The Q&A Archives: Sago Palms

Question: I am looking for palms that will do well in shaded areas outdoors. I also have 2 Sago palms that are about 15 years old that are not doing well. The older fronds have all died back, leaving one row of fronds. They are both in partial sun, and both are planted in a mixture of clay soil and potting mix. They are watered from my lawn sprinklers - about once a week. Is the watering possibly the problem, or do they need fertlizing? If so, what type of fertilizer do they require and how often?

Answer: Caryota, or Sago palms, are small to medium-sized palms that grow best in shady sites, in rich, moist soil. They should thrive in the soil mixture and moisture you're giving them, so I'd suspect the site is too sunny for them. Sago palms may or may not retain their old, dead leaves. They 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 palms are acting differently than they have in the past, they may need to be fed, or they may need a deeper soaking than the sprinklers are giving them. Periodic deep soakings will also leach salts away from the roots. If you can get up to the top of the palm to 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 perk up.

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