drying out the moist ends of the pup. Then plant your sago palm two inches below the soil, making sure to leave its prickly spines exposed to the open air. Water your sago palm often after planting until the new tree begins to take root.

Care of Sago Palm

Regular watering is required during the growing season, but hydration should be lessened during the winter. Water deeply, and allow the soil to dry completely between waterings.

Fertilize sago palm trees in the spring as well as throughout the growing season. Amend clay-heavy or sandy soils with lots of compost to ensure proper drainage.

Trim the leaves of your sago palm once per year, in the fall. Cut the leaves back as close to the trunk of the tree as possible using a long-handled branch trimmer. Start at the bottom, and cut the spears off from underneath. Work around and toward the center of the plant, leaving one row of spears at the crown.

Because sago palm trees grow so slowly, you will only need to repot your plants once every three or four years. However, every spring, give the plant some upkeep by removing it from its pot or garden bed then amending the soil with lots of compost or organic material to ensure continued healthy growth.

Reproduction of Sago Palm

Though propagation of sago palm plants is typically done via seed, it is virtually impossible to grow sago palms from seed successfully in a home garden. Therefore, as we’ve mentioned, the best way to get more sago palms is to harvest the pups from a mature sago palm plant. Both a male and a female sago must be present for the creation of new pups. Patience is the key ingredient to propagating sago palms, as it may take a period of more than of 15 years for mature plants to reproduce.

To propagate sago pups, use a shovel and lodge it into the base of the pup. Leverage the pup outward with the handle of your shovel until the new sago plant pops off. If the pup does not separate from the parent plant easily, it is not ready to remove yet.

Tips for Sago Palm Success

Sago plants are often grown indoors because it is easier to replicate a tropical environment inside for those not lucky enough to live in a tropical climate. Try to create a warm, humid environment indoors for your sago palms by providing plenty of warmth and misting the plants frequently. Consider moving sago palms outdoors during the summer so that your plants can enjoy the natural heat the warm season provides.

The easiest way to kill your sago palms is to overwater them. Though these plants don’t like being overly moist, they do appreciate moisture in the air, so try to provide a humid environment for them. If sago palms are allowed to dry out for long periods between waterings, the tips of the foliage will start to brown or experience moderate dieback.

Garden Pests and Diseases of Sago Palm

Scale bugs are a common problem with sago palms, especially in certain climate areas. Scale bugs can be the culprit if you notice the leaves or spears of your sago palm plant begin to yellow.

Yellowing foliage can also be due to insufficient drainage or overwatering, but the yellowing effect is usually caused by scale bugs. Treat the infestation aggressively with a systemic insecticide when you see yellowing crop up in new growth.

The leaves of the sago palm are also susceptible to fungal rot, which is easy to detect, as brown spots will begin to appear on the leaves of affected plants. Though fungal rot will not kill your sago palms, it can make them look sickly and unhealthy. Remove affected foliage entirely to eliminate the fungus.

Toxicity Warning for Sago Palm

All parts of the sago palm plant are toxic to pets and humans, especially the plant’s seeds. If you have dogs, cats, or small children, it is best to play it safe and keep your sago palm plants far out of their reach. If any part of the plant is ingested by children or pets, immediate medical attention should be sought, as toxicity levels of the plant are considered severe.

Want to Learn More About Sago Palm?

This short, informative introduction teaches you the basics of sago palm care and maintenance:

Interested in propagating your sago palms? This tutorial film shows you the proper way to harvest sago palm pups for propagation:

Trimming your sago palm is an important part of its care, and this instructional film shows you just how to do it correctly:

Love your sago palm, but hate where it’s located? This short how-to will teach you to relocate your sago palm without damaging its root system:

Better Homes & Gardens covers Sago Palm

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Sago Palm Pups – Knowledgebase Question

Pups are a wonderful source of new plants (the other being seed) and you can harvest them at any time without harming the parent. Many are barely attached to and can be easily popped off, others can be embedded and take a little more effort to remove. You can use a hand trowel for the small ones and a shovel to help cut and dig large pups. After removing, clean the pups in a tub of water and allow to harden off for a week – just set them on newspapers in out of direct sunshine. After allowing them to harden off, plant them in potting soil in a container that is only a few inches larger than the pup itself. Fill the pot with soil and water well. Then set the pup on top and push down until half the bulb is set into the soil. If you plant it too deep with only its “nose” showing, it may rot; if you plant it too shallow, then roots may not have enough surface to develop. Allow the soil to become almost dry before watering again – do not keep it continuously wet or the bulb might rot before it roots. It won’t have roots for a few months. Once it starts growing roots it will begin to grow leaves. As soon as you are sure it has rooted, you can plant it out in the garden.

Transplanting Sago Palms – How To Transplant Sago Palm Trees

Sometimes when plants are young and small, we plant them in what we think will be the perfect location. As that plant grows and the rest of the landscape grows up around it, that perfect location may become not so perfect anymore. Or sometimes we move to a property with an old, overgrown landscape with plants competing for space, sun, nutrients and water, choking each other out. In either case, we may need to transplant things or do away with them all together. While some plants transplant easily, others do not. One such plant that prefers not to be transplanted once established is sago palm. Should you find yourself needing to transplant a sago palm, this article is for you.

When Can I Transplant Sago Palms?

Once established, sago palm trees do not like to be moved. This does not mean that you can’t transplant sago palms, it just means that you must do it with extra care and preparation. The timing of transplanting sago palms is important.

You should only attempt to move a sago palm in late winter or early spring when the plant is in its semi-dormant stage. This will reduce the stress and shock of transplanting. When semi-dormant, the plant’s energy is already being focused on the roots, not top growth.

Moving a Sago Palm Tree

Approximately 24-48 hours before any sago palm tree transplanting, water the plant deeply and thoroughly. A long slow trickle from a hose will allow the plant plenty of time to absorb the water. Also, pre-dig the hole in the location where you will be transplanting the sago palm. This hole should be big enough to accommodate all the roots of your sago, while also leaving plenty of loose soil around the roots for new root growth.

The general rule when planting anything is to make the hole twice as wide, but no deeper than the plant’s root ball. Since you have not dug up the sago palm yet, this may take a bit of guess work. Leave all soil dug out of the hole nearby to back fill once the plant is in. Timing is important, as again, the quicker you can get the sago palm replanted, the less stressed out it will be.

When it is actually time to dig up the sago palm, prepare a mixture of water and rooting fertilizer in a wheelbarrow or plastic container so that you can place the plant in it immediately after digging it up.

While digging up the sago, take care to get as much if its root structure as possible. Then place it in the water and fertilizer mix and quickly transport it to its new location.

It is very important to not plant the sago palm any deeper than it was previously. Planting too deep can cause rot, so backfill under the plant if necessary.

After transplanting the sago palm, you can water it with the remaining water and rooting fertilizer mixture. Some signs of stress, like yellowing fronds, is normal. Just carefully monitor the plant for several weeks after transplanting it and thoroughly water it regularly.

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