Best Soil For Sago Palms – What Kind Of Soil Does A Sago Need


The sago palm (Cycas revoluta) is not really a palm tree. But it looks like one. This tropical looking plant hails from the Far East. It reaches 6’ (1.8 m.) in height and can spread 6-8’ (1.8 to 2.4 m.) wide. It has a straight or slightly curved narrow brown trunk that is topped with a crown of palm-like, ferny fronds.

The sago palm has a reputation of being a tough tree that can take a wide range of temperatures and soil conditions. However, providing ideal sago palm soil requirements is more important to the health of this plant than one might originally think. So what kind of soil does a sago need? Read on to learn more.

Best Soil for Sago Palms

What kind of soil does a sago need? The best type of soil for sagos is loaded with organic matter and is well-drained. Add good quality compost to the soil under your sago palm every year or even twice a year. Compost will also improve drainage if your soil is either to full of clay or too sandy.

Some experts recommend you plant the sago palm a little bit above the soil line to ensure that rain or irrigation water does not collect around the base of the trunk. Remember that the best soil for sago palms is on the dry side rather than the wet and boggy side. Don’t let your sago palms completely dry out though. Use a moisture meter and a pH meter.

Sago palm soil requirements include a pH that is nearly neutral – about 6.5 to 7.0. If your soil is either too acidic or too alkaline, apply monthly doses of the appropriate organic fertilizer to your soil. It is best to do this during the growing season.

As you can see, sago palm soil requirements are not that demanding. Sago palms are easy to grow. Just remember that the best soil for sago palms is porous and rich. Give your sago palm these conditions and it will provide you with years of landscape enjoyment.

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Watering sago palms - Knowledgebase Question

In addition to insufficient water, rief periods of drip irrigation such as you describe are not healthy for the plant in the long run. Here's why:

Desert soil and water both contain salts, which can accumulate in the root zone over time. This salt buildup forms where the water stops penetrating. Short periods of watering cause salts to build up in the top layers of soil and damage or kill your plant. Salt burn shows up as yellowing, browning along leaf edges, and leaf drop. Deep watering?or leaching?prevents this by flushing the salts past the root zone. Always water slowly, deeply and as infrequently as possible. This is true for any plant.

It's important that water always soak deeply through the entire root system.
Use the 1-2-3 Rule as an easy method to figure out how much water to apply. Small plants with shallow root systems, such as perennials, veggies, herbs, cacti, succulents have roots that reach about 1 foot deep, so water needs to penetrate that far. When the top 1 inch of soil dries out, it's usually time to water again. Shrubs have root systems that are 2 feet deep so water needs to soak 2 feet deep. When the top 2 inches of soil dries out, it's time to water. Trees are 3 feet, etc. As plants establish root systems, the time between waterings can be lengthened, but it is always essential to water to the same depth. So you are applying the same amount of water with each irrigation regardless of the time of year, but the frequency changes. As warm weather arrives, you need to water more frequently than during winter. A soil probe will help you determine how far water has soaked. It moves easily through wet soil but stops when it hits hard soil. I?d suggest you let your drip run for 30 minutes or 1 hour, then wait an hour or so (for the water to continue penetrating), then use a sharp stick or pointy thing as a soil probe to determine how far the water penetrated in your soil. For most areas, it's necessary to run irrigation much longer than people would think. The majority of the plant problems we see are because drip isn't running long enough. In improved soil garden beds, such as for veggies, it will soak more readily through the soil than it will in landscape settings.

Here are some watering guidelines for establishing desert-adapted plants from Desert Landscaping for Beginners, published by Arizona Master Gardener Press. Weeks Since Planting 1-2, water every 1-2 days Weeks 3-4, water every 3-4 days weeks 5-6, water every 4-6 days weeks 7-8, water every 7 days. Gradually extend the watering as plants establish. Note these are guidelines, which will vary depending on your soil type, microclimate, etc. and they apply to desert-adapted plants.


Top 10 Questions About Sago Palms

Here at Gardening Know How we understand you may have questions about your precious plants. After all, that’s one of the reasons why we do what we do. Keeping gardeners well informed on the how’s, when’s, why’s and more helps ensure a successful gardening experience. Sago palm plants are commonly grown both in the home and the landscape. While they’re usually trouble free, they do have their problems now and then. Here are the 10 most asked questions about growing sago palm trees.

