The Q&A Archives: Japanese Sago

Question: I have 2 Sago Palms. One is about 10 feet tall already. Another is a pup of the first one about 2 feet tall. Both have developed in the topmost center a yellow crown [it is the best way I can describe]. The 2 feet tall plant hasn't grown any for the last couple of years. There are a couple of pups at the base. Question do I remove the crown? It seems like new growth that did not develop.

Answer: The nice thing about Sago palms is that they nearly always produce lots and lots of pups. You can separate these and have a whole collection of palms. In general, Sago Palms need sun to grow well. In coastal areas, it is best to plant them in full sun. In more interior locations or desert localities, they still prefer good sun or at least part day sun. Growing the Sago Palm in the shade typically gives one lanky, stretched-out leaves that are weak. If in too much shade, this species can actually just stall and do nothing (such as refusing to throw any new leaves).

Like other cycads, they do not want to be over-watered. Let the soil dry out a bit before watering. Try to avoid overhead watering; this may cause rot and possibly total decay of the plant. The soil mix should be quick draining. The plants are quite cold hardy and can tolerate temperatures below 20? F. Overall, it is an available species that is quite versatile and easy to grow. It is usually free from pests but can occasionally get into problems with scale or mealybug, which should be treated. Fertilizing with a balanced tropical fertilizer with microelements will usually suffice. Sagos typically throw a new set of leaves during the Spring or Summer.

Failure to put out new leaves can be from many causes. Perhaps your plant is not in enough sun or your locality is too cold for good growth. It could be that there is an unrecognized root problem or rot. It could be the plant is nutritionally starved. Or, the plant may be getting ready to put out its reproductive cone. We usually recommend correcting cultural problems and giving the plant time. Most plants grown well will eventually put out new leaves.

If the very top of the plant (caudex) is yellow and soft (as opposed to just yellowing leaves), this can indicate that the caudex is in the process of or about to collapse and die. It is usually due to rot and the plant is usually near death. One would typically see the leaves turn brown and fall downward. They may shrivel. On grasping and pinching the crown of the caudex, it will be soft and compress inwards. It might actually collapse beneath the pressure of the fingers. This often means the demise of the entire plant. If the softness to touch is minimal, quickly treat the crown with a drenching of fungicide, and repeat on a regular basis. If the crown is collapsing, you may be able to dissect away the crown of the caudex until healthy tissue is found. Sometimes this is unsuccessful. If you are lucky, new suckers will emerge from this dissected level and the plant will survive. More often then not, though, an affected plant is terminally ill and bound for the garbage can. Hope this is not the case with your palm!

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