Guide to Prosperous Sago Palms

22 Oct 2021

The sago palm has stunning lush green foliage and is used as a decorative piece in many homes. This tropical houseplant isn’t too tough to care for and with some TLC it can live in your home for decades to come.

In this article, we will delve into a sago palm’s key characteristics, care requirements, and potential issues that it may face.

Main Features

The sago palm’s botanical name is cycas revoluta, and it belongs to the Cycadaceae family. It goes by a few other names too, such as king sago, palm cycad, and Japenese funeral palm. It gets this name as it’s native to Japan and its leaves were traditionally used in funeral arrangements.

This pre-historic plant is not a true palm at all but it’s rather closely related to a conifer. The cycad is one of the oldest plants alive today and dates back to 300 million years ago. That means it’s been around longer than dinosaurs!

Fun Fact: The sago palm is also called a “living fossil” due to how old the species is.


There are a few different plants that are also referred to as sago palm. Let’s take a quick look at the different sago palms, this way you’ll be sure to not get them confused with the king sago palm.

  • Queen sago (cycas rumphii): Much like a cycas revoluta, this sago palm is also similar to a conifer than it is to a palm. It can grow up to 15 feet (4.5m) tall and it’s native to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
  • Queen sago palm (cycas circinalis): This tree-like cycad can reach heights of around 10 feet (3m). It is native to India and this palm’s population is unfortunately declining.
  • True sago palm (metroxylon sagu): This sago palm really is an actual palm. This multi-stemmed palm is native to East Asia through Malaysia.

Did you know that the Cycadaceae family has over 100 different species?

How Big Do They Get?

In optimal conditions, this palm can grow around 3 to 10 feet (0.9 – 3m) tall and 2 to 12 feet (0.6 – 3.6m) wide. Its leaves can also grow up to 4 to 5 feet (1.2 – 1.5m) long.

How Fast Do They Grow?

Sago palms are extremely slow-growers and can even take up to 50 years to reach their mature height. Typically, it will grow 1 to 2 inches (2.5 – 5cm) a year.

How Long Do They Live?

If well cared for, your palm can be passed down through generations. It survives as an indoor plant for 25 to 50 years, however, outdoor palms manage to survive for over 200 years.

Are They Poisonous to Dogs, Cats and People?

The cycas revoluta is highly toxic to both people and pets due to the toxin cycasin. This toxin is a neurotoxic glycoside, which is a nerve-poisoning plant sugar.

It is imperative that this houseplant is kept well out of reach from your child or pet. Below, we’ll describe how the plant affects both animals and humans.

Pets’ Symptoms

The most toxic part of the palm is the seed, if your furry friend eats the seed it may suffer from liver failure and if left untreated may even die.

If either your cat or dog ingests any part of the palm it will experience the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Drooling
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nose bleeds
  • An increase in thirst and urination

Please contact your vet immediately if your pet has ingested any part of the sago palm or its seed.

People’s Symptoms

If either you or a child ingests any part of the sago palm, the following symptoms may crop up:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Ascites (fluid in the abdomen)
  • Cirrhosis (Late-stage liver disease)
  • Jaundice (the yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Liver failure

You will need to seek professional medical advice at once if either you or a child eats the sago palm.

Sago palm - size, lifespan, toxicity, growth speed (infographics)

Sago Palm Care

If you want your cycas revoluta to live for many decades then you’ll need to look after it properly. Below, we’ll guide you through the optimal care routine and environmental requirements to keep your palm happy and healthy.

How Often to Water

When it comes to watering your sago palm, you’ll need to be careful. It requires moist soil but is highly sensitive to overwatering. It’s slightly drought tolerant but the plant prefers a decent amount of moisture.

Typically, you can water the palm every 3 days or so depending on the climate. The most important aspect when it comes to watering the sago palm is that the top inch (2.5cm) of the soil must be dry.

Always feel the soil before you water it, and check that the top layer of soil is dry to touch. If the soil’s surface is wet then you should wait a day or two before watering it. This way you’ll be sure to avoid overwatering your palm and causing its roots to rot.


Excellent drainage is imperative for this plant as it won’t survive being waterlogged. You can enhance drainage by using the right type of pot and soil.

You can greatly improve the potting soil’s drainage by adding in some perlite, vermiculite or peat moss. This will ensure that your potting mixture is aerated too.

When deciding on the type of pot to use, it’s best to go with a clay pot like a terracotta container, the same can be said about the snake plant. Porous material allows for air and water to move through which is perfect for this houseplant. It’ll allow for the soil to dry out faster and the roots will receive plenty of air.

