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One of the most well-liked houseplants is the sago palm (Cycas revoluta), which is prized for its attractive feathery leaves and low maintenance requirements.
This plant is perfect for novice gardeners and brings life to any space it’s placed in. It’s so easy to grow that you can even do it in the garden.
Despite the misleading name, this plant is not a palm but rather a cycad, one of the oldest groups of plants dating back to prehistoric times and thus extremely hardy.
How to Care for Sago Palms
Although sago palms are low-maintenance, they do have specific(DONE light requirements (bright light is ideal).
However, they cannot stand being exposed to excessive humidity.
Like many other cycads, sago palms do not tolerate being overwatered and do best when planted in a location with plenty of drainages.
In fact, if you water a plant too much, it will eventually die from root rot.
Because of this, you should let the plant dry out slightly in between waterings.
For optimal health and flowering, sago palm trees should be fertilized once a month.
However, the sago palm only blooms about once every three years, and it may take up to 15 years for the plant to bloom in a container (on average).
This usually occurs in the latter part of spring.
Problems with Sago Palms
Even though sago palms are typically trouble-free, you might run into issues with them occasionally.
The yellowing of sago palms is a common concern.
However, as is the case with most cycads, this response is normal as the plant conserves nutrients by shedding older, less vital leaves as they age.
However, a nutrient deficiency may be to blame if the new growth of a sago palm turns yellow.
Scale bugs and other insects are common pests that can be found on these plants.
Sago palms that have just been planted may turn yellow if they aren’t properly situated or if there isn’t enough drainage.
How to Treat Sick Sago Palms
Knowing how to effectively treat sick sago palms is essential once you’ve identified the cause of yellowing in sago palms.
If your sago palm is showing signs of malnutrition, try giving it a dose of houseplant fertilizer once a month.
Sago palms require a balanced fertilizer program on a regular basis to thrive.
If you have a problem with scale infestations, you can try some of the methods described in How to Control Plant Scale.
Another option is to manually remove them or release them into the wild where they can be eaten by predators.
If your sago palm is having issues, you should repot it as soon as possible into well-drained soil that is not too deep.
Once the sago palm’s leaves have turned completely brown, only then should you prune it. Leave the browning leaves alone.
Although they do not have the most attractive appearance, they serve an important function for the plant by absorbing nutrients.
Removing yellowed leaves could actually make the plant sicker in the long run.
In the event that frond removal is necessary, it is recommended that you start with the fronds located around the base of the plant.
You should cut them as close to the trunk as you can using sterilized pruning shears or hand pruners.
Propagating Sago Palm
Planting seeds is the standard method of palm propagation.
However, this method is time-consuming and rarely successful. The fastest and most convenient method of spreading is by dividing.
Offsets, or “pups,” develop at the base of a sago palm and look like miniature versions of the parent plant.
Pups benefit from being transplanted away from their parents because it increases airflow around the plant’s trunk and reduces competition for water.
Transplanting those puppies is best done in the early spring or late fall.
These are the steps to take in order to grow the offsets:
- If your sago palm has produced offsets, also known as small offshoots, you can use them to propagate new plants. Tools like a hand trowel or knife/scissors, as well as a container and palm-friendly soil with good drainage, will be required. Before using, disinfect the equipment with rubbing alcohol or bleach.
- In some cases, you can simply pull the offset off, while in others, you’ll need to pry it off with your fingers, cut it with scissors or a knife, or use a hand trowel to remove it.
- It is best to let the offset dry and callous over in the shade for a few days. The plant’s defense against disease is enhanced by the callous.
- Place some potting soil with good drainage in the bottom of a container. The diameter of the pot shouldn’t be more than two inches bigger than the offset’s, and there should be another two inches of space at the bottom for expansion. Put the shoot in the middle of the pot and fill it up the rest of the way with potting soil. Rinse completely.
- Indoors, put the plant in a bright window, while outdoors, give it some shade. Two to three months is about right for rooting. It is best to let the plant dry out in between waterings.
