The Q&A Archives: Yellow leaves on Sago Palm

Question: The portion of the sago palm (trunk = 10 inches) that does not receive the sun is turning yellow. Is it possible it needs more water? (I've assumed it is sufficiently deeply routed to attract its own water from nearby surfaace watering.) I have not fed the plant in three years. Is palm food proper? If so, how much? How applied?

Answer: Caryota, or Sago palms, are small to medium-sized palms that grow best in full sun but will adapt to shady sites, in rich, moist soil. Since they don't need full sunshine, I don't think lack of direct sunlight is causing the yellowing on the shady part of your plant. Sago palms may or may not retain their old leaves, so what you're observing may be normal for the plant. The leaves can be cut off if they're unattractive to you. It's not unusual for palms to have just one row of leaves at the top of the trunk.

If your palm is acting differently than it has in the past, it may need to be fed, or it may need a deeper soaking than you've been giving them. Periodic deep soakings will also leach salts away from the roots. If you carefully inspect the leaves, you may find spider mites (look for webbing between the leaf fans and the stem). An infestation of spider mites can turn leaves brown prematurely. To avoid the problem, hose the foliage down every few weeks to remove the dust and any spider mites that might have taken up residence. If you want to feed your palm, you can spread several inches of organic matter over the roots so the nutrients released as the organic matter decomposes will trickle down into the soil, or you can broadcast an 8-8-8 complete fertilizer over the root zone. Palms are sensitive to salts, so don't apply any more fertilizer than the label recommends or you'll burn the roots. Your palm may not start growing again until next spring, but if you feed it, and water it regularly, it should perform well.

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