10 Reasons Not to Plant the Sago Palm
Sago Palm : Landscape Plant You May Want to Avoid
I spend some time here telling you how bad the sago plant is, but I also include instructions on how to trim and do yearly sago palm maintenance. Care of sago palms outdoors, after all, is one of the cautionary points I provide here, because that is my biggest dislike of the plant. There is not anything wispy or soft about this plant.
The King sago palm tree is made of thick skinned needle armor. Massive crowns of stiff needle clad spears grow out from the center of a trunk that sports more needles and tough debris from former trimmings.
The other bane of this almost ironclad plant is little pups sprout at the base of the trunk and if ignored becomes an extra chore to dislodge.
The sago palm is a cycad from southern Japan and tolerates climes with no prolong freezes. Cycads are a species of a plant family going back to the Jurassic age. With their tough structure I can see why the family has survived. There are several types on the market. This one is the most hardy and the only one I have seen in tree like form.
Ten year old plant pictured here.
all photos by Sherry Venegas
Why I Give Caution About the Sago Palm
This is written with first hand experience. We have three in our yard. I suggest not to buy if you can get pups from a friend or neighbor. It is one of those friendship plants, it can be shared easily.
If you plant a sago your space will not fill for about 8 years, so be patient, but be certain not to wait too long to decide you do not want it. You may need a crane to remove it.
10 reasons for not choosing the Sago Palm for your landscape follows.
Note in this photo at right the pups growing at the bottom and at spots higher up. Take caution to not let them grow for too long.
10 Reasons to Not Plant a Sago Palm
- Every 1 to 2 years the landscaper needs to chop off the pups to avoid a tangled mess.
- Old spears should be cut off every year. Every year the plant piles on a new row of spines. Sometimes this growth is called a "flush".
- Do not over water. A colossus will form.
- Everything is needle sharp on this plant. Be protected.
- If you tend to let gardening slide. Do not plant cycas revoluta.
- Debris is too tough for the recycle bin. Our city will not take for recycling.
- Should have safety glasses for big trimming jobs.
- The female plant blooms over the entire crown and produces red seeds the size of hominy all set in a bed of thorns.
- Mid sized plants near the street or road may be stolen in the dead of night.
- Sagos palms are a favorite food of indigenous islanders in Indonesia, but the sharp and hard outer shell is dangerous for all animals. It is in the same category as chicken bones.
Crown and base overgrown and need of care
What am I going to do with this multi-head sago palm that I did not trim for three or four years? It sprouted crowns all over the top. For three weeks I have asked my partner in home owning to assist in this problem.
The last evasive action was: "Look it up". He does not want to ruin it. The Internet does inform me that some plants will grow multi crowns, but does not say specifically what to do when growth is out of hand. So I going to start cutting.
1. One tip is cut leaves as close to the truck as possible.
I use the long handle lopper. The long handle is essential for getting near the base of each spear. Also the bigger size of the clipper is needed to surround each spear for a clean cut. Last it is long enough to avoid thorns and other sharp objects.
How to Trim a Twenty Eight Year Old Sago Palm - Step by Step Sago Palm Trim TutorialClick thumbnail to view full-size
Male Crown of the Sago Palm
This is growing on the crown a few weeks after the branch cutting I did above.
Cycad Sago Palm
The species name is Cycas revoluta and it is the most popular cycad of botanical gardens and of nursery stock being sold. The plants grow slowly and that is probably why a 5 gallon specimen may seem a bit expensive at the nursery. The price is not because it is hard to grow, but because the nurserymen had to water it for more than 3 or 4 years.
In the 80's decade the sago palm started highlighting landscapes all over Southern California. From the sidewalk or car they lend a big impact to a yard, and goes well with palms and other tropical plants. We decided to get the popular cycad to go between the line of view of the neighborhood mail box and our front window.
The cycad at right was planted in 1984. It was very small with one row of spears and about two feet tall. Our neighbor planted a bigger one in their front yard. The next year their plant disappeared. People steal them in the middle of the night, being so popular and expensive for the larger plants.
Docile 4 year old planted in 2008.