How to Grow Sago Palm From Seed
The seeds of the sago palm tree can develop into either male or female plants.
As long as the seeds are from a reputable source, it doesn’t matter which one you have; you’ll be able to grow a plant with either.
Colors of red and orange are seen in sago palms. Wear protective gloves if you plan on handling the seeds, as they are poisonous.
The seeds need to be softened by soaking in room temperature water, and then the outer husk can be easily removed. Get a shallow seed starting tray or pot and plant them there.
Place the seeds in a warm area and cover them with a seed starting mix that contains sand. As you wait for the seedling to emerge, make sure the soil stays moist.
Expect a long wait, as is the case with many large seeds. It may take several months for sago palm seeds to germinate.
Potting and Repotting Sago Palm
Sago palms require only a repotting every three years or so because of their slow growth rate.
To ensure continued healthy growth, it is recommended to carefully remove the plant from its pot each spring and replace the loosened soil with new soil.
The ideal environment for this plant is a potting mix composed of soil, sand, and peat moss.
You should wait until a new pup has developed a substantial root system before repotting or planting it outdoors.
Sagos planted in the winter should not be transplanted until spring, while mature palms can be moved in either the spring or fall.
Since sago palms can’t stand soggy soil, an unglazed ceramic or terra cotta pot is the best option.
To some extent, the porous material will aid in absorbing the soil’s excess moisture.
Pick a container that has lots of holes in the bottom so excess water can drain quickly.
The hardiness of sago palms extends down to USDA plant hardiness zone 8.
They can survive in 15 F temperatures for short periods of time, but cannot survive in temperatures of 23 F or lower.
Sheltering plants during the winter will keep them from dying.
Cover the plant with a burlap bag or thin blanket if you can’t bring it inside during a brief cold spell. When the next day comes and the frost has melted away, uncover the plant.
Neither pests nor diseases pose a significant threat to sago palms. However, pests like scale and spider mites can cause serious issues.
Keep an eye out for tiny bugs among the fronds and for any signs of damage or discoloration on the foliage.
Make sure your plant has enough humidity and airflow, and try using an organic insecticide like insecticidal soap or neem oil before you resort to chemicals.
Common Problems With Sago Palm
While sago palms are low-maintenance once established, they do need a particular environment to thrive.
Modifying the watering schedule, inspecting the water drainage, and using the right type of soil can often make a huge difference.
Older, outer leaves often turn yellow as a natural part of their life cycle.
The oldest leaves are in the lowest ring. Please wait until the leaves turn brown and die before removing them.
If you haven’t seen any insects on the plant, then it’s likely a manganese deficiency in the soil is to blame for the yellowing.
Each and every frond will look yellowed as a result of the disease.
To fix the issue, sprinkle some powdered manganese sulfate on the soil twice or thrice a year.
Although previously yellowed leaves won’t suddenly revert to green, new growth should have a robust appearance.
Wilting Leaves and Leaf Drop
Fungal infections, such as root rot, are commonly the result of over-watering or the use of poorly draining compacted soil.
The fungus attacks the plant at its most vulnerable point—its roots—and eventually kills it.
A black, oozing sore or stain on the trunk is another symptom of root rot.
The symptoms of root rot include leaf wilting, discoloration, and eventual leaf drop.
If you get ahead of it, you can treat your plant with a fungal spray or a systemic fungicide and save the healthy parts of the plant from infection.
It’s possible the plant can be saved with your help.
It’s possible the plant is beyond saving if it’s lost too many leaves but giving it a shot won’t hurt.
Little Black Spots on Foliage
Sometimes, after an insect attack, a plant will recover, but it will still have tiny black spots on its leaves and stems.
Sooty mould is a type of fungus that thrives on the excrement of insects.
If you direct a steady stream of water at the affected areas, you can remove the fungus from the sago leaves.
The fungus does not consume the sago, but its unchecked expansion can lead to a complete takeover of the plant’s leaf surface, which in turn inhibits chlorophyll production and, thus, photosynthesis.