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Growing Sago Palms – How to Grow a Sago Palm Tree

If you like growing indoor plants that have an exotic look, why not try growing Sago Palms?. This plant makes a great choice for those new to houseplants since it prefers drying out before you water it again.Growing sago palms is great for beginning indoor plant gardeners. #sagopalms

A sago palm tree – Cycas revoluta – is easy to grow indoors as long as you keep a few care tips in mind.

Information About Sago Palm Trees

In the US, unless you live in the warmer zones (8b and higher) the sago palm is grown as an indoor plant.

The common name of this plant seems to indicate that it is a palm, but sago is actually a cycad – Cycas revoluta is the botanical name.  Cycads date back to the Mesazoic era and used to be found pretty much world wide.

Today, the native homes of sago palms are limited more to tropical and subtropical areas. This makes them ideal house plants but more challenging to grow outdoors unless you live in the temperate zones.

Tips for growing Sago Palm indoor plants

Light requirements

While a sago palm will tolerate lower light conditions, it does best with bright light indoors. An average temperature of 65-75 degrees F. works best since these plants are tropical in nature.

Don’t place your palm tree too close to the glass of the windows and protect it from windows that get a lot of sunlight. Rotating the plant every few weeks help to keep the plant growing straight and not reaching for the light.Sago palm tree

Sine the fronds have a drooping growth habit, be sure to place a sago where it won’t be crowded by nearby plants. It makes a great table plant if the light is bright enough.

Watering a sago palm

Be sure not to over water a sago palm.  This can encourage the whole root to rot and you’ll end up with a dead plant.  This actually makes it great for beginners who often forget to water, since the plant likes to dry out a bit between each watering.

I like to think of the sago palm as needing the same watering requirements as cacti or succulents. I let it dry out a little between watering and mine does just fine.

Crown and Leavesthe leaves of a sago palm are very sharp

A sago palm has thick and sharp fern like fronds.  They need to have any yellowing or dead fronds trimmed regularly. The plant also has somewhat of a bulbous base which adds to its appeal indoors.

Prune away any stalks close to the trunk of the plant with a set of clean and sharp pruning shears. If you leave the dead fronds, the plant will send its energy there instead of directing it to the new growth that is more healthy.

If you grow sago palm outdoors, be aware the the tips of the fronds are razor sharp and watch for animals and children around the tree. It is a good idea to wear safety gloves and protective eye wear when pruning the tree.base of sago plant

Fertilizing Needs

Sago palms like a soil that drains well and is slightly acidic (5.5-6.5)  Apply a slow release cycad fertilizer that is meant for ferns, palms and cycads. Fertilize regularly during the spring and summer and don’t fertilize in the late fall and winter months.

Check the root ball of your sago palm in the spring when new growth starts to see if the plant is root bound.  If it is, choose a container about 2 inches larger than your current one and add new soil to the container.repotted sago palm

Indoor sago palms will benefit from a summer outside in a filtered sunlight location.

Flowers

Sagos are cycads, not actual palm trees, and are either male or female plants.  Male plants have a large cone like structure for a flower and female plants have a rounded and fuzzy mass as its flower head.

If you don’t have a male plant nearby, pollination of the plant will not happen. In order to get the large walnut sized orange seeds, the female flower must be pollinated by the male.

Sago make and female flowers

photo credit female flower: Wikimedia Commons

I was lucky enough to see a Sago palm that had been pollinated in Huntington Gardens in Los Angeles recently. The sago palm seeds were huge (almost 2 inches long!)Sago palm with seeds

Flowering takes place in late spring.  It’s unlikely to see a sago palm flowering indoors.  It can take up to 15 years for a flower to develop, and even then it will only bloom about once every 3 years.

Normally, only plants grown outside will produce flowers.

Toxicity and other sago palm problems

All parts of the sago palm tree is toxic to human and pets if they are eaten. If you have cats and dogs or small children, care should be taken to keep the plants away from their reach. The seeds are especially toxic.

Sago palms are prone to scale infestations. Be sure to treat this aggressively if noted.  Signs of scale problems are yellowing of the new growth. (older growth naturally yellows.) Yellowing growth can also indicate over watering.

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.How to grow sago palms outdoors

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.Sago palms grow to 10 feet outdoors

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.Center of a sago palm

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.

Questions about growing Sago Palms

Are Sago Palms slow growing?

Sago palms grow very slowly.  Indoors, a two year old plant will just fit into a 5 inch pot.  Since the roots are pot bound, this will keep the growth rate very slow.Mature palm tree

Outdoors, it can take 50 years or so for a mature plant to reach a 10 to 12 feet tall height.  If a quick growing palm is your aim, you should look for another species.

What is the best soil for sago palms?

Sagos like rich, well draining soil.  Clay and sandy soils will not produce a good specimen, so adding lots of compost at the foot of the tree once or twice a year will help to enrich it and also to help it drain well.

Indoors, the ideal soil mixture for sago palms is  regular potting soil that has been mixer with sand, peat moss or pumice to make it gritty.

Is the Sago Palm poisonous?

