Cycads, with the scientific name Cycadophyta, constitute the order Cycadales. They are prehistoric plants with woody trunks and a crown of hard, stiff, evergreen leaves. These slow-growing gymnosperms are also referred to as sago palms, sago cycads, king sago, and Japanese sago. Like all plants, your cycad may suffer from problems and diseases, and without prompt intervention, you may not be able to save it. If you suspect your cycad is dying, try following the steps below.
How to save a dying cycad
Make sure the growing conditions are suitable.
To save a dying cycad, see to it that you are providing the correct growing conditions. These plants need well-draining, moist soil to grow healthily. When grown outdoors they prefer sandy soil, but if you are growing yours indoors, try mixing sand with peat to improve drainage. Soil alone retains too much water, which causes problems like root rot.
These plants should get at least four to six hours of filtered sunlight per day. Outdoor cycads require full sun to partial shade. Since these plants only grow three to 10 feet tall, larger trees may block the sunlight and may need to be pruned back.
Cycads thrive in warm temperatures, and may develop freeze damage with yellowing or brown fronds if temperatures drop too low for them. Remove dead and damaged fronds so that the plants can redirect their energy to the new growth in spring.
Resolve nutritional deficiencies by fertilizing the plants.
To revive your dying cycads, feed them with a slow-release, balanced fertilizer.
Nutritional deficiencies can lead to dying fronds, and potassium or magnesium-deficient plants tend to have yellowing fronds. Spray the foliage with a chelated iron spray so that the new growth will be green, but do not expect the discolored leaves to return to their healthy color.
Manganese-deficient cycads may have yellow fronds that turn brown, also called frizzle top. To fix this, add manganese sulfate, as indicated on the package instructions, to the soil around the plants. Water lightly after applying the fertilizer. Remove fully dead fronds, but do not prune any with green growth, as this can stress the plant.
Cut away rotten root tissue.
Overwatered cycads are prone to root rot, wherein the roots die and turn dark brown or black with rot. Root rot could damage and kill the entire plant, but if it is not too severe the plant can still be saved. Prune away the rotten root tissue and dust the roots with a root stimulant.
Seal the wounds with agricultural tar before repotting the plants, and choose a potting medium that will not retain too much moisture.
Check for pests and eradicate them.
Pests like cycad scale insects could attack and damage your plants. These pests can cause yellowing fronds and plant dieback. Treat and eradicate these critters by applying horticultural oil or fish emulsion.
Cycad plant care
1. Make sure to grow the right cycads for your location.
Some varieties of cycad prefer tropical climates, while others want a dry, humid location. Certain species, like the Zamia cycads, cannot thrive without a greenhouse if you live in a temperate or cold area. Do some research first on the right species or varieties to grow for your specific area.
2. Always maintain good drainage.
Make sure that the soil has good drainage and is never waterlogged. Use sand, gravel or pumice to promote drainage and avoid very fine sand. You may also amend the soil to provide good drainage and repot plants that are grown in containers. A succulent mix is a good option for your cycads.
3. Provide adequate sunlight.
Cycads thrive when there is adequate sunlight. If you do not provide enough sunlight for these plants, they may end up withering and dying.
4. Use the proper fertilizer.
The right fertilizer for cycads is a slow-release NPK fertilizer, or nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, at a ratio of 3-1-2 or 3-1-3. Fertilize every three to four months depending on the formula and release rate.
5. Water the plants according to their needs.
Water the plants adequately but do not let the soil stay too damp. Allow the surface to dry out first, before watering the plants again. The watering frequency for plants in temperate climates should be once or twice a week.
Water every other week during the winter, and for plants in desert-like locations adjust the frequency according to the soil’s moisture content. Mounding is recommended, especially in tropical areas. Ideally, you should use water systems with timers as opposed to overhead sprinklers.
6. Provide proper ventilation.
Cycads in greenhouses should have proper ventilation to avoid mold and rot. Oscillating fans or exhaust fans could help achieve a well-ventilated setting.
Cycads, or sago palms, are popular prehistoric plants that are said to have existed way back during the time of the dinosaurs. They are drought-tolerant plants, but can succumb to diseases or pests if not treated promptly. You can help revive your dying cycad by providing optimal growing conditions and resolving any nutritional deficiencies. Also prune away rotten and damaged plant parts to encourage healthy new growth.
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