Sago Palm Problems: Dealing With Common Sago Palm Pests And Disease

The sago palm (Cycas revoluta) is a lush, tropical looking plant with large feathery leaves. It is a popular houseplant and a bold outdoor accent in warmer regions. The sago palm requires plenty of sunlight but prefers part-shade in hotter climates. Sago palm is easy to grow but it does have some diseases and pests. Read on to learn more.

Common Sago Palm Problems

Dealing with common sago palm pests and disease doesn’t have to spell the demise of your plant. If you know about the issues that affect sagos the most and how to handle them, you’ll be well on your way to correcting them. Common problems with sago palm plants include sago palm yellowing, scale, mealybugs and root rot.

Yellowing sago plants

Sago palm yellowing is common in older leaves as they get ready to drop to the ground and make way for newer leaves. If you have ruled out scale and mealybugs, yellowing in younger leaves may be caused by a lack of manganese in the soil.

Applying manganese sulfate powder to the soil two to three times per year will correct the problem. It won’t save the already yellowed leaves, but subsequent growth should sprout green and healthy.

Scale and mealybugs

Sago palm pests include scale and mealybugs. Mealybugs are fuzzy white bugs that feed on stems and fruit of plants causing leaf disfiguration and fruit drop. Mealybugs reproduce and spread rapidly so you must attend to them immediately. Control ants, too, as they like the excrement called “honeydew” of mealybugs. Ants will sometimes farm mealybugs for honeydew.

Apply a strong spray of water and/or insecticidal soap to wash these sago palm pests away and/or kill them. More toxic chemical controls aren’t very effective against mealybugs, as the waxy coating on these pests protect them from chemicals. If the mealybugs really get out of hand, you should dispose of the sago palm in the garbage.

Other sago palm pests include various types of scales. Scales are round little insects that form a hard outer shell that is resistant to insecticides. Scales may appear brown, grey, black or white. Scales suck juices from the plants stems and leaves, depriving the plant of its nutrients and water. Asian scale, or Asian cycad scale, is a big problem in the southeast. It causes the plant to look like it has been flocked with snow. Eventually, the leaves turn brown and die.

To control scale you need to apply and reapply horticultural oils and toxic systemic insecticides every few days. In between treatments, you must remove the dead insects, as they won’t detach on their own. They may be harboring living scales beneath them. You can do this with a scrub brush or high pressure hose. If the scale really gets out of control, it is best to remove the plant so the scale doesn’t spread into other plants.

Root rot

Sago palm diseases include Phytophthora fungi. It invades the roots and root crowns of the plant causing root rot. Root rot results in leaf wilt, discoloration, and leaf drop. One way to identify the Phytophthora disease is to look for a dark vertical stain or sore on the trunk possibly with black or red-black oozing sap.

This disease will retard plant growth, cause die-back or even kill the plant. Phytophthora loves compacted, poor draining, overwatered soil. Make sure you plant your sago palm in good draining soil and do not overwater it.

Sago Palm Seeds

Close-up of the seeds of a sago cycad palm. The seeds are poisonous and very harmful to pets

Sago palms reproduce through seeds that grow in cones in the middle of the leaf mass. You can plant sago palm seeds flat down on their side in soil, with one-third of the seed exposed. Remember that the sago palm seeds are poisonous and should be kept away from children or pets.

Cycad Aulacaspis Scale

Sagos were once considered traditional Florida landscape plants, but their popularity has dwindled, thanks to a pest called cycad aulacaspis scale, or Asian cycad scale.

Aulacaspis yasumatsui is an armored scale that has been observed on many cycads in Florida from the Cycadaceae, Zamiaceae, and Standeriaceae families, although this scale seems to favor sagos.

Newly hatched scales, called crawlers, initially infest the trunk and base of the leaves. These crawlers will also infest the leaves, cones, seeds, and roots of cycads. The damage from these tiny sucking insects initially appears as yellow or bleached-looking spots, eventually making the leaves brown and crispy. Highly infested cycads are almost completely covered with a white crust that consists of living and dead insects.

Cycad aulacaspis scale seems to spread over short distances by wind, and long distances by the transport of infested plants. It can coat a sago within months and kill it within a year. The scale can even affect the roots down to two feet deep.

