The Japanese Sago Palm, often referred to as simply the Sago, might not be a “true palm” (in the sense that it belongs to the Arecaceae plant family), but it’s a valued decorative plant all the same. Gardeners far and wide find this plant attractive because of its stout appearance and immaculately shiny leaves. The trunk of this plant can reach eight or more inches in diameter and can grow to height exceeding twenty feet under optimal outdoor conditions with proper care.
Facts About Sago Palms
Growing a fully-sized Sago Palm takes time, however, as the plant matures at a slow rate. Reaching its optimal size can take anywhere from 50-100 years, so gardeners wishing to achieve this feat will need to exercise a measure of patience. In the short-term, though, you can still have an impressive Sago specimen, provided you put in the time to care for this majestic plant. First, though, some details.
The scientific name for this plant is Cycas Revoluta. It is called Sotetsu in Japanese and goes by several nicknames in English, including King Sago and Sago Cycad. It is a member of the Cycadaceae family of plants and is native to Southern Japan and the Ryukyu Islands. The leaves of Sagos are a lush green and very stiff. So stiff, in fact, that they can become sharp. Owners are advised to keep the plant away from areas where they could bump into it accidentally.
The leaves grow in an attractive, feather-like pattern, and can reach over three feet in length. The leaflets on each larger leaf are usually 3-7 inches long and curved downwards. They are suitable for indoor and outdoor growth, making them a popular feature in both gardens and as in-home ornamentation.
Though they do not flower annually, the female Sago Palms produce flowers during the spring about once every 2-3 years. Male Sago Palms will produce a golden cone in their center, which can grow more than two feet tall. In rare cases, the male plant will produce a multi-headed cone. It isn’t possible to determine your plant’s gender before this happens, though, so prepare to be surprised once it does.
These palms are adaptable and easy to grow, do well in containers, and do well in drought conditions, but still require care from their owners to stay healthy and reach their potential.
Planting Sago Palms
If you’ve already got your Sago Palm, you’ll just need to follow some simple steps to plant it in a new location. If planting from a “pup” (smaller Sago Palm) in the outdoors, you’ll need to remove the leaves and roots, then wait for the remainder of the plant to dry. You should then dig an ample sized hole in some well-drained soil, placing about half of the plant’s trunk below soil level. Water thoroughly, and the pup will begin to form new roots.
Fertilize, and wait for the pup to mature over the course of several months. Once the Sago plant has had the opportunity to form a sturdy root system, you may then transplant it to the garden or landscaping area of your choice. It is best to start this process in early spring or late fall. Continue to care for the palm as you would any other, and watch it grow in your garden or indoors.
If you opt to grow your Sago indoors, you will have to follow a few additional rules. You will need to place your plant in an area with bright but indirect sunlight. Keep your Sago away from hot, sunny windows, and rotate the palm about a quarter turn every one or two weeks so that it will grow uniformly.
Additionally, you may attempt to plant Sago Palm seeds. Before planting, you should soak stored Sago seeds for 24-hours to remoisturize them. Press the seeds firmly into the soil, about 2/3rds of the way in. Make certain that the top flat side is visible. Follow the same growing procedures mentioned above, and transplant your Sago into a new container when the roots start to outgrow your current pot. Ideally, your Sago will sit two inches below the top of the pot and have ample room on the sides to grow.
Caring For A Sago Palm
Know that you’ll have to exercise patience with your Sago, as their growth rate is slow. When potting a Sago indoors, you should use a well-drained pot, and water your plant when the top layer of soil becomes dry. Try not to wet the Sago leaves. Instead, apply water directly to the soil and allow the excess to drain through the bottom of your potted Sago. Never overwater the plant or allow the potting soil to become soggy.
Fertilize your Sago once a month during its growing season (which begins in the spring). You should use a liquid nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium fertilizer, about one teaspoon per gallon of water. Sago Palms are good at adapting to temperature changes, but for ideal growth, keep them in an area with a daytime temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit and a nighttime temperature between 65-75 degrees.
Dust the fronds of your Sago once a month with a cloth, and remove any dead, yellowing, or discolored leaves as soon as you notice them. When cutting or trimming leaves, do so at the base, about a quarter inch away from the trunk (use pruning shears).
A note on transplanting—you’ll ideally perform this procedure in the Spring and exercise great caution when moving your plant. Prune away dead portions of the plant, and work the root ball to untangle the roots of this beautiful plant. Pat down the soil firmly once you have moved the plant, watering appropriately.
Additional Care Requirements
With that, you should be well on your way to having a magnificent Sago specimen. Be sure to keep these additional points in mind:
- Sago Palms will grow well outdoors in full sunlight but need to be kept away from constant, direct light indoors.
- Sago Palm soil should contain ample amounts of humus and be well-drained. These palms are adaptable, true, but will thrive in optimal soil conditions.
- Balance water and fertilizer applications judiciously. These plants give little external indication on when they must be “fed,” so it’s up to you to maintain a consistent schedule.