Sago palms are popular houseplants because they require very little care. While they prefer a bright location, they can tolerate lower lighting. Near a bright window, but away from any direct drafts, is a good location for an indoor sago palm. The most important requirement sago palms have is properly draining soil, as wet feet can lead to rot and death of the plant. As for sago palm plant soil, they prefer a well-draining, slightly sandy growing medium. They should be watered deeply but then allowed to dry out between waterings. Indoor sago palms will also appreciate once a month feeding with a balanced houseplant fertilizer.

A mature sago palm may produce offsets, or pups. If left attached to the main trunk, these pups can take away valuable nutrients and water from the parent plant. To transplant sago palm pups, with a clean, sharp garden trowel, gently sever the pups from the parent plant. Brush off any soil on the pup and cut back its foliage. Allow the pup root to dry out for a week or two. Then plant only the bottom half of the sago palm pup rootball in a pot filled with a sandy soil mix, leaving the top half of the rootball above the soil line and exposed. Water the newly planted pups thoroughly. If you’d like, you can water it with a mix of water and a rooting fertilizer. Let the soil dry out between waterings but water deeply and thoroughly when you do water. Pups should remain in pots until they have established their own sufficient root system. Then they can be transplanted outdoors if desired.

Sagos produce both male and female plants. A female sago palm will sometimes produce flowers. These flowers may use up some of the plant’s available nutrients as they form, causing the plant’s overall growth to slow during bloom time. However, the flowers do not harm the plant. Removing the flowers can cause unintentional harm to the plant, so it is best to let them grow. Likewise, male sago palms may produce cone-like seed pods. These can be left to grow, but unlike females, the cones can be removed without harming the plant if desired. Wait to remove the cone until fully open, revealing the pollen inside. If you don’t plan to use your male cone for pollination, then it can be removed any time, even when first starting to grow. Hold the cone at the center and snap it off. You can also saw it off at the bottom.

Sago palms do not like to be cut back or pruned. Pruning should only be done when absolutely necessary. When pruning a sago palm, only dead, diseased or damaged fronds should be removed, though, the plant itself will usually shed these fronds on its own. A sago palm’s fronds store nutrients that the plant needs to grow, even sickly, yellowing fronds still provide the plant with nutrients. Cutting sago palm fronds off can slow the plant’s growth, or cause it to grow stunted or deformed. Pruning sago palms also leaves the plant vulnerable to pests and diseases. Only when absolutely necessary, cut sago palm fronds right back to the trunk, in late fall or early spring.

Once established, a sago palm does not like to be moved. However, if you must transplant a sago palm, do this in late winter or early spring while the plant is in a semi-dormant phase. Prepare for transplanting the day before moving a sago by watering the plant deeply and pre-digging the hole in its new location. When digging up the sago palm to transplant it, be sure to dig up as much of the root system as possible to reduce transplant shock. Plant the sago palm in its new location, no deeper than it was planted in before. Water the newly planted sago thoroughly. Watering it with a rooting fertilizer can also help reduce shock as well. Repotting container grown plants should also be done in late winter or early spring.

Sago palm fronds turning yellow can be a sign of a nutrient deficiency. Sago palms should be fertilized regularly, about once a month, with a houseplant fertilizer. Yellowing fronds can also be caused by insect infestation or poor drainage. If you have already been feeding your sago palm regularly but foliage is still turning yellow, inspect it carefully for insects and treat as needed, if you find any. Water the plant deeply when you water it but then allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Wet feet can lead to crown and root rot, which can lead to die back and yellowing of the foliage.

When fertilizing sagos, an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer used as the label directs and once a month is fine for indoor sago palm houseplants. Outdoor sago palms may grow best with a slow release fertilizer specifically made for palms. Although sago palms are not true palms, they have the same basic nutrient needs as true palm plants. Always use fertilizers as their labels say to use them, as too much of a good thing can be harmful.

When watering a sago palm, water it at the soil or root zone. Do not water the trunk, as this can cause rot and diseases. Water deeply and thoroughly, saturating the root zone. Then allow the soil to dry out before its next watering. Proper drainage is very important for sago palms and over watering is the most common cause of death or disease of sago palms. Yellowing fronds or browning foliage tips can be a sign of overwatering.

Sago palms are hardy in zone 8 or higher. They cannot survive long-term frost or freezing, although they can withstand brief periods of temperatures as low as 15 degree F. (-9 C.), but are killed at 23 F. (-5 C.) or below. This means you need to provide sago palm winter protection. Even in zone 8, temperatures can occasionally dip too low for sago palms. In colder areas, it may be best to grow sago palms as potted plants that can be moved into a sheltered location if temperatures get too low. However, if you have sago palms planted outdoors give them about a 3-inch layer of mulch around their base through the winter months. Also, cover the whole plant with burlap or blankets if there is any danger of frost. Sago palms go through a semi-dormant phase in winter and will require less watering and feeding during these months.

