Sago palm new growth

Contents

Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)

Arabic name: سيكس

The Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) is often referred to as a “living fossil.” This native Japanese plant belongs to the cycad family, which has survived from amongst a large group of plants that dominated the earth over 100 million years ago. This striking evergreen tree is favored as an ornamental plant due to its foliage and attractive growth habit. Although it resembles a palm, it is a primitive cone-bearing plant, more closely related to conifers. It is dioecious, meaning that each plant is either male or female. Female plants produce a “flower,” while male plants produce a cone.

Sago Palms have a very slow growth rate. Young specimens are 0.5m in height, with a spread of 1m, while mature specimens grow to a height of 2m, with a spread of 1.5m. Although very slow growing, Sago Palms are extremely long-lived, with some specimens having a life span of over 200 years.

Requirements:

Sago Palms grow in full sun or partial shade, and are drought-tolerant. They prefer rich soil, but are tough enough to grow in almost any soil. Good drainage is required or the plant will rot.

Water usage:

Sago Palms require some watering once established. Generally, trees need supplemental irrigation to get established, especially if planted after the rainy season. During the first year, irrigate in the amount of 20 – 25 liters of water twice a week. During its second year, a tree needs to be irrigated in the amount of 40 liters once a week. Beginning with the third year, when trees get established, some, like the Sago Palm, need to be irrigated in the amount of 50 – 60 liters once a month in order to achieve optimal flowering.

Appearance:

The Sago Palm usually grows with a single trunk, although some old specimens may grow in clumps of several trunks. The short thick trunk is topped with a large rosette of arching leaves that grow in a circular pattern. The feathery leaves, which are dark glossy green in color and are 0.6 – 0.9m long, are deeply divided into stiff leathery leaflets 10cm long that curl out, giving the Sago Palm its species name revoluta. New leaves come out as light green spikes that form a circle around the trunk. The leaves then uncoil slowly as they grow to full length, settling into a new rosette of leaves.

The female flower is a globe formed by modified leaves, which later produces a tightly packed seed head, covered with small whitish leaves. The male cone is yellowish and grows 30 – 45cm high. The seeds that form in the female flower are 3.5cm in diameter and become brownish red when ripe.

Notes on use:

Excellent container plant; suitable for interiors and patios; provides a tropical effect. When grown in containers, allow the soil to dry before watering.

Propagation:

Sago Palms may be propagated by seeds or offsets (young shoots attached to the mature plant; also called “pups”).

Maintenance:

Any leaves that turn yellow or brown should be removed to reduce stress on the plant and to promote new growth. The lowest set of leaves should be cut close to the trunk if the tips begin to turn brown.

Sago Palms may be lightly fertilized in winter or early spring. Avoid fresh manure and strong fertilizers to avoid damaging the nitrogen-fixing that exist on the plant’s roots.

Sago Palm leaves are spiky, so it is preferable to plant them away from pedestrian paths.

 

Tropical Landscape – Emphasis on Palm Trees, Cycads and Companion Plants
by Phil Bergman

Includes Information on Water Conservation and Species

Creating a beautiful garden is the goal of many, and there are multiple garden themes one may follow to landscape the garden. Which landscape design or theme you select depends on your tastes. Some people prefer a formal, symmetrical garden with emphasis on flowering plants like roses and annuals. Some like the alpine look of Pines, Fir and Rhododendrons. Others prefer an arid desert type of landscape. Many (if they could), would choose a lush tropical landscape garden. All garden-themes have their own appeal. Below is a discourse on the creation and design of a tropical to semi-tropical landscape with an emphasis on palm trees, cycads and tropical companion plants. We’ve added recently comments on water conserving plants and different species.

Introduction

We are not going to discuss structure or hardscape, but rather the plants, with some emphasis on the species one might choose for a great tropical landscape. But, first one must come up with a concept of what they are trying to create. And, in doing this, there are many things to consider. The plants you select and how you place them is very important. Remember, the garden is mostly about the plants. We will be showing you photographs of gardens to give you ideas about what you could do in your garden.

A driveway leading into a lush tropical garden (Photo BGL).

Usage of palms and cycads in the design.

GUIDING PRINCIPALS

There are a few guiding principals which I would like the readers to consider as they review this article and pursue their landscape design:

Decide what type of landscape design you want to create

Do you like tropical landscaping, this article very much applies to you.

