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Plant Answer Line Question
I am interested in finding out if someone there can tell me the proper culture for Zamia furfuracea. I just acquired one that had been potted up as a bonsai and put on sale at a local grocery store. I think they may not have known or cared what it was. This is a plant I grew outdoors when I lived in California. I'm wondering what to do with it in Vancouver, WA. The options are greenhouse, patio pot, indoors, outdoors.
I found general cultural information from Florida State University Cooperative Extension. This is a zone 9b-11 plant, and your area is probably about zone 8, so I think you would want to grow this with some protection.
University of British Columbia Botanical Garden's discussion forum describes this as an indoor plant. This article in the journal of University of Arizona Cooperative Extension is about a similar plant, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, often confused with Zamia furfuracea.
Richard Langer's book, Grow It Indoors (Stackpole Books, 1995) says to grow this "handy table-sized cycad" in temperate partial sun with humusy soil that is kept constantly moist.
Another thing to keep in mind if you are growing this plant around pets or small children is its toxicity. The ASPCA lists this plant as toxic. Dr. Nelson's Veterinary Blog has an article entitled "Sago palms are poisonous to animals."
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Plant Answer Line Question
I have a Sago palm that for 3-4 years hasn't shown any new growth or hint of life, other than the same 4 fronds (actually, it is now only 3 since the one was an earlier shoot and eventually had to be cut after it had yellowed). The 3 existing fronds are still a uniform green and appear healthy enough. I water periodically, not frequently, when the soil feels dry to the touch.
About 2 years ago, I emailed some site specializing in Sago palms and inquired; they advised transplanting it into a new pot with new soil and to stop feeding it African Violet food (which I had been), saying that it was raising the electricity in the soil (which Sagos evidently don't like). I did as they said, using a soil mix that was a Sago preference, and only gave it plain water, but still nothing.
I've read that it enjoys direct sunlight; so I put it in the sun (during the warm seasons) and the leaves began to show signs of burning and prematurely drying out. I've also read that it enjoys shade or indirect light, and that's where it is now inside by a window; its leaves are not yellowing (at least not as fast as when in the sun; they are beginning to age as they ought), but, as said, it is fast, fast asleep. Our condo is not heated so the temp inside is relatively cool most of the time. I'm beginning to wonder if it is worth keeping; I really would like to see it flourish, of course, but how long do I wait?
To wit, is there a way to wake up this sleeping beauty?
The book Cycads of the World by David Jones (Reed Press, 1993) says that as a potted plant, Cycas revoluta will do well indoors with poor light and neglect, but does prefer sun. (The information from a nursery owner below says that the plant orientation is more important than the amount of sun). Good drainage is key, and watering when dry, and regular applications of light fertilizer should be helpful.
Through University of British Columbia Botanical Gardens online forum, I came across information from the owner of a British Columbia Cycad specialist nursery, Lori Pickering:
"Cycads are very hardy plants and are rarely bothered by pests or diseases. They do, however, require very loose soil with perfect drainage. Allow the soil to dry out somewhat between watering. If possible, use rain water or filtered water, which is pure and free from contaminants.
"Cycads do exceptionally well in pots. They actually like being root-bound, so do not be too anxious to re-pot. Always keep pots oriented in the same direction (e.g. facing north) to prevent the leaves from spiralling and twisting out of plane. Just write "N" on the pot with a felt marker.
"Cycad potting mix: 3 shovels friable loam, 2 shovels coarse sand, 4 shovels milled pine or fir bark, 1 shovel peat moss, one cup complete organic fertilizer (OR 45 grams slow-release balanced pellet fertilizer such as 18:6:18 with micro-elements, 40 grams dolomite lime, 3 grams iron sulphate, 3 grams magnesium sulphate). Mulch with compost. Cycads grown in pots do not have access to all the nutrients available when growing in the ground. During the growing season, when your cycads are summering out of doors, water every so often with a weak dilution of sea kelp or de-odorized liquid fish fertilizer, according to package directions. This will provide the trace elements they require for optimum growth.
"Complete Organic Fertilizer recipe: 4 parts seed meal (i.e. flax or canola), 1 part rock phosphate OR 1/2 part bone meal, 1 part lime, 1/2 part kelp meal.
"When planting cycads in the garden be sure they have excellent drainage. The best way to ensure this is to plant them on a mound and incorporate lots of sand into the soil. Some species are more tolerant of rainfall and frost than others, so be sure to choose the right plant for your situation.
"Asian Cycad Scale (Aulacaspis yasumatsui), a native of Thailand, is a pest that has been spread to cycad populations of the southern U.S., the Western Caribbean, and Hawaii. It has proved devastating to growers in those areas. So far it has not been found in Canada. That is another reason we grow all our cycads from seed and do not import any plants from abroad. (This scale looks like a white powder on the leaves)."
Cycad care instructions from the Jurassic Plants website (no longer available online):
"Cycads are generally very easy to grow. Their main requirement is perfect drainage, as they will develop root rot if water remains stagnant in the soil. A loose, fast-draining potting mix such a cactus mix is preferred, with a neutral to slightly alkaline soil, pH6 to 7. Terra cotta pots will help to keep the soil on the dry side and provide aeration. Fertilize with a low phosphorus (3-1-3 ratio) timed-release fertilizer including trace nutrients. All cycads benefit from a mulch, which will encourage the growth of their coralloid roots. Rain forest cycads especially are sensitive to salts in the water, so use rainwater or filtered water, if possible. Those from drier habitats are more tolerant of mineralization in the water. Some cycads prefer full sun, others shade, but always keep them oriented in the same direction (e.g., north) to keep the leaves from spiralling out of plane."
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April 11 2017 13:50:16