October 8, 2015
Growing cycads in Phoenix, Arizona
Cycads are amazing plants. The kind'a look like miniature palm trees, or very large ferns. The most common one is called a "sago palm" - although cycads aren't really palms at all. I've been growing cycads here in the Phoenix, Arizona area for almost twenty years now and I get a big kick out of them. If you're wondering if it can be done, yes, it can. And here are a few things I've learned along the way.
• Start with a simple sago palm. Real cycad collectors called them cycas revolutas. Yep, we speak Latin. Because as your collection gets more diverse, you will need to be specific about the name of the plant. But don't worry about speaking Latin - I've been doing it since I was a kid, for example Tyrannosaurus Rex, or Triceratops. The cycad in the photo at the top of this post is a Dioon Spinulousum. I've heard collectors call it a "spinner", or just a spinulosum. And, by the way, most of the people who have these plants in their garden consider themselves collectors. Oddly enough, most of them are middle-aged men like me, who seem to collect them like baseball cards. There's always another one you want to get!
• Learn where the shadiest part of your yard is. If you don't have shade, you really can't grow cycads. You can grow some out in full sun, but most of them look better with some shade. Your most precious garden real estate is under a tree, and in the shade of your house (the east-facing wall). No, you can't really grow a cycad in a southern exposure, and you definitely can't grow one in a northern exposure (too cold in the winter).
After you've grown a few sago palms, you'll start to hear about other types of cycads. You may find yourself looking at photos of them on the internet. If you start with cycas (sago palms), you can easily go to zamias, and dioons. Once you know your way around, you can graduate to encephalartos. But don't be in too much of a hurry - the more exotic ones are expensive, and you will want to make your mistakes with the cheaper ones.
Cycads grow VERY slowly (that's part of the reason they're so expensive) and are really miniature plants, so they have a jewel-like quality that many other larger plants lack. They also grow for hundreds of years, so you can allow space for them to grow, but you don't have worry about them quickly outgrowing their space. In 200-300 years I'll probably need to transplant some of my cycads, but not until then.
Posted by Brad Hall