Plan ahead and select your plants wisely

Decide which species will give you the desired landscape design you seek.

Don’t just buy what’s available commonly and not choose what you really like

Utilize different species that add character to the garden. Don’t let your gardener steer you to common plants from the box stores.

Decide on the general design and density of planting that you’d prefer for your garden.

Below I will give options on density of planting. Decide which you prefer. Then develop a general design that meets your needs.

Choose palm species that are possible for your specific growing area

Given reasonable growing conditions, realize that anyone can create a beautiful tropical garden, but species chosen must be able to survive in your area. Otherwise, you lose all your plants in the first cold winter simply because of poor choices.

Remember to plan for different layers of plants in your garden

Most people use a three layer design: small things close to walkways, then medium sized plants and tall, canopy-forming species for the outer areas of your design.

Use companion plants to add beauty to your garden and give color

This is super important and instantly adds charm, color and appeal to the garden. There’s so many plants to pick from.

In special areas, use palms that accentuate and beautify the hardscape.

One might want a curved trunk species reaching out toward a pool, or a tall columnar trunk palm next to a walkway or a suckering palm to block a neighbor’s view into your yard.

Find solutions for those “difficult areas”

There’s always a solution for every difficult or problem area. This is an area where an expert (like us) might guide you.

Place individual plants correctly.

Palms and cycads are predictable. You know before hand what they’ll eventually look like. So, plan and plant accordingly.

Tropical landscape complimented by a stone pathway.

Taller species of palms in the rear with shorter species in the foreground (photo BGL).

Lush tropical plantings

An assortment of palms around a lawn area.

Water feature accent in a tropical landscape


Beach deck and palapa by G.B.
Entrance into a garden Usage of lush companion plants
Given the room, nice statement palms Lilies give stunning flowers

Your Locality & Growing Conditions

If you like the looks of a tropical garden, you must take a realistic look at is your local growing conditions. How cold do you get? Is it extremely dry? It’s very difficult to create an outdoor tropical garden if you live in the cold central areas of the United States or in a mountainous area that sees long cold winters. Likewise, hot and dry areas present their own problems with your garden landscape design. . If cold weather is a concern, here’s a link to our Cold Hardy Palm Species. I think it’s the best presentation on the Internet on this subject.

As certain palms or other plants not tolerating winter low temperatures is such a big problem, please read the article above. Always consider how cold any given species can tolerate. This article presented here is aimed at conditions one might see in Southern California with it’s mild climate. But, concepts below are applicable to other areas whether you live in South Texas, Florida, Hawaii or far into the Tropics. We will show a few pictures from areas outside Southern California. The only difference in design is which species you select for growing in your garden. One way or another, there is a way you can do tropical landscaping in your area.

Palms trunks along a garden’s edge (photo BGL).

Cocos nucifera, the Coconut Palm, a near impossible palm for our area

An example of different layers of height in the garden.

Licuala grandis, a desirable but impossible to grow palm for Southern CA

Planning Ahead

Most people start with their hardscape design and installation. This means you put in the pool and decks before you plant.
This is not absolutely necessary, but is the most common practice. But, planning ahead for your plantings is critical.

Often a landscape designer or architect is hired to come up with a basic plan regarding the structural aspects of your garden. His or her main contributions will include the design of features like a pool, fountains, walls, walkways, decks, water features, irrigation, etc. And, such an architect might select and specify species of plants for you. If you know that you want a tropical garden, it is best for you to select a professional who has experience with the tropical types of plants that you like. Designers and architects may have their own personal preferences that they recommend and these might not match your goals. Or, they might have limited knowledge about palms and cycads. So, either hire a designer with experience with these plants or do research on your own. And, insist that beautiful species are utilized in your plans. Often commonly available plants like Queen Palms, Pigmy Dates and Sago Palms are all that is called for to lower costs and because these might be the only species a designer knows. Demand otherwise or buy your own plants and have them installed after you select them. Once you’ve signed for a contractor to provide and plant the common species, it’s often difficult or expensive to alter the plants when the day comes for installation of the soft-scape material. So, plan ahead and you’ll get that tropical garden that you want.

Blue cycads at the base of taller palms trees.

