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

July 7, 2013

Yellow, stunted growth on a sago palm, what to do

If your sago palm (cycas revoluta) has been showing small, yellowish, stunted growth instead of the beautiful green leaves it used to have, it is a sure sign that it is drowning. That is, it's not getting good enough drainage, and it has been standing with "its feet wet". Sagos can stand this abuse for only so long. It is slowly dying. You need to do something right away.

There is a solution, but it will take some work, and some patience. First of all, it has to be taken out of the ground and replanted. But before you do that, give a gentle tug on the innermost leaves. If they pop out easily, the plant is rotted to the heart, and will die. Get rid of it, it probably smells bad.

If it passed the "tug on the leaves test", try just giving the plant a yank out of the ground. The yellowish stunted leaves means that too much water has rotted the root structure, so it should come out of the ground fairly easily. If it's still hanging on pretty strong, that's a good sign, but you still need to replant it. Dig it up.

I move my "sick plants" out to the courtyard for rehabilitation. There I have several large pots filled with free-draining volcanic pumice mixed with potting soil. If you can't find volcanic pumice in your area, use perlite, which just looks like tiny pieces of very lightweight plastic. Or you can use a potting soil that is made for cactus. Don't use sand - it gets boggy, and don't use regular potting soil, it holds in too much moisture.

Behind the table in the photo is where my old sago used to be. It has since been moved, and I put another cycad in its place. Creates a bit of visual hole in the garden, but it can't be helped. It will take a season or two for the sago to rehab, so in the meantime I planted something else. And yes, I fixed the drainage problem, and the overwatering, for that area.

All cycads, including sago palms, love to see water. But they don't want to see it twice! Plant them on a slope with excellent drainage.
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