By Bonnie L. Grant
Sago palms belong to the oldest plant family still on earth, the cycads. They are not truly palms but cone forming flora which have been around since before the dinosaurs. The plants are not winter hardy and rarely survive the season in zones below United States Department of Agriculture zone 8. Winterizing sago palms in lower zones is essential if you don’t want the plant to die.
There are a few methods on how to over winter a sago plant, and it is essential to take steps before chilly temperatures arrive. As long as you offer sago palm winter protection, you can be sure the slow growing cycad will be around for the following years of enjoyment.
Sago Palm Winter Care
Sago palms are found in warm growing conditions. The long feathery leaves are palm-like and divided into sections. The overall effect is of large broad leaves heavily textured and an exotic sculpted form. Cycads are not tolerant of freezing conditions, but sagos are the hardiest of all the varieties.
They can withstand brief periods of temperatures as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit but are killed at 23 degrees Fahrenheit or below. This means you need to provide sago palm winter protection. The amount of care you need to take depends upon the length of the cold snap and the zone in which you live.
Winterizing Sago Palms Outside
Sago care in winter where temperatures do not freeze is minimal. Keep the plant moderately moist but do not give it as much moisture as you do in summer. This is because the plant is semi-dormant and not actively growing.
Even in warmer areas, a light layer of mulch around the base of the palm offers extra sago palm winter protection for the roots and conserves moisture while preventing competitive weeds.
If your palm is located where light freezes occasionally occur, sago care in winter should start with a 3-inch layer of mulch around the root zone.
Prune off dead leaves and stems as they occur and feed the plant in late winter to early spring to get the growth season off to a good start.
Covering the plant with a burlap bag or lightweight blanket is a good way of providing sago palm winter protection from short term freezes. Watch the weather report and cover the plant before you go to bed. Uncover when frost has melted in the morning.
Should you miss a night and your cycad gets zapped by the cold, it may kill the leaves. Simply cut off the dead foliage, fertilize in spring and it will probably come back with new leaves.
How to Overwinter a Sago Plant Indoors
Plant grown in areas with regular freezes should be potted in containers. Sago palm winter care for these cycads includes placing the container in a cool but well lit room.
Provide water only every 2 to 3 weeks or when the soil has dried out.
Don’t fertilize during this period but do give it cycad food in spring as new growth begins to start.