An assortment of palms planted right up to the pool’s edge

With these things in mind, hopefully by now I’ve at least put the idea that anyone can improve the looks of their yard by just putting a little effort into what they are doing and by selecting the right material to plant. So, let’s begin talking about specific topics and give you ideas of how you can change your “yard” into a unique and beautiful “garden”.

How far apart does one space the plants?

Major variables in planting out the garden include:

1) Selection of species to plant

2) Creation of vertical height to the garden (a variable of the species you select)

3) Placement of specimens and

4) Density of planting (discussed below)

Minimalist Approach with Just A Few Tropical Plants

Let’s first talk about density of planting. There are a lot of approaches to density. One might want a very minimalist type of garden with a no or very few plants here or there. Minimalist gardens often have expansive areas of lawn or simple ground cover over these areas. If you really want this type of garden, do consider a stately palm to break up the monotony. I say this because most people find a yard of simply lawn or dirt to be very unappealing. Certain Phoenix species, Bismarckia, Jubaea, and others would vastly approve a minimal landscape. But, be aware that one huge plant in the center of the yard can be a bit boring. In contrast to this, one can do a central planting of a larger species and then complement this with perimeter plantings closer to the house or fence. And, one can put companion plants like smaller cycads, Philodendron, Alocasia, etc. near the base of the larger plants to add interest. It is quite common to see homeowners pay dearly to crane in a few big Canary Island Palms. But, without additional plants to offset the magnitude of the big Canaries, the yard looks out of balance and is not really appealing. So, be careful if you just plan to put in “one big palm”.

Photos above of what I would call “minimal landscape”

Lightly Planted Tropical Gardens

This approach is commonly seen in our areas of Southern California. This includes some plants next to the house and driveway with scattered plants elsewhere, typically along the fence or perimeter of the yard. To most eyes, such gardens are more appealing than the “minimalist” garden discussed above. With the right choice of species, this approach can be appealing and not overwhelming to the homeowner. It would be considered easy maintenance and preserves space for a lawn or other features. One must still choose interesting species to add character to the yard. If one has deck areas, tropical plants can be added to decorative pots.

More Densely Planted Tropical Gardens

Now imagine a garden that is planted either medium or heavy in terms of density of plants. It is designed like a botanical garden with more emphasis on the plants than the lawn and utilizing a good variety of species. Often lawn areas are minimal (reserved for accent or viewing) or eliminated altogether. One might imagine that such gardens are more maintenance, but when you eliminate the need for mowing and edging, less maintenance may result. Such gardens do not have to be “a jungle”. One just remembers that the ultimate size that a palm “will” become as opposed to the size it is when first planted. Palms, when young, may look nice crowded together but with time will compete with each other and overlap. Remember, ultimate size is a very predictable thing with palms and cycads. Thus, you space accordingly. Also, remember that taller palms grow vertically and in time, the crown of the plant is overhead. Therefore, two plants five feet apart are only touching above, but give plenty of distance between each other on the ground. Such a garden, in time, will offer lots of space for miniature plants and companion plants. Such gardens tend to remind one of a tropical island like Hawaii and are very aesthetic. Remember, on the floor of a tropical rain forest, there’s lots of room to walk around. It’s in the overhead canopy that things are a bit more crowded.

The Jungle Look

Many people just want a “whole bunch of tropical plants everywhere”. It makes them think they are in the tropics while in their own garden. You might be one of those people who prefers the “jungle look” with very dense plantings in your tropical landscape theme garden. This can be very appealing, but is overwhelming for others. This style gives one large trunks next to the walkway and the definite feeling of being in the rain forest. As plants grow overhead, ground levels open up for planting with understory companion plants and shady loving color. If you plan this type of garden, review ultimate size projections for the species utilized so you are not taken by surprise later.

Above you’ll see fairly lush gardens with nice deck and railings

Colorful plants in garden Pool and tropical plants by G.A.
Lush garden adjacent to paths Excitement at every turn
An open patio looking out to a tropical garden

Photos above show this “jungle look”

Eventual Height of the Garden

You need to consider the ultimate height of the garden. Of course, culture has something to do with this but it is more determined by the species one puts into the garden. A basic principal of tropical gardens is the canopy. This includes crowns of plants that are overhead. With palms, typically “high” canopy would be above thirty to forty feet or above. “Mid” canopy would be fifteen to thirty feet. Some tropical hardwood trees produce tops of canopies that are well over one hundred feet. The lower canopy or ground plants would be plants that don’t get much overhead. Canopy offers the homeowner protection from cold, cooler summer temperatures, and dappled light near the ground for growing more shade-loving, smaller species. Not only is such filtered light appealing, but it also gives the feeling of being in a tropical rain forest.