A container with an ample amount of drainage holes is a must. The sago palm cannot thrive when it is sitting in water because its roots will drown. The holes at the bottom of the pot allow all that excess water to flow out.

How to Trim It

The sago palm doesn’t require regular trimming and you’ll need to be careful when doing so. The most important thing when it comes to pruning this houseplant is to only cut off fronds that have completely turned brown.

You may be tempted to remove those few yellow leaves that are taking away from the palm’s gorgeous aesthetic. Don’t do it! Those yellow fronds are still absorbing nutrients for your palm, and removing them may cause others to become yellow too.

If you feel that you must trim off the fronds then only remove the lower levels ones at the bottom of the palm. Keep in mind that you don’t want to cut back too much of the foliage as you will end up damaging the sago palm. Excessive pruning may even slow down its growth and weaken your houseplant.

When you snip off the fronds, use a sterilized pair of scissors or shears and cut it off as close to the trunk as possible.


Cycas revoluta only requires to be repotted every 2 to 3 years as it’s a super slow-growing plant. Ideally, you should transplant it in some fresh, well-draining soil during the springtime. This will give it an ample amount of time to settle into its new home before winter.

Here’s a quick and easy guide to transplanting a sago palm:

  1. Tilt the container to the side and gently slide the palm out. It’s super sturdy making it easy to pull the plant out.
  2. Find a new pot and fill it up with a nutrient-rich and peaty-soil.
  3. Plant the palm in the center of the container at the same depth that it was previously planted.
  4. Water the palm deeply and thoroughly.
  5. Take it back to its original sunny home and care for it as normally would.


Below, we’ll be exploring how to create the optimal environment for a thriving sago palm.

Light Requirements

Just like devil’s ivy, the sago palm loves bright indirect sunlight. It can tolerate some shade but it won’t thrive, however, it cannot withstand direct sunshine. The harsh sun rays during the summertime will scorch your palm’s fronds.

Top Tip: Find a bright windowsill for your palm where it’ll soak in all that sunshine.


Sago palms prefer a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH, just like the rattlesnake plant. As the plant flourishes in moist soil, this means it’ll need to be well-draining too.

Try adding in some perlite, sand or pumice to really enhance the drainage and for the best results use a loamy potting mixture. The soil mix must be light, fluffy, and slightly sandy for your plant to thrive.


Sago palms require regular feeding, it’s ideal to fertilize them once a month during spring through autumn. It’s not necessary to feed it during the winter months as it isn’t actively growing.

The whole point of feeding your palm is to encourage growth, blooms and make sure it isn’t lacking in any nutrients. The best type of fertilizer would be a balanced liquid one with a ratio of 18-8-18. The plant requires much more nitrogen than it does phosphorus or potassium.

Keep in mind that if you’re using a clay pot then you will need to dilute the fertilizer to about half its strength.

Pot Size and Type

We previously mentioned that a terracotta container is the most ideal pot for a sago palm, however, a plastic one will do just fine. No matter what type of container you grow your cycas revoluta in, it must have 3 to 5 drainage holes.

Make sure that the pot’s diameter is about 2 to 3 inches (5 – 7.6cm) wider than the rootball, to allow enough space for growth and prevent the plant from becoming root-bound.


It prefers temperatures ranging from 65 to 75°F (18.3 – 23.8°C), however, be cautious not to expose it to extreme temperature fluctuations.

Cycas revoluta can tolerate cooler temperatures but it won’t survive temperatures below 23°F (-5°C).


The sago palm prefers a humid environment, specifically around 50% relative humidity. So you’re going to want to keep it away from any drafts or vents to maintain consistent a humidity level and temperature range.

During the winter when it’s cooler and the air is slightly drier, you should spritz the fronds with lukewarm water. You can also try putting a humidifier in the same room as the plant or placing it on a humidity tray. Below we’ll explain how to make your own humidity tray.

Steps to creating your own humidity tray:

  1. Find a tray and fill it with some pebbles and a little room temperature water.
  2. Place the pot on top of the pebbles.
  3. Make sure that the container isn’t touching the water. This way when the water evaporates it creates a humid environment surrounding the plant.

Outdoors vs. Indoors

Your cycas revoluta will flourish outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 10. It can only be grown outside in warm regions as it can’t withstand the cold.

If you decide to grow your palm outdoors then make sure that it’s placed in partial shade and watered well. It’s also important to monitor the weather and when it gets too cool you will need to relocate the plant inside.

