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>>Cycads >>Cycad Help & Advice >>My Cycad Is In Trouble! Sago Palm Care >>Pg. 2 >>Pg.3

My Cycad Is In Trouble!
Sago Palm Care
by Jesse & Phil Bergman
Cycad Culture and Treatment of Common Problems. Sago palm care information.

This article is written for those who are having a problem with their cycad plant, want to avoid the common maladies of growing cycads or would like general sago palm care tips. In this article we discuss the problems that we’ve seen frequently and advise as to potential remedies that seem to help. It is meant to stimulate the reader into inspecting his plants for yellow leaves, brown tips, rot, etc., and coming up with therapeutic modalities for his plants. The better one gets at this, the better grower he will become.


What’s Wrong?

Inspect your plant

In growing cycads, it is very important to make a habit of looking at your plants.  Inspection is key to good growing of cycads.  They will usually demonstrate to you that they have a problem. However, it helps to know what to look for while inspecting. This can lead to your diagnosing the problem, or at least let you know something is wrong.. Once you establish what the problem is, you can set out to solve it. Described below are some of the things that you can look for while inspecting your cycads.  Be aware that different climatic areas may see different problems than we've seen here in Southern California.  However, most of the problems discussed below are quite universal to all growing areas.  The problems of insects and pests is not dealt with here and  will be discussed in a future article.

Encephalartos transvenosus, suspected of  rot.
(Click photo to enlarge)

Bottom rot on Encephalartos caudex.
(Click photo to enlarge)


You see visible rot on your caudex or roots: Sometimes one might see rot on the trunk of a cycad. Or, you might see it on inspecting a caudex in pumice that you are trying to root out.  Obviously, this requires you're bare-rooting the plant to inspect the roots and base of the caudex.  Unfortunately, rot can hide and be deceptive, even starting in the most hidden, deepest roots. With rot, the first thing one notices is that the caudex or root tissue is soft. Rot manifests itself as a dark tan to brown/black color in the caudex or trunk . Rotting roots tend to be soft, darker colored, and lacking secondary roots coming out. This is opposed to light, fleshy healthy roots . Usually the rot involves the lower caudex in it’s subterranean area or the roots. Rot can cause cycads to decline or possibly die if it is not addressed. If you find rot on your caudex, use a sharp, sterile cutting tool (knife or saw) to remove the rot. Cut the rot away until you have only hard tissue that is whitish or light tan in color. Note: in some cases you may not find whitish or light tan tissue; in such cases, cut back to hard tissue. Be careful, if you cut the caudex too much you risk the plant dying. If the rot is on the roots, one needs to individually remove involved roots, dissecting up to clean, healthy tissue.  Below are guidelines to the treatment of rot after you've dissected it away.  

Encephalartos longifolius, with crown rot forming multiple heads.
(Click photo to enlarge)

Rooting hormone brand Take Root; a combination of root stimulant and fungicide.
(Click photo to enlarge)

General guideline in the treatment of tissue rot:

1) After you have cut away the rot (trunk or roots), soak the plant in both a fungicide and root stimulant. First soak your plant in a fungicide, like Daconil, for 30 minutes.  Always follow manufacturer's instructions about usage and safety on any chemical.  Next you will want to soak your plant in a root stimulant, like DipN’Grow, vitamin B1 or B complex (most liquid root stimulants will work), for 30 minutes. The reason why I recommend soaking the plants for 30 minute intervals is because it allows the caudex to absorb both the fungicide and root stimulant into its tissue

2) Sprinkle a powder root stimulant, like Take Root, onto the base of the caudex and/or the root(s).

Caudex rot on Encephalartos showing soft tissue.
(Click photo to enlarge)

growing cycads

Pure pumice.
(Click photo to enlarge)

3) You should now seal the cuts with an agricultural tar. This assists in keeping the cut surface clean and also helps to protect from future rot. Melted wax preparations can also be used.

4) We use new clean pumice (or scoria) to re-establish the plant.  It is a dry medium and you are less likely to incur rot or other problems.  This typically means submerging the treated area of trunk or roots directly into the pot of pumice.  If pumice is not available, coarse sand can work.  Use a pot that is not overly large for the caudex.

5) The time it takes to reestablish your plant can be three to six months or even longer. Failure will be evidenced by the progression of the rotting tissue and failure to establish leaves or roots.  You may wish to bare root the caudex for inspection from time to time.  One must repeat the cycles above if rot is rediscovered.

