Growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area. With a wiener dog.

March 22, 2015

Rescuing a beautiful old sago palm

If you're wondering if beautiful old sago palms like the one pictured can be rescued and transplanted, rest assured that they can.

This sago is on a property in the Phoenix area that is about to be developed and it would be a shame for it to just be cut down and tossed. In terms of value, this tree would cost several hundred dollars at a nursery. But aside from its monetary value, it just seems an awful shame for a beautiful tree like this to end up thrown into the dumpster.

So you have a couple of options

• You can call nurseries to see if they will go out and dig it up. But don't be surprised that, even though these are valuable plants, the cost and effort may not be viable commercially. I'm not criticizing here, it's just that a crew would have to go out and get it. In addition, the plant would have be planted in a box and re-rooted before it would salable, which would take at a minimum a year. And so you can see that the profit margin would probably be mostly eaten up by the cost of getting a plant like this ready for sale. And I guess that's why a lot of these beautiful plants just end up being cut down and tossed.

• You can dig it up, and transplant it yourself. This really is the best option. Of course, it's best if it's near the street (which this one is) and near a gate (it is). The trunk of a tree like this is heavy enough that you would need several guys with strong backs (that leaves me out) to just get it onto a truck. So, there's where you start - two or three strong backs and a pickup truck.

Beginning the rescue operation

• Start by cutting off all of the leaves. Yes, all of them. When this tree is moved, it will just be a torpedo. The leaves will grow back in a season or two, but now you can see why nurseries are reluctant to take them. A sago palm isn't really a palm tree, it's a cycad, and they only send out a flush of leaves once a year, they don't grow continuously.

• Dig the plant up, getting as much of the roots as you can. The good news is that you don't need to dig up any dirt. In fact, you shouldn't. This is called *bare-root* and it really is the best way to go. Sago palms have shallow roots so you really don't have to dig all that much. Still, you gotta get as much roots as you can. Then knock, or hose the dirt off. You don't need dirt, you need roots.

The best time to plant a sago palm is spring and early summer. Never, ever, when the ground is cold! Luckily, this is Phoenix, and it's spring, so it's the perfect time. It can be safely planted for the next couple of months. Higher temperatures won't hurt this plant, but it's kind'a hard on the guys doing the digging and hauling. By the way, once it's out of the ground it doesn't have to be planted right away, although it should. Actually, sagos can be out of the ground for months. Keep it dry and shaded, and it will be fine.
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