Rooted pups are very popular at yard and garage sales, but it is impossible to tell which is female or male. You would have to keep them marked. It takes 5-7 years for a pups to mature and reveal the sex.
This plant has not been sexed as of 2015. I hope it is a male.
Below are a few tips on ridding the tree of pups.
Female Sago Palm with Seeds
A female sago palm. Let the next year's crop of leaves push the seeds under. No need to clean them out like I did the first year this happened. My Mother has watched birds eat and break open the seeds on this plant near her front window, but I would advise keeping animals and children away.
New Seed Crown on a Mature Female
Trimming Pups from Sago PalmClick thumbnail to view full-size
Tool For Dislodging Sago Palm Pups
This is perfect for dislodging the sago palm pups. Also is useful for all garden digging needed to be done by a smaller person. This tool is used for all the replanting done me through forty years of yard maintenance
How to Plant Sago Pups
If course, I know why all the pups were taken out of the trash bin. My husband stuck them into the ground hoping to get new plants started. I found out he was doing it all wrong. The moist ends need to be dried first. Also, the whole unit was covered and with only the leaves showing. Bury your new hopefuls only two inches. Leave the prickly spines exposed. Water them once in a while.
Sago Palm in California
A California suburban neighborhood can have many black widows. Be careful when working in the sago palm, this spider emerged to surprise me.
In summer 2013 we had a black widow invasion. Read how I coped with the spider problem here.
Do You Have Sago Palms
Do You Like Your Sago Palm?See results without voting
See the Pictures
Many pictures and stories about the sago palm at Google Images.
See them at......Google images of the Sago Palm
Other Good Information about Cycads
- The Compleat Gardener: Killing Cycad Scale with Coffee Grounds
Learn the methods used to control the cycad scale using coffee grounds as an "insecticide."
- The Sago Palm,Cycas revoluta by Phil Bergman
I cannot say enough about this website. Every question one can think of for the Sago Palm is answered here by Phil Bergman. Maybe I like my plants, after all.
- Dave's Garden (palmbob)
Another website that covers everything about sago palms. Want to grow by seed? Here is the place to find out how.
Huge female sago palm
Focal Sago Palm in Front Yard
I am always looking when driving and interesting things do not pass my attention. I stopped to take pictures of this female sago palm with two years of seeds on display. The first year seeds are compressed between an old and new growth of leaves. This plant is situated on a lawn and surely gets plenty of water. It is well over eight foot across.
A new seed head is slightly visible on the picture below.
Compressed seed head of sago palm
The Difference Between Male and Female Sago
The biggest difference between the male and female sago is the growing habits. The male plant when it is big enough will start to branch out or grow new crowns. It took a good fifteen years for me to see that fact in the plant I used for the trimming tutorial above. In fact, I was clueless about the difference for decades.
Once your male plant is established and has a thick two to three foot trunk you will see the branching effect. The branches on our plant surprised me because we neglected trimming it and did not see that process up close.
The female will continue to grow and flush at the center getting taller each year. Both male and female produce the pups.
The last question for readers. Does a female pup always produce a female adult plant?
I Trim Every Year
I know the practice of trimming the sago is controversial in plant circles. I have seen commercially trimmed sago of multi-trunks not fair well. One or two trunks may not do so well, and not sprout a new set of leaves, turning brown and lifeless in a few months.
As I indicated, my plant has spent years between trimmings. It is only in the last few that I have had the time to trim to my liking. I have been getting new flushes of leaves every year and I believe I will be able to enjoy my sago trimmed and kept slim.
This is my Male sago trimmed again in March 2013. I cut off all pups and cut off the lowest row of leaves. In one month I had a new flush of leaves growing on all three trunks. This picture was taken June 14, 2013.
What do you think? My husband says I ruined it. It may look like a bad haircut, but it will grow out.
I give this plant a drastic cut every year and it grows back with no care at all.
I do not give it any fertilizer or extra watering. It is near a lawn and that is enough water for this plant. I live in SoCal with a dry climate.
What is your experience with the sago palm?
Do you like the sago palm in your yard?