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Sago palms hard to grow in Central Texas

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Darla Horner Menking | Herald

This Sago palm is misshapen and has damaged fronds from recent cold weather. Both problems can be addressed with a good pruning.

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As I drive around town, I am always looking at plants.

With the harsh winter temperatures, I’m seeing quite a bit of damage to plants that aren’t adapted to our Central Texas climate, one of which is the Sago palm, Cycas revoluta. A native of Japan, this tropical plant is thought to have been around since prehistoric times.

Since the Sago isn’t acclimated to occasional harsh winters, a temperature of 15 degrees can kill it. I’ve seen several huge ones, so I know some of you find success by planting them in areas where the conditions are more protected.

Having grown up on the Texas Gulf Coast with Sago palms in abundance, I tried to grow them here on a few occasions but never had much luck.

Growing Sago palms can be difficult for a few reasons. They are fairly expensive if you get a decent-sized one, and I do suggest getting a larger one. This, however, makes for difficulty in planting since they are wide, heavy and have sharp points everywhere.

Sagos grow slowly, and the ones I saw that had the most frost damage or were a total loss were the smaller ones. If the winter temperatures are predicted to drop very low and you don’t want a lot of brown fronds, then the plant must be covered to protect it from frost.

When there is damage, the brown fronds should be pruned off in the spring. If you’ve ever done this, you know how difficult it is to do without injury due to the palm’s thorns and sharp edges.

Another difficulty in growing Sago palms is keeping it shaped. The fronds tend to grow in a beautiful, upright, arching manner with a large, thick trunk. They must be pruned regularly to keep this appearance. Not only do the older, lower fronds need to be taken off but the new growth “pups” as well. Most of the Sagos I see locally have been neglected. They end up looking like a tangled mess of disoriented fronds.

Finally, Sago palms are poisonous to dogs and cats, and can harm humans as well. All parts are toxic, the seeds being the most. Symptoms in pets include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, jaundice and loss of appetite.

But having worked with Sago palms, I can’t imagine anything wanting to get close enough to eat or chew on any part of them.

Darla Horner Menking is a Texas Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at darla.menking@gmail.com

1 image

Darla Horner Menking | Herald

This Sago palm is misshapen and has damaged fronds from recent cold weather. Both problems can be addressed with a good pruning.

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