Why Is My Sago Palm Turning Yellow?

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There are several reasons why your sago palm is turning yellow.

The deep green leaves and majestic trunk of the sago palm (​Cycas​ ​revoluta​, USDA plant hardiness zones 9 through 10) make a beautiful and gracious addition indoors or out. A sago palm that begins to turn sickly yellow needs some attention before the entire plant begins to suffer.

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A sago palm that begins to turn yellow is more than likely deficient in vital nutrients.

Sago Palm Basics

The thick, ribbed fronds that sprout from the trunk may make the versatile plant resemble a palm, but sago palms are actually in the fern family of cycads. These hardy, cone-bearing plants are slow-growing and can last for generations once planted and properly cared for. They can grow from a petite 3-feet-tall to a towering 10 feet.

While they aren't technically palms, a sickly, yellow-tinged sago palm can be treated with the same fertilizers and techniques that you would use on palm trees.

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Sago Palm and Soil

The sago palm is favored for its ease of care. The plant grows best in rich, well-drained and slightly acidic soil. Look for a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. If the pH is too high or too low, this could mean the plant is in need of nutrients. Use a soil testing kit to determine the pH balance. There are other ways to tell what the sago palm may be in need of to return it to its glossy green coloring.

Watering Sago Palms

These tropical plants need just the right amount of water and humidity. Watering too much will create yellow leaves — and so will underwatering. A good rule of thumb is to water the sago palm when the soil is dry to the touch near the base of the trunk.

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Be consistent when watering to ensure the plant doesn't drown its roots or thirst for a plentiful drink. Give it a good soak so the water reaches about 2 feet below the soil surface. If you aren't sure whether water is the issue, turn off the irrigation to the plant and adjust how much water it receives. If the plant is in need of water, the tips of the leaves may turn brown rather than yellow.

Sago palms grown indoors may need extra humidity to keep the leaves lush and glossy. Place a tray of water near the plant or spritz the leaves with water a few times a week.

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Nutrients for Sago Palms

When the sago leaves begin to show a yellow tinge, it may be due to a deficiency in the soil. The sago needs nitrogen, magnesium and potassium to keep its leaves bright and its trunk sturdy.

The sago palm may be deficient in nitrogen if the older leaves on the outer rim of the canopy are turning yellow. A magnesium deficiency will show up as yellow bands along the leaf, but will leave the central leaf a healthy shade of green. If the inner leaves of the palm look shriveled and/or yellow, this can also be due to a magnesium deficiency.

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A general palm tree fertilizer applied to the base of the plant can add the needed nutrients. Fertilize only established sago palms that have had at least three months to adjust to the soil and space.

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Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for a variety of clients, including The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal Home section and other national publications. As a professional writer she has researched, interviewed sources and written about home improvement, interior design and related business trends. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her full bio and clips can be viewed at www.vegaswriter.com.