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Monday, July 10, 2017

How to Correct Yellowing of Sago Palm

Q. Would you please tell me what to do to keep leaves on my Sago Palms from yellowing? 
This is not the readers sago palm but is representative of the kind of problem I am frequently asked about regarding this plant growing in the Mojave Desert.
A. The usual problems with sago palm in our climate and soils are very poor soils, hot exposures, irrigation problems and using the wrong kind of surface mulch around them.

Cycad or sago palm can look like this if planted in the right kind of soil and put in the right location.
Landscape exposure. Sago palms should not be planted in southern or Western exposures unless they are placed in filtered shade from large trees. They grow best in Eastern and Northern exposures. The northern exposure should not receive intense sunlight late in the afternoon. In southern and Western exposures in intense sunlight the fronds will scorch on the edges, may turn yellow, but will not grow to their full length. If this is their exposure, I would move them to a new location in mid-to-late October.

Soil improvement. Sago palm grows poorly and the fronds yellow when soils don't have any organic matter. A one half bag of compost spread around the base of the plant each year helps. If this has not been done in previous years then you might want to add compost to the soil in vertical holes placed about a foot to a foot and a half away from the Sago palm about 2 feet apart. You can use a post hole digger to dig the holes about 18 inches deep and back fill them with compost.

Irrigation. Sago palms can handle a lot of water if the soil drains easily. If the soils are slow to drain, Sago palm will get root rot and begin to yellow and the fronds will begin to scorch on the edges. Adding compost to the soil and putting in vertical holes for drainage as explained above usually takes care of the problem.

Surface mulch. Some people plant sago palm with rock applied to the surface as in a desert landscape. Sago palms do not belong in desert landscapes. They should be used in high water use landscapes with lots of organics in the soil. They are not a cactus or succulent. They should never be surrounded with rock mulch. If it is then rake away the rock from the sago palm 3 to 4 feet from the trunk and apply a layer of wood chip mulch on top of an application of compost to the soil surface.

Adding compost to the soil, vertical drain holes, woodchip surface mulch and moving the plant to a new location that is not in full sun will help this plant a lot.

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