Sago palms can benefit greatly from growing outdoors especially when it receives natural rainwater.

Sago palm - care, water, light, pot, temperature, fertilizer (infographics)

Do They Bloom?

Unfortunately, just like the rubber plant, the sago palm rarely blooms indoors. If it does bloom it will occur during the summertime.

The cycas revoluta is dioecious, meaning that the plant is either male or female. A male plant will produce a golden pineapple-like cone, while a female will sprout a golden feathered flower with a packed seedhead.

Fun Fact: A female cycas revoluta will only be able to produce seeds if a male sago palm is close by.

How to Grow It

There are two ways to grow a sago palm; propagate its pups and plant its seeds. Check out the steps below to grow a flourishing and thriving cycas revoluta.

Propagating Pups

Cycas revoluta produces smaller baby sago palms, these are called pups or offsets. Propagating these pups is a brilliant way to multiply your sago palm collection. It also benefits the mother plant as it reduces any crowding and promotes more air circulation around the base of the palm.

It is best to propagate the pups in early spring or late autumn. To increase the chances of successful propagation, use an offset that is about 4 to 5 inches (10 – 12.7cm) wide.

Follow these simple steps below:

  1. Use a clean blade to cut the pup at the base of the adult palm. You could even remove it by lightly tugging on the offset but be careful not to damage the parent plant.
  2. Find a shady spot and allow the offset to rest for about a week until the cut area has been calloused over. This will prevent any diseases from entering the baby palm.
  3. Prepare a container with potting soil and add in some pumice, perlite or sand to make sure it’s well-draining. Additionally, the pot should be no more than 2 inches (5cm) wider than the pup.
  4. Plant the offset and water it well. Make sure to avoid watering the offset directly to prevent root rot.
  5. Find a new sunny home for the pup and allow the soil to dry before watering it again.
  6. In 6 to 12 months the pup should have rooted and grown new leaves.

How to Plant Its Seeds

Growing a sago palm from a seed is not a reliable or quick method. You will have to be patient as it takes a while to germinate and it may not always be successful.

The seeds are usually a bright orange or red color, and remember to be careful when handling the seed as it’s highly toxic.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to planting sago palm seeds:

  1. First, you will need to soak the seeds in some tepid water overnight.
  2. Take out a shallow tray and add in a peaty soil mixture.
  3. Take the seed and gently press it into the soil making sure that one-third of the seed is above soil level. Place clear plastic over the tray to retain the warmth and moisture.
  4. Find a warm home for the little seeds and keep the soil moist by regularly misting it.
  5. You may have to wait about 3 months before the seeds germinate, and then you may remove the plastic.
  6. Finally, care for the seedlings as you would a mature palm and repot them when necessary.

How to Revive

The sago palm is pretty hardy and typically doesn’t run into many issues, however, the most common problems are the yellowing of its leaves and root rot.

If you suspect that your plant isn’t doing too well, don’t freak out because we’ll tell you exactly what you need to do to revive it.

Why Is It Turning Yellow?

There are three major reasons as to why your sago palm’s leaves may turn a yellow color; old age, a lack of nutrients, and improper drainage.


If the lower levels are turning yellow and brown, then this is a sign of aging. There is nothing to worry about as it’s a completely normal occurrence.

You should only be concerned when newer growth yellows or a large number of leaves begin to change color.

Nutrient Deficient

There are two ways to solve this issue:

  • Feed the palm more often with a regular balanced fertilizer.
  • Add in some powdered manganese sulfate to the soil 2 to 3 times a year.

Poor Drainage

A newly planted palm may suffer from inadequate drainage causing the plant to become waterlogged. If improper drainage is indeed the problem then quickly transplant the palm into some well-draining and aerated potting soil.

Root Rot

If the trunk and roots have become soft or mushy then your plant may be suffering from root rot. You may also notice that its fronds are wilting and dropping off. Another sign of root rot is when a black stain oozes from the trunk.

Root rot is a fungal infection caused by severe overwatering. You need to cease watering the palm immediately and repot it in some dry nutrient-rich soil as soon as possible. When you repot it, cut back any unhealthy roots and water it in a few days’ time.

Keep a good eye on your sago palm and think about adjusting your watering schedule to prevent any further damage.

Concluding Thoughts

The lush sago palm is pretty straightforward to care for and it can be quite forgiving. Just remember to water it well, make sure it gets all the sunshine and food it needs. Last but not least keep in mind that drainage is super important.

A final note; it is imperative that you keep it out of your pet and child’s reach as it is highly toxic.

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