Unfortunately, these plants are easily damaged by cold. If you have a cold damaged plants, wait until spring to cut back the plant to help protect the new growth in case another freeze occurs. Remove only the yellow and brown fronds in the spring, as they will not come back. Do not remove green fronds. It is hard to say how well they will grow back. Sago palms do not deal well with lost fronds, but they have been known to recover fine. Generally, if the stems are alive, they have a good chance of recovering.

White spots on sago palm can be from fungal diseases or insect infestation, like scale or mealybugs. Either way, the best course of action to take if you see white spots on your sago palm is to start a neem oil regiment. Neem oil is a natural pesticide and fungicide. Be sure to spray all aerial surfaces of the plant, taking care to thoroughly get the undersides of the foliage or any nooks and crannies where pests or disease can hide. Re-apply after a week or two. Sometimes, fungal diseases or pest infestations can be caused by environmental factors like soggy, humid weather and will correct themselves naturally if the weather dries out. When watering sago palms, always water at the soil not the trunk or foliage.

Everyone has questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.


A Few Facts About Sago Palms

King sago palms (Cycas revoluta) have a thick shaggy trunk and stiff arching green glossy fronds. Sago palms are perennial plants with evergreen foliage.

Sometimes king sago plants grow as multi-stemmed ‘palms’ with spiky crowns of leaves on each trunk.

As cycad palms grow, suckers or pups grow around the trunk. These tree offsets can grow as a new ‘palm’ next to the tree. Or you can remove the pups to plant new sago palms.

Sago palms also grow indoors to add a tropical touch to your interiors. The slow-growing houseplant can grow up to 6 ft. (1.8 m) if it gets enough sunlight.

Sago palms are popular bonsai plants. The sago palm bonsai looks like a miniature version of the full-size palm tree. The small palms grow to between 6” and 12” (15 – 30 cm) high. Sago cycad bonsai palms need plenty of sunlight to grow well.

25 year-old bonsai sago palm

Sago cycads are also on the list of toxic plants. All parts of sago palms are poisonous, especially the seeds. King sago palms are so toxic that ingesting the plant can be fatal for pets. Consuming parts of sago palms can cause severe gastrointestinal complaints in humans.


How to Grow a Sago Palm Tree Outdoors

If your idea tends more to growing sago palms outdoors, then there are a few care tips to be aware of. Consider it a tree, not an outdoor plant or shrub, since it will get larger and larger as the years progress.

Cold Hardiness Zones

Outdoors, growing sago palms works if you live in zones 9 to 11. It can tolerate fairly low temperatures as long as there are no prolonged freezes.

Spacing of Sago Palms

Sago palm height outdoors can grow to 10 feet, so think carefully about the eventual size when you plant them. It takes about 8 years for the plant to reach a mature size and even longer to become fully mature.

Don’t plant the tree too close to the house so that the large fronds have room to spread out and grow to their limit.

Sunlight needs for Sagos outdoors

Choose a spot for your sago palm tree that gets good morning sun but filtered afternoon sun since the fronds are likely to burn if they get too much intense sunlight.

Be sure the soil drains well

Choose well draining soil and add organic matter or compost regularly to the soil. Water well when the plant first starts growing outdoors, but once established sago palms only require limited watering during the driest spells.

Fertilizing Sagos outdoors

A slow release fertilizer once a year, in the spring, is all that is needed to keep your sago palm tree growing well if you use commercial fertilizers.

Adding compost or other organic matter is also a great idea for sago palms grow outside if you like to use more natural methods of fertilizing.

Sago Palm Trimming

Pruning yellowing leaves is very important outdoors. If you are a person who likes to plant and forget, a sago palm might not be a good choice, since it can end up a tangled mess easily if not pruned regularly.

This means that the pups which grow at the base of the plant should be removed as well as the dead and dying fronds.

Sago palms will produce male and female flowers outdoors which can result in the plant propagating and producing seeds. These grow from the center of the plant.

The most common method of propagation is to remove and plant the side pups that the plant will produce.

A light layer of mulch before winter approaches will help to ensure that the plant over winters well.


Popularity of the Cycas revoluta

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Although we’re pretty sure that this plant’s large fern-like leaves were once a dinosaur delicacy, they gained huge popularity as a conservatory or “Stove House” tropical plant in Victorian times. Their impressive stature, hardiness, slow growth, and small root space added value to their wonderful arching symmetrical fronds.


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