The tortoise of the plant world, sago palms (Cycas revoluta) are a cycad that behaves much like a succulent and can take a good 50 years to reach its maximum average height of 10’ feet (although 15’ foot specimens have been observed in ideal conditions).
While not a palm tree, the plant gets its name because of the visual resemblance, while “sago” is a type of edible plant starch that’s often harvested from this and other plants.
An actual palm tree species, Metroxylon sagu, is known as the “true sago palm” and the name sometimes causes confusion between the two unrelated species.
When growing a plant that’s literally a relic from the age of dinosaurs, you can be assured it’s not too picky and very well adapted to almost any condition.
However, the more you can cater to its preferences, the more this cycad will be able to give back.
This plant isn’t likely to survive in USDA hardiness zones lower than 9a, so it’s most often grown indoors as a generations-spanning container plant.
As a result, one of the best areas in which to pamper in your Cycas revoluta care happens to be its soil.
Sago Palm Soil
Cycas revoluta is very forgiving when it comes to soil, but there are still some rules to follow for the best possible results.
Here’s everything you need to know to ensure your sago palm is getting the most out of its soil.
Sago Palm’s Soil Preferences
This cycad is more like succulents than other cycads and absolutely hates to sit in water.
As a result, it works best in a sandy or loamy soil, but will not survive well in clay soils unless amended with an aggregate such as gravel or coarse sand.
Organic matter, while not essential, really helps this plant do its best and is highly recommended.
Speaking of tolerances, your cycad will enjoy soils with an acid to neutral pH of around 6.5 to 7.0.
Fertilizers that improve acidity are great, and should provide manganese, an essential mineral that will help prevent yellow leaves.
A fertilizer meant for actual palms applied once in April, June, and August will work well with the sago palm, even though the plant is unrelated.
Picking a Commercial Potting Mix
Most sandy houseplant mixes will work for your potted sago palm, although you can also use a cactus or succulent mix.
Pick out a good mix that offers loose soil and great drainage so your plant won’t have to worry about the soil compacting too far.
Additionally, you will want to add some perlite or coarse sand into the mix to help keep it loose.
This leads us to the elephant in the room: cheap commercial soils.
Never buy a potting soil that seems too cheap to be true.
These soils are sold cheap because they cut corners when preparing and packaging the mix.
Most notorious is the fact that these soils are often not sterilized, allowing fungal and microbial spores to lay dormant until your precious sago plant awakens them.
Likewise, many soil-based infestations are able to remain dormant as eggs or grubs throughout the winter and can easily infest your plants.
Even if the pest isn’t a problem for your cycad, they could spread to attack any other plants nearby.
Instead, always go for a brand name that has a good reputation.
One of the best options in a MiracleGro cactus and succulent mix, amended with perlite.
Not only is MiracleGro rich in organic matter, but it’s a tried and trusted brand that has been used for generations without any major quality issues.
Related: Starting Sago Palm Pups
Using Commercial Regular Potting Soil Mixes
As mentioned, using a commercial mix doesn’t just mean dumping a bag into your container and being done.
It’s a good idea to put a layer of aggregate at the bottom of the pot, such as coarse gravel or perlite.
This creates a buffer zone so water will drain more efficiently with less risk of the lower roots or the root ball sitting in a reservoir.
Follow this up with a combination of potting mix and perlite or coarse sand, with a ratio somewhere around 3:1 or 3:2.
A high quality potting mix will have plenty of organic matter, but you might still wish to add some mulch or compost to the top.
Homemade Potting Soil for Sago Palms
Sometimes the best blends are those you make yourself, and your sago palm tree will love a good homemade potting mix.
One of the best recipes for this plant is also one of the most simplistic.
Try mixing one part each of coarse sand or perlite, peat moss, and pine bark.
This provides an efficient soilless mix that is not only well-draining but also has plenty of organic matter.
The peat will retain some water, allowing the plant to drink without the roots getting too wet.
Amending Outdoor Soils
You will likely wish to amend the soil in your garden before planting a sago palm.
Begin with a substrate of coarse gravel to ensure good drainage during rainstorms, and amend the soil with sand or perlite as needed. When planting is a pot always use a container with drainage holes.
You will also have to consider cross contamination with the soil around nearby plants.
Lawn fertilizers, for example, can seep into the soil around your sago plant.
If your planting zone lacks a barrier, you will need to adjust your cycad’s fertilizer intake to account for any cross-contamination, which can be measured using soil test kits found at many garden stores.
The Benefits of Mulching
While Cycas revoluta is able to handle most soils, it really appreciates plenty of organic matter.
Mulch not only provides a slow release of matter into the soil, but can also help prevent weeds and other problems.
A 3” inch layer of mulch in zones 9a to 9b can help protect the plant from light frosts or temperature drops.
Try to avoid allowing the mulch to pile up around the trunk or crown, as this can lead to water retention and possible rot.