Sago palms are relatively low-growing plants with long green fronds. They’re beautiful and unique, adding a touch of tropical vibes to any space.
The sago palm is native to the Kyushu and Ryukyu islands in Japan and southern China.
But don’t worry — they’re great as houseplants for those in cooler climates!
Do you want this palm tree-like plant in your collection? Keep reading to learn how to properly care for them.
What Is a Sago Palm Plant?
Despite the name and palm tree-like appearance, sago palm plants actually aren’t true palms at all.
Instead, they’re more closely related to pine trees.
Sago palms are cycads, a group of ancient tropical and subtropical plants that have been around since prehistoric times.
A sago palm can also live up to 200 years or more!
Spiky, glossy, dark green leaves grow out in a rosette pattern. New growth starts out with bronze, feather-like foliage in a symmetrical ring of leaves.
Then, as a leaf grows, you’ll also notice protective spikes — like what you’d see on a cactus.
As such, you must use gloves when handling the sago palm plant.
How Fast Does a Sago Palm Grow?
Sago palms are extremely slow-growing plants.
They can grow up to 10 feet tall. However, it could take them up to 50 years to reach that height
We notice that they only grow a few inches annually — sometimes producing only one new frond yearly.
They grow larger when planted in the ground compared to if they’re grown in containers.
What Are the Different Types of Sago Palm?
There are several species of sago palms, according to their appearance and how big they grow.
- King sago palm – The king sago palm, or cycas revoluta, is the most widely cultivated species. These plants are quite small, growing only up to 8 feet tall and wide, making them great as indoor plants.
- Queen sago – Also known as cycas rumphii, this type of sago palm reaches 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide. However, this plant grows more tree-like than the cycas revoluta.
- Queen sago palm – The cycas circinalis is native to India. It’s tree-like and can reach a height of 10 feet.
- True sago palm – The metroxylon sagu is part of a botanical family that includes other palm trees.
How to Propagate Sago Palms
Propagating sago palms by planting seeds is actually a long and usually ineffective process.
In our experience, it’s quicker and easier to propagate this plant through division. You’ll notice pups or offsets that look like baby plants that grow at the base of the parent plant.
The best time to transplant the pups is early spring or late fall. Here’s how to cultivate them:
- Some pups can be removed with just a tug. If not, use a hand trowel, knife, or scissors to pry or cut it from the soil. Take as much of the root system as you can.
- Put the pup on a tray in a shady spot for a few days. This lets the cut dry and callous over, which prevents diseases.
- Partially fill a pot with well-draining soil (ideally a perlite/peat moss mix). The pot should be slightly larger (around 2 inches) than the pup’s circumference. Give the pup 2 inches of growing room at the bottom too. Plant the offshoot in the center and fill the sides with potting soil. Water thoroughly.
- Put the sago palm pup in a sunny place indoors or a shady spot outdoors. Let the plant dry out between waterings. Expect rooting to occur in a couple of months.
How to Grow Sago Palm from Seeds
If you’d like to try growing a sago palm from seeds, you should ensure they come from a reputable source. If so, you can follow these steps:
REMINDER: When handling the seeds, always wear gloves.
- Soak the seeds in room temperature water to soften and remove the outer husk.
- Plant them in a shallow pot or seed-starting tray. Cover them with a sand-based seed-starting potting mix. Put the pot in a warm place.
- Keep the soil moist until you see seedlings emerging.
- Be patient! Sago palm seed germination can take months.
Sago Palm Care Tips
A sago palm is quite low-maintenance, so you shouldn’t see many dying leaves if it’s happy.
To ensure that you keep these cycads happy, here are some sago palm care tips:
1. Ensure Your Soil Has Good Drainage
Sago palms like well-draining soil that’s rich in organic matter.
Choose a good soil mix that allows proper drainage since these plants don’t like too-dry or soggy soil.
A soil mix of sand, perlite, and peat moss is good.
2. Avoid Putting Sago Palms in Direct Sunlight
Sago palms prefer bright, indirect light.
This makes them great container plants grown indoors or outdoors — as long as they’re sheltered from harsh sunlight.
However, they can actually also survive under direct sunlight.
Meanwhile, too much shade can cause rot and sparser foliage.
3. Don’t Overwater
Sago palms are drought-tolerant, so make sure to keep them on the dry side.
That’s because overwatering can rot the roots. Avoid getting water on the leaves too, since it can cause them to turn yellow and brown.
As such, think of these plants as a succulent or cactus. Let the soil dry out a bit between waterings.
4. Fertilize Constantly
If you’re using a slow-release fertilizer made especially for palms, use it twice or thrice during the growing season (early spring to fall).
Alternatively, you can fertilize monthly throughout the growing season if you’re using a liquid fertilizer with an 18-8-8 ratio.
