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



June 1, 2015

Planting a big old sago palm (cycas revoluta)


As compared to other, more rare cycads, sago palms (cycas revoluta) aren't really all that valuable. Yes, they're expensive as compared to ordinary palm trees, but that only because cycads grow so very slowly. So, if you have the opportunity to rescue a big old sago palm, I'd say go for it, but be prepared to find out that it's a lot of work, and that you'll probably have pretty much just a telephone pole for a couple of seasons as it settles in before it really looks like anything.

I've rescued cycads before, but never anything as big and old as the one I just got this past weekend. It's a little over six feet tall, which isn't very big for a palm tree, but is very big for a cycad. I've only seen ones this big in botanic gardens, or in very old properties that have been very carefully cared for.

This big dude (or dudette - I don't know yet, cycads have two genders, like people - really.) was on its way to the landfill on a very old property in Phoenix that was about to be turned into a bunch of luxury homes. Luckily for me, and for the plant, the owner of the property recognized this for what it was - a big cycad, not a small palm tree.

Luckily, I have friends with trucks, and muscle. And the owner himself helped with the loading. And believe me, these plants are extremely heavy, even with all of the leaves trimmed off, and the dirt knocked off of the rootball. My goal on Saturday was just to get it safely over here, even if it just had to sit in the courtyard for a long time. Cycads can do that, but really, like any plant, it's better to get it into the ground. Besides, I wanted to see it in its new home!


On Sunday morning a friend of mine, who had once been a UPS driver, showed up with a dolly and wheeled it around the side of my house, where I had already dug a hole for it. Through the magic of leverage, he was able to get it safely into the planting hole and we pushed the dirt back in around it and pressed it down firmly. Then we added more potting soil, and pressed it down firmly.


The next step was to stake it, with was done with three wooden stakes from Home Depot, and some plant wire. It wasn't tippy at all, but better safe than sorry! It's in a protected area, so there's not much chance of it being tipped over by wind, but it does rain here in the desert, especially in summer, so if the ground got soft, it could fall. I don't want to think about that! Did I mention how heavy it is?

I watered it in with Super Thrive and Miracle Grow with my large plastic watering can. No spraying it with a hose! Then I went back several times during the day and did it again. And again. It has a fair amount of its original root system, but it will need to grow more.

So, it's in the ground. That's the good news. The bad news is that it will take a season or two to establish. And like all cycads, the existing leaves will die back. That's part of the reason that nurseries usually don't bother with digging up sagos. They need to be boxed, and stored until they're saleable, which could take up to several years. I know that the plant is healthy, and you do, but your average consumer looking at it would be skeptical. Can you blame them?

Now all it needs is some time, and some warm weather. This is the Phoenix area, so the warm weather is guaranteed! I hope that it's happy in its new home. I'm glad it's here!
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