Canopy forming genera might include species of Caryota, some Syagrus, Archontophoenix, Washingtonia, some Ravenea and various other palms. Under the canopy in the filtered light, there are many species of palms and cycads and smaller companion plants that one can utilize. Included would be Chamaedorea species, Rhapis, Geonoma, Licuala, and many other exciting smaller plants. And, between the understory plants and the upper canopy rise the mid-story species. Such plants might include Pritchardia , Howea, Rhopalostylis, various Dypsis, Burretiokentia, Chambeyronia, and lots of other beautiful palms. In time, these three layers of understory plants, mid-canopy and upper canopy are quite stunning and very aesthetic. One looks at the ground and it’s beautiful smaller plants, then looks up a bit to see the middle layers of plantings and is immediately drawn upward to the overhead taller plants. It’s a really thrill to see such a garden. It’s beyond the scope of this article to include all the species that would qualify for each layer of this type of garden ( a few have been given above), but there are many choices of palms and cycads to utilize.

Royal Palm and Bismarckia can form upper canopy

The Fishtail Caryota urens and the King Palm form upper canopy

A little retreat in the rain forest.

Example of an upper canopy by bgl

Beautiful crown shafts of a medium height palm with colorful trunks and crown shafts (photo BGL).

Dypsis lutescens, the Areca Palm.
This is a medium sized palm tree.
Most Pritchardia are mid-canopy forming palms Chambeyronia, a mid-canopy palm
Chamaedorea, a lower profile palm Companion plants for the garden floor

Vary the Species and Utilize Unusual Plants

Another important factor is creating a great tropical garden that shows diversity and something “different” at every point of the garden. Here we are talking about different shapes of leaves, different trunks, different colors, and a whole mixture of plants that gives interest to the garden. Most people have seen the garden where there’s just a whole bunch of Queen Palms, nothing else. You might admire that someone got a very good deal on Queen Palms, but the overall appeal of the garden is lacking. It’s just repetitive and boring.

There are over 3000 species of palms and most are quite different. There are nearly 300 species of cycads. Some palms are huge, while others are tiny. Some have fan leaves. Others have pinnate (feather) leaves. Some sucker (have additional trunks from the base), while others are “single trunked”. Some have “crown shafts” (the slick trunk below the crown), while others have fibrous or hairy trunks. Some palms have blue leaves while others, especially species from Madagascar, offer all colors of the rainbow in their upper trunks and stems. Still other species have beautiful burgundy-red newly emerging leaves. The same is true with cycads. All these differences add a mystique to the garden. The variety of species utilized adds aesthetics to the garden. And, this variety is fun! It is highly advisable that you select from the diverse palate of species that Nature has offered to you.

Cyphophoenix on left and Polyandrocos on right

Crown shafts of Rhopalostylis sapida and Rhopalostylis baueri on right

Bismarckia to the left and Royal Palm to the right

Copernicia baileyana to left and Pseudophoenix vinifera to right

The Spindle Palm to the left and Coccothrinax miraguama to the right

Ravenea hildebrantii to left and Syagrus amara to right

Planting and Layout of Landscape

Additionally important is exactly where to plant each individual plant and how to lay out the different species. Ultimately, it’s always a matter of personal taste. One basic approach is to put larger plants toward the back and have the garden come down in height (smaller species) as it approaches you and the walkway. This allows you to see “everything at once”. But, scattering the big with the little (mixing it up) does have its advantages. In a way, it is more natural. Imagine walking through the garden and a huge trunk is right next to the walkway. And, you walk by and slap it like a watermelon, looking overhead to the canopy. Another rule is to avoid suckering plants that will get large right next to a walkway, a deck, a driveway, etc. These suckering plants block your view of the rest of the garden. You can see past a vertical trunk, but not through a bushy plant. Also, avoid putting spiny or “pokey” plants where they might hurt someone on a path.