You should use around 1 1/2 pounds of fertilizer for every 100 square feet of soil.
It’s also ideal to fertilize before a rain shower so the plant food is distributed better.
5. Consider the Temperature and Humidity Levels
As tropical plants, sago palms love humid environments. You can put them over a humidity tray to help create a better environment for them.
If you’re growing sago palms as houseplants, you can put them in a south-facing window or other areas where they can get bright, indirect light.
That’s because these plants can tolerate typical household temperatures.
If you’re growing them outdoors, move them inside if the temperature drops to 50°F or lower.
Common Sago Palm Problems
A huge part of caring for any plant is knowing what problems they might encounter.
Here are a few common sago palm plant problems you should be watch out for:
The most common pests to watch out for are:
- Spider mites
Scales might be hard to spot on the plant at first since they generally don’t move. But these are white or brown and feed on the leaves.
To get rid of scales, you’ll need systemic insecticide. That’s because they have a hard, waxy coating that can protect them from most sprays.
Root rot is a fungal infection that affects the root system and destroys the plant from within.
Some signs of this infection include:
- An oozing, black sore or stain on the trunk
- Wilting leaves
- Leaf discoloration
- Falling out of leaves
Root rot is usually caused by overwatering or poor draining because of compacted soil.
If you catch it early, you can remove the infected parts and treat the rest of the plant with fungal sprays or systemic fungicide.
However, if the plant has lost too many leaves, it might be too late to save it — but, of course, you can still try.
Sooty mold is a fungus that grows on secretions left by bugs. As the name implies, it appears as small black spots that look like dirt or soot on leaves and stems.
Sooty mold doesn’t feed on sago palm — however, too much on the plant can affect growth. That’s because it reduces chlorophyll production and photosynthesis.
You can remove the fungus by washing it off with a steady stream of water.
First, you should know that yellowing fronds on a plant is normal.
The bottom-most ring of leaves is the oldest and should not be removed until they turn brown and die by themselves.
Insects can also cause yellowing.
But if you find that fronds on other parts of the plant are yellow, and you don’t see insects, then the color can be caused by a manganese deficiency.
To fix this, put manganese sulfate powder in the soil twice or thrice a year.
Admittedly, this won’t make the yellow leaves turn green again. But subsequent foliage will look healthier.
Frequently Asked Questions
The sago palm is a slow-growing plant — but its beautiful foliage adds a tropical touch to any garden.
Below, we’ve answered a few frequently asked questions that can help you raise your plant into a large sago palm:
Are Sago Palms Poisonous to Touch?
No, like most plants, sago palms are not poisonous to touch. However, they’re toxic to ingest.
The whole plant contains a toxin called cycasin, which can cause severe illness or even death if taken in large amounts.
Some symptoms of cycasin poisoning include:
- Liver failure
As such, keep this plant away from children and pets.
You should also always wear gloves while handling the sago palm and wash your hands thoroughly afterward. That’s because the plant’s leaves are quite sharp.
Should I Cut the Leaves Off a Sago Palm?
If you see yellow fronds, hold off until they turn brown and completely die. Otherwise, you’re interrupting the “death process.”
You should also remove diseased and badly damaged leaves.
Why Are Sago Palms Not True Palms?
Sago palms are gymnosperms — which cover conifers. The sago palm is part of the Cycadaceae family.
Meanwhile, the true palm falls under angiosperms or flowering plants.
Unlike many plants, a sago palm doesn’t produce flowers. Instead, they produce cones to help them pollinate.
How Do I Know if the Sago Palm Is Male or Female?
Male sago palms have a slender cone-shaped structure. This part should be left alone until it opens and releases pollen — after which it can be removed.
Meanwhile, female sago palms have a dome-shaped structure. This will produce seeds that wait to be pollinated.
Are Sago Palms Easy to Care for?
Yes, sago palms are easy to grow and maintain — as long they’re in ideal growing conditions.
Keep them in a warm, humid environment with bright, indirect light. Don’t water them too much either, since they’re drought-tolerant.
Is It Okay to Buy a Sago Palm From Garden Stores?
A sago palm is an investment, so the cheaper one isn’t always the best option.
Most plants in a garden store get the same care, even in terms of sunlight and water. Sago palms can’t tolerate that kind of approach.
While it can live with direct sun, overwatering will harm it.
On top of that, transporting the plant home yourself can cause environmental stress on it — and it can take a long time for your sago palm to recover.
As such, it’s important to find a trusted supplier that can also take care of the transportation for you.
The sago palm is a drought-tolerant houseplant that’s easy to grow and maintain, whether you’re into outdoor or indoor gardening.
Just remember that sago palms prefer indirect bright light and not-too-wet soil.
These cycads are slow growers, so it will take years before you get a large sago palm. However, you can grow this plant with good sago palm care with few problems.
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Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa’s work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.