Many indoor and outdoor plants are poisonous, and Sago palm is no exception.  All parts of a sago palm, especially the seeds, are extremely poisonous if they are eaten by humans or animals.

The toxin in parts of the plant can irritate the gastrointestinal system, and if a large amount is eaten, it can cause liver failure.

Even though sago palms are a favorite food of islanders in Indonesia, consider it very toxic to us. Dogs and other pets can get very sick if they chew on the bark and other parts of the plants and should definitely be kept away from any seeds which might form.

Where can Sago Palms be grown outdoors?

To grow a sago palm outside, you need to live in zones 9 or 10. Sago palms can withstand a very brief period of colder temperatures (below 20 to 25 degrees, but they will not survive long periods at these temperatures.

You will find Sagos growing in the warmest areas of the USA (Southern Florida and California and other areas along the Southern border of the US.

Sago Palm Yellow Leaves, is this a problem?

Most sago palms will develop yellow leaves at some point. This is a normal reaction of the tree as the plant uses nutrients.  Older leaves will turn yellow and then brown and this is not a reason to worry.

On the other hand, if your sago palm tree has new fronds that are turning yellow, this could be a signal that there is a nutrient deficiency and fertilizing might help.

How much do Sago Palms cost?

Sago palm prices depend on the size of the plant. Purchasing a small indoor sago palm is easily affordable.  I bought mine for about $15 at Lowe’s and it was a decent size.

However, if you wish to purchase a large outdoor specimen, you will likely pay a lot for it (many hundreds of dollars). The plants are very slow growing and the grower has to recoup their expenses caring for it as it matures.

To be reminded of this post, pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.Sago palms are cycads which can grow outdoors in warm climates and indoors as houseplants in colder zones.

Whether you decide to try growing sago palms indoors or outside, remember to provide steady temperatures, light watering and protection from the hottest sunlight.  If you follow these tips, you can look forward to an exotic looking plant that will give you years of pleasure.

Admin note:  This article was first published in November of 2017. I have updated the post to include additional photos and more information about growing sago palms.


 

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Edward Haywood

Saturday 5th of September 2020

My sago produced three new fronds—however the fronds are at the ends of a long stem and it makes the sago look rather ridiculous. I am thinking of just cutting them off. Otherwise it seems quite healthy. What would cause this. It gets great light and is not rootbound.

Carol Speake

Sunday 6th of September 2020

Sago fronds always grow from the top and become larger as they mature.

evan wolkenstein

Sunday 31st of May 2020

Hi! Thanks for this great info. I am altogether new to owning plants - bought 3 sagos, and immediately made a bunch of mistakes. The needles are starting to yellow/drop or crumple...just starting.

Perhaps it's because I confused mulch for soil, planted the root ball perhaps too inadequately (maybe too much air exposure) and irrigated it too much?

Anyhow, replanted in cactus mix. That should help. I also see lots of 5 cm black beetles crawling around the cone.

If you were me a) would you wait a week to water for the first time since it was likely too wet before or water once now and then let it sit? b) any idea what these beetles might be?

Anything else I should try?

Carol Speake

Monday 1st of June 2020

Hi Evan. I'm afraid I can't be much help with your problems. It is impossible for me to diagnose plant problems specifically without actually seeing a plant, since there could be many reasons for disease in plants. Also true of the bugs.

Syl

Tuesday 26th of May 2020

Hello, I liked your article I have several Segos which produce multiple of pups, instead of throwing them out, how is the best way to plant, how big does the bulb need to be and how far deep can i put them in the soil. Thanks Sylvia

Carol Speake

Wednesday 27th of May 2020

As long as you can get a bit of the root attached, the size is not too important. They will just get larger as they grow if attached. I normally plant at least 1/3 into the soil. Twice as deep as the root system is recommended. In any case, don't plant any deeper than it was on the mother plant.

Michael

Tuesday 5th of May 2020

I live in Hawaii and have several sago palms (cycads), one of which is a female and is currently flowering. In order for the red seeds to appear, does a male cycad need to be nearby? I would like to try growing a cycad from one of the seeds it will produce, if seeds are produced.

Thanks,

Michael

Carol Speake

Wednesday 6th of May 2020

In order for the female sago plant to produce viable seed, it must be pollinated by a male sago palm. This can be done by hand pollination if you have both plants or by wind and other insects if a male plant is nearby.

Cathy Gunderman

Monday 16th of September 2019

I like every thing in your article ,the only thing I could not find out is the different bugs that might effect tthe plant. I have planted outside a Sago palm that is about 24in highthe leaves are 20 "long. They have alittle white powdery on then and ijust noticed some of the leaves are yellowing.I am south of fort worth and new in texas.2yr I love working outside and i try to learn what I can about what Iam growing.i am a little up in age so it takes me awhile to remember. Cathy Gunderman

Carol

Monday 16th of September 2019

Hi Cathy. It sounds as though you may have either spider mites or mealy bugs on your plant. Apply a strong spray of water and/or insecticidal soap to wash these pests away and kill them.

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