Sago Palm Bonsai Care Guide
Cycas revoluta is a subtropical to tropical plant native to southern Japan. It is not a true palm, rather it is a member of the Cycad family, which can lead to some confusion since there is a true Sago Palm – Metroxylon sagu.
Also known as the King Palm, this tree is literally a piece of ancient history, dating back to 150 million years ago when the earth was overrun by cycads. Indeed, the Jurassic period bears the nickname "Age of Cycads". Fittingly, the King Sago is a towering beast when grown in its natural habitat, reaching heights upwards of 100 feet.
The pinnate, glossy green leaves grow out from the top of the stem in a circular pattern, each one with a stiff middle rib adorned on each side with many narrow, curling leaflets. These leaflets become smaller and sharp the closer to the stem, and along the rib just before the stem are even sharper little spines.
The stem, or caudex, is a woody-like, bulbous support structure covered in a shaggy coating somewhat resembling a pineapple in appearance. Despite its appearance, the trunk does not store water.
This archaic species is well-known for its durability and can survive in extreme temperature ranges, from 15° F to 110° F. While the tree can withstand periods of extreme cold, it is still best to bring it inside at first frost, because the cold temperatures can cause foliage to become yellow or brown. Once night temperatures are above 50° F in spring, your Sago can return outside.
While full sun is ideal for this unique plant, it can adapt to bright indoor light or some shade outdoors. The less light it receives, the longer the leaves will grow.
This bonsai prefers to be a bit on the drier side. It's a good idea to make sure that the plant is above the soil line rather than in a rut where water could gather. Treat this plant like a cactus, watering when it becomes almost dry. In warmer weather it might need weekly watering. In cooler temperatures every few weeks may do. Monitor the soil's moisture level in order to determine the best routine. Due to its drought tolerance, C. revoluta is a perfect choice for the beginning enthusiast.
These plants are not heavy feeders and can be fertilized just three to four time a year. Apply an organic liquid feed at half strength when you see new growth appear in spring and then again the late summer. As far as the King Sago goes, it's better to underfeed than overfeed.
Because this is not a traditional bonsai tree, it will not need wiring, and pruning and trimming will be at a minimum. Trim away browned or yellow leaves throughout the year by cutting the stalk near the caudex, or remove individual sections of the leaf's middle rib in order to keep the rest of the leaflets intact. Removing the oldest and lowest aging leaves is important because it is the removal of these leaves that will stimulate new growth. This species only produces one to two new sets of leaves per year.
Cycas revoluta may be propagated by way of seeds or "pups" (offsets that grow along the sides and base of a mature plant). Soak seeds in water for several days, then remove the skin to reveal the hard white seed coating. Plant them immediately or store in a dry, cool place until spring. Sow seed sideways with the top edge exposed, in moist, well-draining soil. Germination may take three to nine months and the seed could take upwards of three years to grow to a one inch bulb.
Harvest offsets along the stem of a mature plant, in early spring, late autumn, or winter. A hand trowel may be used to pop them off. Remove the roots and leaves and plant in a sandy soil mixture, making sure that half the "trunk" is below soil level. Water the cutting in then allow soil to dry before watering again. Keep the offshoots in a brightly lit indoor area until leaves appear in several months. Fertilize with a mild application and water when the soil is damp but not all the way dry. When the new plants develop a hearty root system they may be repotted into a bonsai container.
Sago Palm likes to be root-bound so it should be repotted – in spring or summer – into a container only a bit larger than the root mass. The roots may be lightly pruned, and an equal amount of lower leaves removed at the same time. Water into the new pot and refrain from fertilizing for a few months.
Insects/Pests & Diseases
This bonsai is nearly indestructible but it can fall prey to scale. These appear as small brownish bumps on the foliage or trunk. They can be removed with the tip of a sharp knife, after which you need to wipe away the eggs underneath or spray with a mild insecticide or neem oil.