Q: About a year ago, I removed this Sago palm from a south-facing slope and put it in this pot. I do not know why it is dying or maybe already dead. A buddy said I buried it too deep, so you can see I pulled the soil away about to where it was. I hate to lose this beautiful plant. Help!!
John Zellmer, Rocklin
A: According to UC master gardener Rachel Tooker, sagos are normally easy to grow once they are planted in the landscape, and they have very few pest problems. They are susceptible to stem rots in conditions of excessive irrigation and poor drainage. Sometimes, they can be bothered by scale insects and mealybugs.
They also can succumb to sunburn under high temperatures and intense light conditions. While they tolerate full sun, they look better when grown in partial shade. Too much sunlight may cause the leaves to turn yellow, especially in inland areas.
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Sagos planted in good garden soil do not require much fertilizer. They have only one or two flushes of growth per year, so heavy nitrogen applications are not needed. Generally, the best results can be obtained with the use of slow-release fertilizers or products like blood meal or bone meal, which decompose slowly and provide a constant supply of nutrients.
Sagos should do well with a formulation high in potassium (K) and magnesium (Mg). Deficiency of these two elements appears as orange flecking or yellowing on the lower leaves.
Sagos also seem to benefit from application of chelated iron and trace minerals when they show signs of yellowing that cannot be attributed to sunburn. Although yellowing of the mature foliage will not be corrected by an application of micronutrients, the next flush of new growth should have a greener, healthier color.
Sago palms are not really palms, although they look very much like palm trees. Instead, they are from the cycad family. Cycads require male and female plants in close proximity to reproduce by seed. They also will produce small offsets, or “pups” from around the base of the plant, which can be removed in spring (just before warm weather begins) and potted separately.
Once removed, the pups should be allowed to air-dry in the shade for a few days to allow the roots to heal over. Then, they can be planted in small containers of fast draining medium and kept in filtered light or under shade cloth until well rooted (a process that can take several weeks or months).
Cycads also can be transplanted in the landscape and will grow well in containers. The age and size of the plant may determine whether you can successfully move it into a pot.
It is best to keep the pot in filtered light until the plant has recovered. The base of the trunk should be planted in the pot at the same level that it was found in the landscape, and kept evenly moist (not drenched) to avoid root rot.
Transplanted cycads will undergo a period of shock once moved. Allow some time to allow the plant to recover before determining whether or not the move was successful.
Editor’s note: Judging by your photos, your sago palm does look like it’s suffering from shock. It may have started developing crown rot at the base. Give it time in partial shade and TLC (including a little fertilizer after watering deeply), then hopefully it can bounce back.
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