Remember not to block a cherished view with your plantings; nor block the view of your neighbors. Also, carefully select plant species that will complement your hardscape. Cycads near a tumbling waterfall are quite striking. Royal Palms following a long curvy driveway are a classic design idea. Some palms can be “trained” to lean out over a pool. If you have large rocks on your property, take advantage of them by planting palms and cycads amongst or between the boulders. Remember to not plant taller species below overhead cables and wires. Also, random planting not utilizing a regular plot is more natural appearing.

A shady walkway leading through the garden

Another shady understory area

Companion plants accent the garden Looking into the garden
Cycad near a walkway Imprinted custom concrete for walkways

Things to Avoid

Avoid a monotonous, repetitive garden. It is really true that a garden with lots of diversity is more appealing and interesting. I’d highly recommend that you seek out this diversity when you select your planting material. And, a good specialty nursery (such as Jungle Music Palms and Cycads) can typically provide you with such material. “Basement-bargain” plants probably won’t give that award winning look to your creation. But, you still must select species that you actually like. It might take a bit of work, but it can be done. It is best to select well-grown, high quality material, preferably grown in your area.

Regarding planting, avoid at all costs the “grid” or “checkerboard” approach to landscape. This is where plants (often the same species) are planted in lines, all equal distance from each other, all in a row. Such plantings can be appealing if it is done along a long driveway or parkway. But, be careful. It can look very contrived and boring. In the garden, if you plant in perfect rows and columns, the end result will not be appealing. Instead, utilize irregular plantings, groupings, or staggering of species. Another thing to remember is not to plant a species that will get huge right up against the house. Examples would be putting a Phoenix canariensis or Caryota gigas right next to any structure. Also, remember not to put taller species under the eaves of the house. Avoid spiny plants near the front sidewalk. And finally, do not use too many of the same species. Everyone has seen the yard that has nothing but Queen Palms. Yes, this is boring, but the same undesirable effect can result from any species. Vary your plantings with different species, sizes, and shapes.

A newer garden on left with cycads; to right a large Caryota gigas

Anturium on left, Begonia on right – as ground cover

Problem Areas

Every garden has a few areas that seem to perplex the garden “designer”. Examples might include the narrow “slot” between two houses, often with total shade. Or, there’s that ugly area harboring the pool equipment or hiding supplies. Or, that low fence where the neighbors peer over to see you in the spa. Or, that ugly apartment building next door that looks into your yard. To us at the nursery, solving such problems is a daily affair. And, there are particular plants for every situation. There are specific species that thrive in the narrow slot on the north side of the house; others are ideal for hiding the unwanted neighbor or the pool equipment. Still others give privacy to a bedroom window or an ugly wall. Such plant barriers do solve these problems are are a much more attractive than leaving things as they were. And, when done, one forgets about the problems and looks at amazing garden.

An array of tropical plants in a narrow corridor

A collection of cycads under a large old tree

Utilizing Cycads

Cycads offer an alternative to palms for those seeking rare tropical plants that don’t get too tall. They can be an important part of tropical landscaping. And, this group of plants is equally as exciting as palms and have a history all their own. Cycads are “Jurassic” plants that have shown little evolution since the time of the dinosaurs. They are quite primitive and at the same time amazingly unique. They come is all shapes, colors, and sizes. They are among the most coveted and rare plants on this planet. Some almost get large enough in time that you would think they are a palm tree. A common misunderstanding is that the Sago Palm is a palm; it is actually a cycad and the term is a misnomer. The Sago Palm is quite commonly used in landscape worldwide. Did you know that there are hundreds of other types of cycads? And, each species is unique in its size and appearance. Their adult sizes ranges from under a foot to over fifty feet tall. Some are spiny; others are smooth. Some are blue ad others green. And, some prefer shade and have the most tropical leaves of any plants. And, they are each different from the other. All are wonderful for the garden and look great under a larger palm or against a wall or structure. Utilizing cycads gives a real touch of “class” to the garden.

