Proper Care of Sago Palms (Cycas Revoluta)

If you are a beginner at growing palms and looking for something that is relatively hands off, the Sago palm is an excellent candidate.

Proper maintenance and care of Sago palms isn’t that complicated and can be a great place for you to start.

While not technically a true palm Sagos are actually a cycad. These specimens have been gaining popularity over the years for their versatility, prehistoric palm-like appearance and compact size.

While it can be ideal for indoors or outdoors in certain climates, there are a couple of downsides that you should be aware of.

Let’s take a closer look at some details and care requirements of the Sago palm and see if it’s a good choice for you.

What Is It?

Sago Palm – Image by Annie Annie from Pixabay

Native to southern Japan, the Sago palm (Cycas Revoluta), is an easy to grow and compact prehistoric looking cycad. These plants have become quite popular among enthusiasts in the cold hardy palm world and for good reason.

These plants are truly prehistoric making them one of the toughest specimens to add to your houseplant collection. The Sago palm is one of the most widely cultivated cycads in the world and strongly resembles a palm with stiff, green pinnate leaves. The leaves extend out from a single shaggy trunk that can get up to 8 inches in diameter at maturity.

The Sago palm is incredibly slow growing and when outdoors it can take several decades to reach its maximum height of about 20 feet.

The crown has a very organized appearance with dark green shiny feather shaped leaves that vary in size from 20-50 inches in length, sometimes longer. Petioles are about 2.5-4 inches in length and contain sharp barbs so great care is advised when handling. The crown width is fairly small and will get up to approximately 3 feet in width.

Due to their compact size, the Sago palm has become heavily promoted and quite popular as a bonsai plant.

One thing to note is that all parts of this plant are poisonous to both humans and pets, especially the seeds which will be discussed more later in this article.

Where Will It Grow?

Cold hardy to growing zones 8 and above outdoors, Sago palms are quite versatile as an indoor and outdoor specimen.

Outdoors they can defoliate when exposed to temperatures around 15F or lower. They do have the ability to rebound in the spring once temperatures warm up with new leaves emerging from the crown.

Indoor and outdoor care can differ quite a bit, so here are some key points for each of these environments.

GROWING INDOORS:

When kept in pots indoors, the Sago palm will only get to about 2 feet in height. Since they are slow growing, repotting these plants won’t be too much of an issue. This makes them fairly easy to care for in many areas of your home.

They do prefer bright sunny spots, but can tolerate some partial light situations as well. This makes them great for placing on tabletops near windows. If kept out of excessive direct sunlight, they can be a nice compliment with other houseplants or as a standalone centerpiece.

The Sago palm doesn’t require much water and can develop root rot if the soil is kept too moist. Use a well draining sandy soil mix and allow the plant to dry out a bit between watering schedules.

If growing in areas of low humidity, occasionally mist the leaves to keep them from drying out too much. You can also place Sago palms in a room with higher humidity levels to keep the leaves looking optimal.

A common issue with cycads is that the older leaves tend to turn yellow as they retain nutrients. If you notice newer growth turning a yellow, it is advisable to fertilize the plant once a month ideally from early spring to late fall. Use a liquid fertilizer specifically for houseplants for best results. 

When growing indoors, keep an eye out for common houseplant pests. Use applications such as neem oil and insecticidal soap to prevent things like mealybugs and scales from developing, which can be the common on these plants. This isn’t a big issue for growing outdoors as there are natural predators that will keep infestations of these pests under control.

Sago Palms – Image by ralf_thomas_michael0 from Pixabay

GROWING OUTDOORS:

The Sago palm can also be a great specimen for outdoors in zones 8 and above. They will add a nice tropical look to entryways, around pools and near driveways.

When young, Sago palms will need frequent watering when grown outdoors during the warm seasons. However, these plants will become more drought tolerant once mature.  Make sure to keep the Sago palm in well draining soils. They will suffer if kept in soggy conditions for too long.

In outdoor conditions, Sago palms prefer part to full sun and can get burned if exposed to too much direct sunlight in hotter, drier climates. They will do well in areas of low humidity in shady areas with some frequent watering. Sagos will also thrive in humid subtropical to tropical climates in various lighting conditions.

If living in a borderline colder climate, keeping the Sago palm in a pot can be an ideal choice. This will provide easy transport indoors during cold snaps that they would otherwise not survive.

Who Are They For?

With their compact form and ease of care, the Sago palm is perfect if you are wanting an exotic and prehistoric looking houseplant for smaller spaces.  They are ideal for growing in apartments, small rooms, on tabletops and counter spaces.  

If you live in milder climates and want to add something to your collection that will give your yard a unique look, they can easily be grown in many areas of your garden. They are perfect along outer perimeters, fence lines and near patios.  Keeping Sago palms in pots will also give you some flexibility if you want to move them around or protect them during the colder months.

As mentioned before, these plants are highly poisonous, especially to pets, so if you have curious critters this might be a plant you want to steer away from.  I will talk more about this in the next section.       

Any Drawbacks?

While easy to grow and care for, there are some drawbacks with Sago palms that you should be aware of.

Even though Sagos are a cycad, they can have similar nutrient deficiencies that most palms can be subject to.

If you are regularly fertilizing, but are still getting yellow fronds, there may be a lack of manganese causing a deficiency in the new growth.  This can be prevalent in soils that lack the proper Ph levels and can be solved by giving your Sago an application of Manganese Sulfate.  This is available at most garden centers and nurseries and the amount applied will vary depending on the size of the specimen. 

Toxicity:

As mentioned before, Sago palms are highly toxic, especially to animals.  If you have housepets, this may not be a plant you will want to grow in your household. 

While the whole plant is toxic, the seeds are especially poisonous. This can cause great harm to animals within a very short period of time.  Even if ingested in a small amount, your pet can start to suffer from gastrointestinal irritation and liver damage.  If left untreated this can be fatal within just a matter of a hours.

Some of the first symptoms you may notice are extreme fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea and should be treated as quickly as possible. 

If you suspect that your pet has ingested Sago palm seeds, seek immediate medical treatment from a local veterinarian.  More information is available here from the Veterinary Centers of America (VCA) website.    

The Wrap Up

If you are looking for a uniquely prehistoric palm-like plant for your home or yard, then the Sago palm is a versatile choice for many environments. 

Here’s a recap of some key information so you can decide if this plant is right for you:

PROS:

  • Suitable for many climates from temperate to tropical.
  • Cold hardy to zone 8 and above.
  • Makes a great indoor plant due to its smaller size and tolerance of many lighting conditions.
  • Easy to care for and readily available.
  • Provides a tropical, yet prehistoric look to your environment.

CONS:

  • Highly toxic to pets, so you may want to avoid this palm altogether if you have curious critters.
  • Will need regular fertilizing to keep it looking its best.
  • Manganese deficiency is common and may need applications of Manganese Sulfate in extreme cases.
  • Pests can be an issue, so keep on the lookout especially when growing indoors.



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