Cycad aulacaspis scale is a tough pest to get rid of, but repeated treatments with horticultural oils or an approved systemic insecticide may help. To manage this scale, wash your plant with a vigorous spray of water to remove any dead or living scales. Then apply a horticultural oil, like Organocide, SunSpray oil, or Ultra-Fine oil, over the entire plant weekly for one month.

If you have heavily infested plants, remove the leaves before treating. Carefully discard removed fronds with household trash, not yard trash. In the case of severe infestations you may need to treat the roots as well. Frequent oil treatments can result in an unsightly build-up of oil and dead scales, but this can be improved by occasionally hosing the plant off.

South and Central Florida have seen some decline in Asian cycad scale populations recently. In South Florida, two natural enemies of the scale were introduced in 1997-98: Cybocephalus nipponicus, a predaceous beetle, and Coccobius fulvus, a parasitic wasp. While they have contributed to a decrease in the population of the scale, neither insect is able to provide complete control.

Contact your local county Extension office for more information on controlling Asian cycad scale. Another option is to consider an alternative plant. The Dioon genus of cycads are rarely attacked by this pest.

Sago Palm Problems

Problems in growing sago palm go beyond the pests and diseases that can inflict them. Read on to learn about the various factors that can affect the growth of these trees.

Problems in growing sago palm go beyond the pests and diseases that can inflict them. Read on to learn about the various factors that can affect the growth of these trees.

The sago palm is botanically known as Cycas revoluta. Although their appearance is quite similar to a palm, they do not belong to the palm family. They are cycads, belonging to the division Cycadophyta. Sago palms are characterized by a stout trunk and a large crown of bright green compound leaves. Native to southern Japan, these are now popularly cultivated as ornamental landscaping plants or an indoor houseplants in warm temperate and subtropical regions.

This is a very slow growing plant, and it needs a good 50-100 years to reach its maximum height of 20 feet. Its trunk is low and it has multiple branching, with each branch producing new leaf heads. The leaves are bright green and glossy, curved towards the end, and about 20-60 inches long. When a sago reaches the reproductive age, it bears a feather-like rosette. Being dioecious in its sexual reproduction patterns, the male plants bear cones and the female plants bear groups of megasporophylls separately. The sago palms belongs to the Mesozoic Era, and for this reason are known as living fossils.

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Sago palm is a long living plant. It does not like to be moved once planted. Moreover, as its spread is quite large, the location for planting must be chosen with care for proper growth. This ancient plant is extremely hardy, and it will survive extreme heat, cold, or even frost. It enjoys light, but not direct harsh sun, as the leaves tend to turn a yellow-brown with too much sun exposure. It must be grown in partially shaded areas outdoors, and towards a source of light indoors. It does very well in well-drained and sandy soil rich in humus. Although tolerant of drought, it cannot withstand too much water, so avoid swampy locations and water-retaining soil for plantation. Water the plant when the top soil completely dries up. The sago palm does not like too much watering, especially in winters. 2-3 applications of a balanced fertilizer during its active growth season, i.e., March to September, is more than enough to keep this plant healthy. Avoid excess fertilizing, as it will wilt the leaves.


  • Scales:
    An infestation of scales can ruin the appearance of the sago palm, turning the leaves yellow. Scales appear as tiny, and sometimes sticky, white spots on the underside of the plant’s leaves. Unchecked, they can spread to the trunk and roots as well.
  • Large Leaves:
    Although not one of the major problems with sago palms, its beautiful leaves need to be kept clean and free of all wind-blown leaves or dead insects that get trapped in its fronds. Rotting debris can cause an array of fungal infections, damaging the plant.
  • Toxicity:
    Although a popular landscaping plant, sago palm does not find much favor with home garden growers, especially pet owners, because of its high levels of toxicity. Within 12 hours of consuming the fronds of this plant, pets and humans can experience internal bleeding, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, liver failure, etc. According to the Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA), a fatality rate of 50 to 75% after ingesting sago palm has been estimated among pets.

Another problem with this plant is its slow growth rate, only a couple of inches every year. But then, a true plant enthusiast does not really mind the wait!

Watch the video: How to Trim a Male Sago Palm

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