Older cycads accentuating a garden

The leaves of a green Cycas are quite attractive

Cycads around a large Chilean
Wine Palm
Cycad in garden
Dioon spinulosum in garden Dioon edule in garden
Cycas debaoensis, leaf of garden plant mature Encephalartos gratus in cone
Cycas panzhihuaensis Red cone of Encephalartos ferox

The Companion Plants –
Add Color, Diversity and Interest

Finally, what about all the other “companion plants” that one can add to the garden to create a tropical landscape. Companion plants are typically smaller plants of various types that add diversity, color and interest to the garden, especially on the floor of the garden. These include things such as Ferns, Cycads, Bromeliads, Alocasia, Calocasia, Philodendrons, Anthuriums, Crotons, Ti’s, Impatience, Begonia, and a whole myriad of other colorful and delightful types of plants. What such plantings do is ‘complete” the garden. A well designed garden with proper placement of species with nothing but dirt showing between the plants just doesn’t look right. One could plant a shade-loving lawn, but this creates a lot of unwanted maintenance. Companion plants usually are not high-maintenance. And, the color these plants add to the garden is fantastic. Below I’ve shown some items you could incorporate into your design. For a comprehensive article on tropical companion plants with photos and descriptions of types, click COMPANION PLANTS

The photos above show a variety of companion plants utilized in an assortment of gardens. Many are quite colorful.

TO SEE A PICTORIAL ONLY PRESENTATION OF MANY DOZENS OF TYPES OF COMPANION PLANTS,

A Few More Ideas…

There are a few more things that we should mention regarding garden design. The first is to take advantage of what your locality and yard provide to you. If you live in a very hot locality, select species that thrive in the heat. Or, if you are living on a slope going down, select species that are aesthetic to view from above. Cycads would be a great example of this. Or perhaps you have dense shade from a neighbor’s tall trees. There are species of palms that thrive in the shade. If you are lucky enough to have large boulders on your property, take advantage of them. They hold heat and increase the soil temperatures. This can assist in growing many species and cycads love to be planted amongst boulders. All these things help with your tropical landscape design.

Also, consider creating mounds for some of your plantings. Many species like being elevated. This can also be a solution for getting away from overly wet soil conditions. If moisture in the soil is a problem, there are species of palms that love wet soil. Another point is about walkways. These provide access for viewing your garden. Try to make them wide enough for easy passage and don’t be afraid to give them a few bends and turns. Curvy walkways fit nicely into a tropical garden. Adjacent to the walkways is a great place to plant colorful companion plants. Pathways are an important part of the garden design. A final point about tropical garden landscape is to remember that diversity of shapes and sizes, a variety of colors, changes in texture, and utilizing unusual plant qualities adds to the fun and charm of the garden. A new red leaf, a new colorful cycad cone, or broad fan leaves add a final touch that leaves a memorable picture for the viewer of your tropically landscaped garden.

New leaf of Chambeyronia macrocarpa (by RV).

Silver color of Bismarckia leaf

Unknown Licuala species Licuala spinosa

Water Conservation and the Tropical Garden

Yes, it is possible to have a lush tropical appearing garden and yet conserve water. It’s all about using techniques to save water as well as picking the right species to grow. California has recently implemented water restrictions and many are panicked. I’d advise that the enthusiast not change their dream garden but rather plan it out properly and select species that don’t demand as much water. It can be done. Here is a link to an article I’ve written on just this subject:

Water Conservation with Palms and Cycads

Summary

In summary, there are lot of things to consider when creating a tropical garden. But, tropical landscape is not difficult. And, anyone can do it. It just takes some planning and selection of the right species to plant and a good landscape design. At Jungle Music Palms and Cycads, we would love to help you landscape your garden and attain your dreams, whether you’re just getting started or adding a few final plants. We are a tropical plant nursery offering palms, cycads, and other tropical trees. And, we feel confident you will love what you create and before too long be encouraging others to do the same.

A colorful Bromeliad accenting a water feature and a tropical breezeway patio garden.

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Sago Palm, Japanese Sago Palm
Cycas revoluta

The Sago Palm is not a true palm but a cycad, an ancient species lower on the evolutionary scale than palms. Cycads are gymnosperms more closely related to conifers. It has been placed in this category because of its ability to store water in times of drought. Cycads are very adaptable and can grow in full sun but prefer some afternoon shade in hot desert climates. The stiff, glossy green crown usually produces one set of new leaves per year. The leaves may turn yellow from over fertilizing, over-watering or sunburn. Fertilize at half strength and provide excellent drainage. The offsets can be removed in spring, set aside to callus and then planted half way in soil and will eventually grow roots. A highly valued landscaping plant that is often used as a specimen, a Sago in Las Vegas was observed with 13 trunks, the tallest was 10 feet tall! Be aware that Sagos are extremely poisonous to animals and humans if ingested. All parts of the plant are toxic, however the seeds contain the highest level of the toxin cycsain. If any of the plant is ingested call a poison control center or doctor immediately.