Caudex that hasn't done anything in a long time.
(Click photo to enlarge)

The top of your caudex is soft

This is an ominous sign. It usually means the caudex is in the process of or about to collapse and die. It is usually due to rot and the plant is usually near death.  One would typically see the leaves turn brown and fall downward . They may shrivel. On grasping and pinching the crown of the caudex, it will be soft and compress inwards.  It might actually collapse beneath the pressure of the fingers. This often means the demise of the entire plant. If the softness to touch is minimal, quickly treat the crown with a drenching of fungicide, and repeat on a regular basis.  If the crown is collapsing, one can dissect away the crown of the caudex until healthy tissue is found.  Often this is unsuccessful.  The mechanics of doing this are discussed elsewhere, but one would be working from the top of the caudex downward. If one is lucky, new suckers will emerge from this dissected level and the plant will survive. More often then not, this plant is bound for the garbage can and is terminally ill. 

no fronds yellow leaves

Encephalartos, rotted and collapsed caudex.
(Click photo to enlarge)


E. transvenosus, inspecting caudex for rot and noting softness to the crown of the plant.
(Click photo to enlarge)

Encephalartos, healthy caudex but no roots and no leaves as of  yet.
(click photo to enlarge)

E. transvenosus, rotted caudex.  Note it falls apart with ease.  This caudex is dead.
(Click photo to enlarge)

An unrooted caudex does nothing

We’ve found that a healthy caudex can take anywhere from six months to two years to establish adequate roots for survival. Some species are faster than others. For instance, Encephalartos horridus established quite quickly while Encephalartos inopinus gets roots much more slowly. Sometimes the latter will even throw leaves prior to establishing roots. This certainly makes one apprehensive, but it is not always a fatal observation. However, sometimes months and years go by and nothing happens; no roots, no leaves. The first thing to do is to inspect the caudex. Feel it in your hands. Is it firm? Is it still heavy in the hand? Does it feel light? Firmly press the sides of the caudex. Does it collapse somewhat, especially toward the crown? When a caudex goes bad and visual inspection shows nothing, rot is often most evident near the crown of the plant or sucker. Are the cataphylls loose? Pull on them gently. Do they easily pull out? Try float testing the caudex. Unobserved central rot can make the caudex float. If everything seems OK and you find nothing, all you can do is place the sucker back in pumice and wait.

A rooting caudex throws leaves before it roots

 This is always a worrisome problem. It is never the ideal scene, but sometimes happens and can still result in a healthy rooted plant.  We always like to see vigorous roots before a throw of leaves. This can occur just because of the natural cycle of the offset. Let’s say it was about to throw leaves and you removed it for propagation. It will continue to leaf out regardless of being removed. Other times it happens six or twelve months after sucker removal and yet before rooting. In either case, it poses a risk to the new caudex. It is generally agreed that there is a risk of desiccation and death of the caudex as the leaves lose water and the caudex has minimal ability to absorb water without roots.  Also, the leaves don’t have a nutritional flow except from the caudex. The throw of new leaves might have used up the energy reserves of the caudex.   

Once observed, the problem is what to do. Remember to inspect for and treat any rot. One may treat with fungicide and certainly place the caudex back in pumice. But, what of the leaves; remove them or leave them in place? There is no perfect answer for this, but most growers would remove all or part of the leaves thrown. In actual fact, usually these leaves will abort soon after throwing and seldom do they persist as healthy leaves. Sometimes the collapse of these leaves is rapidly followed by a collapse of the caudex. Yet, if they survive, could they not be able to offer some photosynthesis and creation of energy? For this reason, some would say remove all of the leaves except a few and cut those remaining leaves in half. Once repotted back into pumice, carefully avoid watering the crown on such a plant. 

Encephalartos caudex showing crown rot, evident as soft scales near the crown pull apart. 
(Click photo to enlarge)

Cycad with leaves but no roots yet, picture 1.
(click photo to enlarge)


Cycad with leaves but no roots yet, picture 2
(click photo to enlarge)

sago palm care

New leaves shorter than older ones. See yellow leaves and brown tips on next page. 
(Click photo to enlarge)


Leaves are shorter than normal

If your leaves emerge shorter than they did the last time, there could be one of several problems:

a) If you are acclimating your cycad (working it out into sun), the new leaves may be shorter than those which flushed in a shadier environment. This is not a problem; your cycad will grow out of it.  Be aware that cycads grown in filtered light (opposed to full sun) ten to stretch their leaves looking for more sun.

b) If this is the first throw of a recently established sucker or a recently transplanted cycad, short leaves can occur. This will change with successive throws.

c) A  throw of leaves in the coldest part of the winter can stunt their length.  You might see this on a recently imported and established caudex whose "biological clock" is set to another hemisphere.   

c) Leaves emerging shorter can also be an indication of a cultural problem. This could be nutritional requiring treatment with fertilizer or microelements.  It could be from a poor soil mix or poor soil aeration.  Or, it could be a symptom of caudex or root rot. If you think it is indicated, carefully remove that plant from its pot and wash away the excess dirt with a hose. Inspect the roots or caudex for rot. With a plant in the ground, gently rock the cycad to see if it is loose in the ground, suggesting root rot. You can also check the trunk of your cycad to see if it is soft in exposed areas. If rot is found, treat as described elsewhere in this article.

Continued on next page 
(more sago palm care information)


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