Q:  What is wrong with my palm frond? 

 A:  First conspicuous sign of infestation is large quantities of “frass” which is the fibrous, excrement from the larval form of a tiny moth called the Palm leaf skeletonizer, Homaledra sabalella.  This moth feeds mostly on tissue between veins or ribs of lower leaf surfaces of many palms to it will be difficult for any chemical to reach the larvae. This is the reason we do not recommend any heavy broad spectrum pesticides. The Palm leaf skeletonizer will also feed on leaf stems, disrupting vascular tissue and causing death of entire frond. Female moths lay batches of 36 or more eggs glued to the surface of older palm leaves and covered with brown, papery material. The larvae mine in groups on both the upper and lower surfaces of older leaves, under webs of silk. Excrement from the larvae is deposited on top of the silk. Pupation takes place in the larval mines. There may be up to five generations per year. Cutting and bagging or burning infested leaves is an effective method of control.

Q:  My neighbor paid someone to prune her palms and they look like they have Mohawk haircut. The landscaper called it a “hurricane cut” but it does not look correct to me.  What is the proper way to prune a palm? 
A:   Hurricane season is the perfect time of year to discuss proper pruning cuts on palms.  A few years ago, when we had four hurricanes come across Florida, can you guess which plant withstood the high winds the best?  Much to our surprise, healthy palms came through the storms very well. As you may imagine, palms grown in tropical and subtropical areas have been exposed to storm conditions over the years and they are built to withstand wind gusts better than some of their woody tree counterparts. In general, it is best to leave palm fronds on the palm as long as any green is still visible on the frond. If the frond needs to be removed be sure the pruner does not cut into the bud area. Remember, the fronds or leaves supply the food to the palm therefore removing fronds too early reduces the amount of nutrients available to the palm. Removing too many fronds will unnecessarily stress the palm. The best procedure for pruning palms is to think about the palm head in relation to the numbers on a clock. Generally, it is best to never remove fronds above three or nine o’clock position. You absolutely do not want to pay someone to prune any tree or shrub improperly. Attached is a publication from the University of Florida specifically regarding pruning palms:

Q:  I want to plant some salt tolerant palms near a marsh area.  I like how palms provide a tropical look but since it is near the salt marsh I know I will have only a limited number of choices. What would you suggest?

A:  The following are salt tolerant palms:  Cabbage palm, Sabal palmetto, Saw palmetto, Serenoa repens, Washingtonia palm, Washingtonia spp.Washington Palm The cabbage palm, which is our native State Palm, can reach heights up to 60 feet.  The Washingtona can grow to 80 feet tall.  The Saw palmetto, grows in a more horizontal manner but reaches heights up to 10 feet. There are native varieties of Saw palmetto currently available at local nurseries in which the fronds are more blue-gray then yellow green. Moderately salt tolerant varieties are Canary island date palm (30 feet tall)Phoenix canariensis, European fan palm (10 feet tall)Chamaerops humilis, Lady palm (15 feet)Rhapis excelsa, Pindo palm (30 feet tall) Butia capitata, Windmill palm (20 feet tall) Trachycarpus fortune, and the native coontie (4 feet tall) Zamia pumila. The Canary Island date palm and the Windmill palm are susceptible to Lethal Yellowing.  It is important to keep all palms and cycads on a regular fertilizer routine using palm fertilizers with an 8-2-12-4 (N-P-K-Mg) configuration. The palm fertilizer should be applied once during spring, summer and fall. Once established, these palms do not require heavy amounts of irrigation so be sure to not treat them the same as lawngrass. This is especially true when discussing the palm nutrient needs. High nitrogen on palms can be detrimental to their overall health and ability to withstand environmental stress.  Attached is the University of Florida Palm Education and Research Center in Ft. Lauderdale.

Q:  What is this white stuff all over the fronds of my palm tree?  Do I have the invasive insect that normally gets on sago palms?

A:  Your palm problem had me puzzled too. ScurfMy initial thought was the cause may have been from too much water resulting in oedema. However, I consulted with the University of Florida’s palm disease expert, Dr. Elliott.  She identified the structures as scurf. These structures are often found on the young leaves of date palms, specifically pygmy dates.  As the palm matures the structures will fall off. Therefore, this is an example of a “grin and bear it” solutions, which means nothing needs to be done now. There is no chemical spray application to reduce the size or look of the structures (scurf) and they are causing the plant no harm.   

Q:  My homeowner association spends a lot of money to have palm fronds cut down and removed.  Is there any reason we can not use the fronds as mulch?

