Sago palm watering should be simple. The sago palm (Cycas revoluta) is by far the most popular of all 200 plus species of cycad and probably comes to mind first for most people.
Sometimes mistaken for an actual palm plant, this living fossil is a very slow grower and can take years to reach its full 10′ foot height.
As it will only survive in USDA hardiness zones 9a to 12b (with a few sheltered areas of 8b reporting success), this small tree-sized plant is often grown as indoor plants.
This poses a problem, as the sago palm often acts more like a succulent than a cycad and looks more like a fern when young.
Those familiar with cycads will often inadvertently harm their sago by using the same care techniques as its relatives.
One of the most common mistakes in caring for this plant is its water needs.
Sago Palm Watering
Cycads generally love water, but sago palm is a drought-hardy plant and would rather dip a toe in the pool than go swimming.
Knowing the hows and whys of properly watering this ancient plant will lead to a long and happy relationship.
When To Water Sago Palm
How often you’ll need to water your Cycas revoluta depends mainly upon three factors: humidity, light, and time of year.
The lower the humidity, the faster your plant’s soil will dry out.
Likewise, the more sun it gets, the thirstier it will be, so a sago palm in direct sunlight may need watering almost every week, while one grown in the shade may be fine for a couple of weeks.
For this reason, always use the watering methods listed below instead of relying on a schedule.
Finally, sago palms don’t have a standard dormant period, but they can benefit from a rest period in the winter.
To let it rest, note how often you water it during the growing season and cut back to watering approximately ½ to ⅔ as often.
Conversely, you may choose to water when the soil dries down to 5″ to 6″ inches during this period.
Related: Getting Rid Of Sago Palm Scale
What Type of Water to Use?
While this is a perfectly reasonable consideration for experienced growers, beginners are often confused when they hear about different water types.
The water you use on your plants can have a significant effect on the plant’s health and happiness over time, as well as the amount of care it’ll need.
You would always use rainwater in a perfect world, which provides some health benefits due to its purity.
Instead, most growers will fall back on distilled water, which has had all harmful chemicals and minerals removed.
Baby water is another name for distilled water and is perfectly fine to use.
You can even add a little hydrogen peroxide to your distilled water every few waterings to emulate rainwater.
On the flip side of the coin, tap water is extremely bad for your plants.
The chlorine and fluoride can cause chemical burns, while sediment in the water may include iron or sulfates that can mildly poison your plant.
When using tap water, allow it to sit overnight so the chlorine gas can escape.
Running it through a Brita filter (chemicals) and/or Zero Water filter (minerals and microbes) will further reduce the harmful effects of tap water.
Finally, always use room temperature water, as cold water can shock a plant’s roots.
The Watering Method
As with most popular potted plants that can be grown indoors, sago palms benefit most from a combination of soak-and-dry and the finger method.
Stick your finger in the soil to test dryness and water when it feels dry 2 to 3″ inches down.
You will want to water the plant slowly and thoroughly until it begins seeping out from the drainage holes.
This not only ensures the water properly saturates the soil but will also flush out various mineral salts that could eventually make the soil toxic.
Think of it as flushing your toilet, only with you standing in it when you use it, and you’ll see why the sago palm tree appreciates this method.
If you have a drip pan under the cycad’s container, allow the plant to sit for 15 to 30 minutes to ensure all the excess has drained out and dump the pan.
Allowing the palm to sit in water is dangerous, so do your best to ensure it doesn’t have to for longer than necessary.
Excess Water And Overwatering Risks
Unlike most other cycads, the sago palm is highly sensitive to overwatering.
When you see yellowing sago palm leaves, immediately check the soil’s moisture levels and allow it to dry out to at least 4 to 5″ inches down before watering again.
If symptoms persist, you may have to do an emergency transplant to fresh soil, adding a layer of aggregate (such as coarse sand, gravel, or perlite) at the bottom of the pot to give a better buffer zone.
But yellowing leaves aren’t the worst danger of overwatering.
Root rot can hit hard and fast, and if not caught quickly, can kill your sago palm.
Some Final Sago Watering Tips
Giving your sago palm a spot with higher ambient humidity will reduce how often you have to water it.
You can augment this humidity by using a humidifier or placing a pebble tray nearby.
Placing your sago palm among other plants is also an excellent way to build up humidity.
Also, make sure you never get water on the plant itself, as this can lead to sunburn.
Drought conditions can affect the soil’s ability to absorb water, so if the earth feels too firm, you can apply just a little water about 20 minutes before the actual watering, so there’s less risk of pooling or poor drainage.
Remember, this plant is somewhat drought-tolerant and stores water in its caudex, much like succulents.
When in doubt, less is best.