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

August 7, 2014

When, and how, to remove plants growing from the side of a sago palm

If your sago palm (cycas revoluta) is sending out new plants from its sides, you're in luck. This is a sign of a robustly healthy mature plant that is absolutely bursting with life. And now you have to make a decision, should you cut off the plants (called pups), or leave them on? And if you do cut them off, when should you do it, and how would you be able to root them as new plants?

The first question is a matter of taste. Personally, I like to see the trunk of a sago palm, so I would cut the pups off, even the little ones. They really are doing no harm to the mother plant, but they sap energy, and besides, I like the look of a cycad trunk, neatly trimmed. To remove them, just use a sharp knife, or saw. There is no need to paint over the *wound* or anything. It will heal over on its own.

The time to do this is not really all that important, but there is only one time when you shouldn't, which is while the plant is flushing, which is what this one in the photo is doing. This only happens once a year. That's when the new leaves begin to emerge. Let it finish its flush, which will take a few weeks. Then you can remove a pup like this.

The next thing to do with a pup is to let it heal over for a few days. It's just a precaution, because there's a chance that the bulb will rot before it gets a chance to put down a strong root system. In the case of a large pup like the one in the photo, which is well away from the mother plant, it's best to dig down deep and get as much of its roots as possible. Don't worry about the soil, just get the roots. A sago palm can live out of soil for months. In fact, many cycads are shipped bare root, completely dry.

Then, trim off most of the leaves and plant it in free-draining soil, like the kind they sell for cactus. Or you can make your own if you can find volcanic pumice. Whatever you do, don't plant it in soil that doesn't drain well - the plant will need to be watered, a few times a month, while it's re-establishing, but if it sits with *its feet wet*, it will rot. Ask me how I know!

So there you go. Show off that beautiful mature sago by trimming all of the pups away, and revealing that gorgeous diamond pattern on the trunk, and get those pups started as separate plants. Sago palms, like all cycads, grow very slowly, and live for hundreds of years, so it may take another thirty or more years until this pup is as big as its mother. But hey, time passes!
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