A:  The only reason not to reuse the fronds as mulch would be because of disease and/or cost of recycling.  It is beneficial from an environmental standpoint to use the landscape leaves and yard waste on the property.  Reusing landscape waste helps improve the soil texture and nutrient levels when composted material is placed back onto flower beds and shrub areas.  Less time is wasted transporting the yard waste from one site to another and gasoline usage is reduced.  In addition, removal of some solid waste placed into landfills is beneficial.  Ideally, the waste could be ground and composted on the site too.  This additional step would add important micro-organisms to the soil.  So, your homeowner association (HOA) will need to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of keeping the yard refuse because cost is always a factor.  Your HOA may have a landscape committee where the pros and cons could be investigated more thoroughly.  To further assist you or your HOA I have attached a link to a UF/IFAS publication titled, Converting Yard Wastes into Landscape Assets

Q:  What is killing my palm trees?  They are oozing at the trunk area and it smells awful.  They seem to have dark, black sunken patches all over the trunk.

A:  This is indeed grave news for your palms as the disease is likely Thielaviopsis Trunk Rot. Thielaviopsis Trunk Rot The fungus causing the disease is Thielaviopsis paradoxa.  It can infect any part of the palm and cause a variety of disease problems.  No palm is exempt or resistant.  The end result will be the total collapse of the top of the palm onto itself or it will completely fall off.  There is generally no indication of the problem in the top of the palm as the fronds remain green and intact.  Only fresh trunk wounds become infected by the fungus therefore protection of the trunk prior to and at harvesting is critical.  Protection during this time is difficult especially when the palms are harvested from the wild.  Damage to the trunk can occur while the palm fronds (boots) are being removed from the trunk area, especially when the trunk tissue is damaged by cutting or ripping into the trunk flesh.  Transporting palms from one site to another can also result in injury to the trunk but damage can also occur when transplanting at the site.  It might be helpful to apply a fungicide to the palm at the time of harvest but that would be long before you, the homeowner, receive the palm.  Once the disease is in the trunk tissue the vascular system is compromised and the palm will begin its inevitable decline.  No chemical control will be effective in curing the disease; our only management tool is prevention.  I am sorry to tell you the palms must be removed and destroyed.  Do not use the ground stump material for mulch.  There is some good news; Thielaviopsis disease is confined to the vascular tissue only and not soil born.  This means another palm can be put back in the same place without fear of the disease being transmitted from palm to palm.  Thielaviopsis is unlike Ganoderma in that aspect.  Remember, palms with Ganoderma Butt Rot must be removed and no palm should go back in the same site as this fungus lives in the soil and will be transmitted to the new palm. 

Bottle Palm

Q:   I was looking at a Bottle palm in one of the local garden centers and I was thinking of buying it.  However, when I went to your website I notice you do not have one in the demonstration garden.  Can we grow this palm here? 

A:  Bottle palm, Hyophorbe lagenicaulis, is a very attractive palm with an interesting bottle shaped stem. Bottle Palm It loves hot weather as it was originally found on the Mascarene Islands, located in the Indian Ocean.  Our biggest concern about growing it here would be potential exposure to cold temperatures.  It grows well in south Florida and it might survive in protected areas here such as an enclosed patio as long as it gets plenty of sunlight and the temperatures are not too severe.  If temperatures drop too low, it might need protection and even require being brought inside.  Bottle palm can reach heights of up to 20 feet with a 12 foot spread on the fronds.  This might limit your ability to move it from outside to indoors! The palms fruits were fed to hogs which is where the root of the genus Hyophorbe originates.  It is a combination of two Greek words: hyo meaning "pig or hog" and phorb meaning "feed or fodder."  The species name, lagenicaulis, is a combination of two Greek words: lagen meaning "a flask" and caulis  means "a stem."  So, stem-flasked refers to the bottle-shaped trunk of this palm.   See, sometimes science really does make sense!  For more information about this palm, check out the University of Florida publication:

Cardboard Plant

Q:  What can you tell me about the cardboard plant? I have seen it in garden centers but I am not sure I should buy it. 

 A:  The cardboard plant or cardboard cycad, Zamia furfuracea, is a very attractive cycad.  The rigid, woody, medium-green foliage of cardboard plant emerges from a large underground storage root and forms a loose, spreading, symmetrical rosette. Providing a tropical landscape effect, cardboard plant's mounding growth habit is ideally suited for use in containers or as a specimen. Several can be planted together for a lush, tropical effect. They also create a dramatic effect when mass-planted in a shrub border, eventually reaching to six or eight feet tall. However, they are best suited for cold hardiness zones 9b – 11.  Remember along the coast in Fernandina, the cold hardiness zone is 9a.  It could be tricky but if you are willing to protect it during cold season, you could potentially grow it here.  It likes shade to full sun.  It is drought and salt tolerant. It really has no diseases and can occasionally have red scale but this can be easily controlled if caught early.  Attached is a complete publication from the University of Florida:

Chestnut Palm

Q:   My friend just purchased a Dioon palm.  It looks like a sago palm to me.  What is the difference? 

