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

February 25, 2014

What to do with a sago palm that has been in a pot for too long

One of my readers in Modesto, California, sent me this photo of his sago palm (cycas revoluta) and was wondering what to do with it, as it had burst out of its pot. And if you're wondering if cycads can do well with neglect, well, they can. They have survived for millions of years on the planet without much help, and they do just fine.

I've had a lot of cycads here at The Tropical Paradise, including sago palms, and the only ones that have died have been "killed with kindness", that is, over-watered. You can, and should, treat them practically like cactus. The only difference is that cycads do better in the desert with a little shade.

If you have a plant that looks like this, the first thing that you will need to do is trim off most of the leaves. Leave only a few. In a dry climate like Modesto, you really don't have to worry about the roots rotting, but it's best to buy some ordinary rooting hormone at your local nursery and apply to the cut areas of the roots.

There is no hurry to get it repotted, or put it in the ground, by the way. Cycads can survive out of the ground for months. If you are going to plant it in the ground, be sure to plant it at the top of a slope, using a free-draining cactus mix of potting soil. If you are going to put it into a larger pot (be sure it drains well, and the larger the better), use cactus mix potting soil or even better, if you can find it, mix volcanic pumice with ordinary potting soil (about 50/50) add some dry slow-release plant food (I use Osmocote), and repot.

All cycads, like this sago palm, grow in spurts, usually only once a year, called "flushes". They happen in late spring and early summer. It's February 25th today so if this plant gets the right treatment, it stands a good chance of having new growth in a couple of months. Or it may wait until next season.

So there you go, trim, repot, water, and wait. Cycads grow for hundreds of years, so expect that you may have to do this every fifty years or so.
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