Sago palms, known botanically as the species Cycas revoluta, are ancient cycads commonly lumped in with palms because of their tropical appearance and fountain-like growth form. Sago palms are slow growing and slow to propagate themselves via seed, which causes them to be valued at a premium and costly to use in the landscape. Like most shrubs and trees, mature sago palms cannot survive without any of their root mass attached. There are instances when a portion of the roots can be pruned, such as when moving the sago becomes necessary or by removing offsets from the main root mass to propagate the plant.
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Root Pruning for Transplanting
Sago palms have large root balls that continue to grow along with the plant over the years. If you must move a sago palm to save it from construction damage or move it to your new home, do so carefully, with ample planning and diligent aftercare. Maintaining a minimum root mass is critical. For a sago palm with a leaf canopy 3 feet in diameter, preserve a minimum root mass of 16 inches in diameter and 12 inches in depth. For either smaller or larger sago palms, keep this ratio as a guide and keep as much of the root mass as possible.
Unlike with a pineapple, you cannot lop off the top of a sago palm, plant it in soil and grow a new healthy plant. Conversely, if all of the foliage and trunk is removed from a healthy root system, the chances the palm will sprout a new top to replace the old is slim to none. Separating the plant top and trunk from the root ball must be avoided unless you intend to permanently remove or destroy the plant. As sago palms are very valuable compared to other specimen plants, this fact along with their large root systems may help prevent them from being stolen as frequently as other prized landscape ornamentals.
Removing Pups From a Parent Sago
Sago palms propagate themselves in two ways: setting seeds and by producing offset or baby side plants called pups. The offsets can be removed from the parent sago trunk and root mass to be planted elsewhere, forming a new stand-alone palm. When offsets are present on a sago palm that is dying or will be lost because of a move or other circumstance, remove the young offsets to prevent them from being lost as well. Plant the pups in clean soil, keeping the soil consistently moist so that pup can root into the soil. Place the pup in a growing location with very bright indirect sunlight. The young plants grow slowly and need six months to a year to become established.
Caring for Root Pruned and Transplanted Sago Palms
Once the root mass has been reduced, the palm struggles to take up the required amount of water it needs to sustain the top growth, which remains the same size. Each root cut is a point-of-moisture loss as well, adding to the stress the sago palm experiences. Diligent aftercare for the year after root pruning and or transplanting is critical to the palm resuming growth and fighting off disease. Keep the transplanted root ball constantly moist, with regular deep watering, but not constantly soaking wet. After transplanting, use a specialty palm fertilizer or palm food, formulated with both micro and macro nutrients. The fertilizer helps ease the loss of nutrient uptake by the truncated root system. Carefully follow the label recommended dosing guidelines and do not overfeed the palm as this can create problems. These actions help boost the survival chances of the palm and help it to establish new roots in the soil as quickly as possible for the species, which still is slowly -- so be patient.