This blog is about growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area

July 8, 2013

Helping a sick-looking sago palm

I got an inquiry yesterday morning about a sick sago palm. I immediately diagnosed all kinds of emergency procedures, but later that day when I saw the photo, I realized that it was not an emergency. This sago just needed to be fed.

If your sago palm (cycas revoluta) is just starting to look sickly, sad, or ratty, don't worry. Although these plants will do fine with neglect, if you want that beautiful look of full, green leaves like you see at the fancy resorts, you will have to feed it. But just a little.

So, here is the procedure for making this plant grow strong and healthy

• Trim away most of its leaves. Be brave! They look kind'a ratty, anyway, don't they? Leave the center ones, about three or four. Those will be cut away with the next flush of growth next season.

• Put it in a larger pot. It doesn't have to be all that much larger, as sagos don't mind crowded roots, but it's possible that more years have gone by than you care to count. And don't worry about harming the roots, you can be pretty rough with sagos. Fill the new pot up with a good light potting mixture, maybe something that is designed for cactus. If you want to make your own, add a generous amount of volcanic pumice. If you can't find that, use perlite. Mix in some slow-release plant food (I use Osmocote, but only because I see it at my local Walmart). If you're at Home Depot, get some plant food for palm trees. The same stuff that greens up the fronds of palm trees greens up sagos.

• Give it some Miracle Grow mixed with water. Yeah, I don't get paid to endorse these products (I wish I did!). Pour it in all around the pot. Splash some on the leaves. Miracle Grow feeds through the leaves, you know. If you're just slightly crazy, like I am, pour a very diluted mixture of Superthrive in also. That's the stuff with the goofy label, also found at Home Depot.

• Make sure the pot has good drainage. If it's a ceramic pot with no hole at the bottom, you might as well say goodbye to your plant now. Sagos like to see water, but they don't like to stand with their feet wet.

Sago palms only grow in "flushes", usually only in the middle of summer. That's the only time they need food or water. If you give it to them at any other time, you are at least just wasting food and water, and at worst, giving the roots a chance to rot. It's summertime now, so this is the time to transplant, and feed, your sago palm. You should see a flush of beautiful new green leaves next season.
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