Plant characteristic definitions

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Sago Palm Leaf Problems: My Sago Isn’t Growing Leaves

For tropical drama in your garden, consider planting a sago palm (Cycas revoluta), a type of small tree grown widely throughout the country as both a container and a landscape plant. This plant is not a true palm, despite its common name, but a cycad, part of a prehistoric class of plants. You can expect your sago palm to produce a whorl of dark green, feather-like fronds on its trunk. If your sago palm has no new leaves, it’s time to start sago palm troubleshooting.

Sago Palm Leaf Problems

Sagos are slow-growing trees, so don’t expect them to grow fronds quickly. However, if the months come and go and your sago palm isn’t growing leaves, the plant may have a problem.

When it comes to sago palm leaf problems, the first thing to do is review your cultural practices. It’s entirely possible that the reason your sago palm has no new leaves is that it isn’t planted in the right location or isn’t getting the cultural care it needs.

Sago palms are hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 9, but not below. If you live in a chillier zone, you should grow sago palms in containers and bring them into the house when the weather gets cold. Otherwise, you may experience a variety of problems with sago palm, including failure to grow foliage.

Sago Palm Troubleshooting

If you live in the correct hardiness zones but your plant suffers from sago palm leaf problems, check to be sure it is planted in well-draining soil. These plants will not tolerate soggy or wet soil. Overwatering and poor drainage may cause root rot. This leads to serious problems with sago palms, even including death.

If your sago palm isn’t growing leaves, it may be lacking nutrients. Are you fertilizing your sago palm? You should be offering the plant monthly fertilizer during the growing season to increase its vigor.

If you are doing all these things correctly, yet still you find your sago palm has no new leaves, check the calendar. Sago palms stop actively growing in autumn. It you complain “my sago isn’t growing leaves” in October or November, this could be entirely natural.

Sago palm care is easy and one reason why sago plants are excellent plants for inexperienced gardeners.

The sago grows primarily in the landscape across the southern states but used as an indoor house plant.

Commonly called the “sago palm” or “king sago palm.” They resemble a palm – like the ponytail palm – but they are not a “cycad palm” or other any other palm just a cycad (Cycas revoluta) from the family Cycadaceae.

The sago palm plant produces cones and bears attractive, palm-like feathery foliage making it very similar looking to palms, and tree ferns.

Called a prehistoric plant, the sago provides strong natural defenses against predators and 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

While cycads generally prefer very bright light, like the zeezee plant they will tolerate low light. They prefer staying on the dry side as excessive watering leads to rotting plant roots.

Indoors or out, sago palms plants prefer 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 sago palm may not bloom (produce a cone) in the first 15 years of its life or ever at all.

The revoluta cycad periodically produces a lovely new flush of foliage 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 sago palms reach the reproductive stage, the semi-glossy green leaves have strongly recurved edges.

Potted sago plant growing outdoors resting on an unusual garden stone pattern

Keeping Your Potted Sago Palm Healthy

Grown outdoors, the sago palm is hardy in USDA zones 8b – 11; however, they make ideal indoor potted ornamental plants as well as sago 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 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 sago palms. 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 Cycas outdoors in a sheltered area during temperate times of the year. In USDA hardiness zones 8b-11, the Sago palms 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 tall!

Related Reading:

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Picking The Right Spot

Cycas revoluta loves bright light and full direct sunlight, but it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

In areas with very hot, punishing direct sunlight it’s best to place your plant in an area that gets good morning sun and light afternoon shade.

As always sago palms 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 palm 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 even in direct sunlight. Watch for signs of distress and water deeply if you begin to see wilt.

Sago palm planted outdoors in the landscape – front and left landscape lighting installed to illuminate the plant at night

Sago Palm Fertilizer – Once A Year

Outdoors, plants will require less fertilizer. Apply a balanced (10-10-10) slow-release fertilizer or a palm fertilizer in the springtime.

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 sago suffers a magnesium, potassium or other nutrient deficiency.

In this case, apply a chelated iron or Epsom salt spray to the leaves to the foliage. This will not undo yellowing of older foliage, but as new leaves grow, they should be a nice healthy shade of green.

