How to Care for Cycads

Most cycads require moderate humidity to truly thrive.
Most cycads require moderate humidity to truly thrive. (Image: Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Cycads represent a truly ancient division of plants dating back beyond the Jurassic period. Today, cycads occur naturally solely within tropical and subtropical ecosystems around the world, and many are cultivated as ornamental plants in frost-free areas for their feathery, palmlike fronds. Cycad care begins at planting since selecting an appropriate site and providing the right soil minimizes future problems with the plant, and they do require regular watering and feeding to reach their full potential.

Things You'll Need

  • Coarse horticultural grit
  • 3-1-3 ratio fertilizer
  • Soil nutrient test kit
  • Ammonium nitrate

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Locate a sheltered planting site with bright, diffuse light and adequate protection from strong wind. Choose an area with dappled sun or full sun for no more than two hours a day if an area with diffused light is not available.

Plant cycads in a bed with excellent drainage. Amend the soil with a 5-inch-thick layer of coarse horticultural grit. Work the coarse grit into the soil to a depth of about 2 feet.

Water cycads consistently throughout the year. Apply water at a volume of 2 inches per week. Avoid overwatering cycads since even the best-draining soil can become waterlogged and cause rot.

Feed cycads once a month from early April until October with 3-1-3 ratio fertilizer. Read and follow the label instructions when applying the fertilizer to minimize the chances of damage to the plant.

Spray the foliage of the cycad plant periodically to knock loose any insect pests that might try to make a home among the fronds. Spray with a jet hose nozzle set to low to moderate pressure. Pay special attention to the undersides of the fronds when spraying.

Watch for the emergence of discolored immature fronds, particularly if they are white or pale yellow in color. Test the soil to ascertain its nutrient content since pale fronds are an indication of a manganese deficiency. Treat the plant with ammonium nitrate to correct the imbalance. Follow the directions closely when working with ammonium nitrate.

Tips & Warnings

  • Cycads grow best in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 8b and above.


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