How To Trim Sago Palms

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

Indoors or out, Sago palms are generally problem free. However, mealybug does attack them. But the worst pests especially outdoors on sago plants is plant scale bugs and particularly Asian cycad insect scale.

Read this article on how one nurseryman uses coffee grounds for pest control on Asian scale bugs and other cycad pests.

As for Sago diseases, the only problems I’ve experienced with a fungus or rot started with a wound to the trunk.

Grow Sago Plants – Propagating

sago palm female plant and the “seed cone”

Cycads propagate in several ways, none of them are fast and easy. Sago palms have male and female plants.

The male cone produces pollen which fertilizes the female cone where the seeds are then produced.

How To Plant Sago Palm Seeds

Sow ripe 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 Sago Palm Cycas Revoluta

Growers collect old “stumps” since these slow growing large sago palm 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 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.

How To Care For Sago Palms 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 palm indoors for the winter.

Remember, overwintering a sago 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 Maladies of Revoluta Cycads

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 sago, 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 the soil does not have efficient drainage. If this is the case, you may need to repot your plant, if outdoors, amend the soil around it.

New growth on neatly trimmed trunks growing outdoors in the landscape – Japanese sago palm

Growing Sago Palm In The Landscape

In the landscape, the sago provides an “Oriental Influence”. Here is how one designer described using the sago 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 (Japanese sago palm) among coral boulders makes an interesting background.

Sago Palm Buying Tips

You’ll find the king sago palm for sale in many big box garden centers being sold as a “dwarf palm.” Since sago palms do not have a real “season,” purchase them at any time of the year. When buying a Sago palm 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 palms 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 palm look for foliage with clean undamaged leaves and dark green foliage.

In the landscape or as a houseplant the easy to grow Sago Palm is a versatile addition.

Images: New Leaves | Flower | Potted

What’s Wrong With My Sago Palm?

Is the newest growth on your sago palm turning yellow, brown, frizzy looking and dying – is it a pest or disease or something else?

Photo credit: Mary Derrick

This sago palm is suffering from a classic case of manganese deficiency. When sago palms lack manganese, the newest leaves will develop yellow splotches or be entirely yellow. As the leaves die, they turn brown and take on a frizzled appearance. Sometimes the leaves or fruit may be smaller than normal. If left unchecked, the sago usually dies.

Manganese is a micronutrient required by all plants for normal, healthy growth and is most available for plant uptake when the soil pH is between 5.5 and 6.5. Soils in the Florida panhandle are often naturally low in manganese and then what available manganese is present can be unavailable for the plant to use if the pH of the soil is much above 6.5. Also, manganese tends to be leached from the soil when the pH is below 5.5. Soil pH and nutrient testing is useful to determine if soils are nutrient deficient. Contact your county Extension office for information on getting that done.

Before treating, rule out an infestation of Asian cycad scale. Click here for a UF IFAS Extension publication on this damaging insect. Be aware that both are common problems for sago palms and that your sago may be afflicted with both!

If this is happening to a sago palm, the good news is that it is easy to correct. Manganese sulfate is readily available at garden centers, feed &seed stores and independent nurseries. Just make sure to get manganese sulfate and don’t confuse it with magnesium sulfate (Epson salts). The amount of manganese sulfate necessary to correct this deficiency will vary with its size, soil type and pH. Sago palms in sandy, acidic soils require less manganese sulfate than those in high pH soils. One ounce is sufficient for a very small plant in sandy, acidic soil. A very large sago in a high pH soil may require about five pounds, however. Spread the product evenly over the root zone and water in with about a half inch of water.

The affected leaves cannot be cured but new growth should return to normal. If the new growth is still affected, an additional application of manganese sulfate may be needed. Once sago palms have suffered from a manganese deficiency, half the initial rate should be applied yearly to prevent the deficiency from re-occurring.

Even though sago palms are not true palms – they are cycads – their nutritional needs are very similar to palms. Most of the time they grow well without any supplemental fertilization, but if they do need fertilizing, use a 8-2-12-4 (the fourth number is magnesium) palm fertilizer with micronutrients and avoid using other fertilizer products in their root zones.

For more information on sago palms please see:

Cycas revoluta, Sago Palm

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Mary Salinas

Residential Horticulture Extension Agent for Santa Rosa County

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