A:  The Dioon edule is a cycad similar to its cousin the sago palm.  Dioon edule is also known as the Chestnut Dioon or Virgin palm.  Its origin is Mexico. In its homeland, Dioon is accustom to harsh, dry environments and shallow, sandy soils.  It is considered a good Florida Friendly Landscape (FFL) plant as it requires little irrigation. Typically it grows up to 8 feet tall and about five feet wide.  It does look similar to the sago palm but its leaves are more upright form and each leaflet is flat.  The leaves are generally produced in the late summer or early fall and are initially soft and feathery – they later harden and become sharp along the edges. Dioon produces no flowers but instead has a single cone in the center of the plant. This plant is being watched closely because most of its normal habitat is being threatened.  In some areas, it is considered endangered.  We have added it to the demonstration garden at the James S. Page Governmental Complex.  The purpose of adding the Chestnut Dioon to our demonstration garden is to get it established then determine if the plant might be a good specimen for our area.

Coconut Palm

Q: Can we grow coconut palms here? 

A:  Coconut palms, Cocos nucifera, would not survive or produce nuts here in Coconut PalmNassau County, Florida. These palms should be grown in cold hardiness zone 10B – 11.  Remember we are located in zones 8b – 9a. Even in South Florida, Coconut palms are susceptible to several issues – especially nutrient deficiencies. Coconut palms are believed to be native to the Malay Archipelago or the South Pacific. Aside from the flesh, fresh or shredded coconut, coconut oil is one of the most important products of coconuts. Coconut oil is used in soaps, shampoos, cosmetics and cooking oils.  I will be conducting a palm class along with Jacksonville Urban Forester, Larry Figart, on May 11 from 9 to noon. The program will be held at the Governmental Complex. The cost is $25 person and 3 CEUs will be available for ISA Certified Arborists. Contact me if you wish to attend – For more information on the coconut palm check out the University of Florida publication:


Q:   Are coonties poisonous, will they secrete a toxin into the soil? 

A:   Coontie plants, Zamia floridana, are native to Florida and you need not worry Coontieabout the plant leaching any toxin in the soil.  These plants belong to the cycad family, similar to sago palms.  Coonties were once used by native Indians (Seminoles) as a source of starch.  The roots were harvested and used for food.  I am told the root taste “just like chicken!”  No actually, I was told it tastes like celery.  Another common name for coonties is “Seminole Bread.”  Coonties tolerate any type of soil, are very drought tolerant and mildly salt tolerant.  Although they can be grown in full sun they seem to prefer some shade.  If grown in the shade they produce beautiful, dark green feathery foliage.  At maturity they can reach heights of four feet with six foot spreads although their growth is generally slow to moderate.  Coonties are diecious – they have “male” and “female” plants, therefore both plants are required for pollination. The fruiting structures look very similar to small ears of corn on a stick, which can vary from dark brown to red-orange in color.  These plants have very few disease or insect problems although scale can be an issue if left untreated.  Because it has so few problems, it should be considered more often as a choice for North Florida landscapes.  Attached is the most recent publication by Dr. Ed Gilman from the University of Florida/IFAS:

Q:  Do coontie palms have male and female plants?

A:  Coontie palms, Zamia pumila, actually produce male and female Coontie Femalereproductive cone-like structures on separate plants. The male structures produce pollen and they are rusty to deep brown in color.  The female produces beautiful reddish seed structures. This plant has been around since the time of dinosaurs which makes them ancient and very exotic looking.  Coonties will grow to about 4 feet tall with a potential 6 foot spread but it takes a long time for it to reach this size.  They are native to our area and are very easy to grow, and normally found in where pines and oaks are grown. These plants do not require regular watering which makes them a prefect addition to landscapes where water is restricted. 


Q:  How do you propagate coontie palms? 

A:  This information was assembled by Candace Bridgewater, one of the Nassau County Master Gardener volunteers.  It is advisable to use gloves when handling the seeds of sagos and coonties!!

1.      Collect the seeds from female cones. In winter and early spring, plants produce brown cones with bright orange seeds. Wait until the seed pod completely breaks open.
2.      Spread the seeds on a thin layer of newspaper to dry out for 6-7 weeks. Let them wrinkle up a little bit like a raisin or prune.
3.      Take the seeds one at a time and from top to bottom scrape the outside layer off the entire seed with a knife. Remove as much as possible.  Dry them again for 2-3 days, OR Cut into the seed with a sharp knife or scalpel, creating a small wound allowing water to penetrate and have access to the embryo.
4.      Lay the seeds on the surface of the soil and cover with a 1/4 inch layer of moist soil.
5.      Keep the pots in a warm area with plenty of light but not direct sun.
6.      Seeds should sprout within 6 weeks.
7.      A couple of days before planting in the ground soak the roots overnight or for a couple of nights in tap water.
8.      Plant them immediately after removing them from the water in spring after the soil warms up. Never plant them in cold weather. 
9.      Ideal soil mixture is equal parts of sand and sphagnum peat moss, drenched and drained.

Indian Date Palm

Q:  I have been watching your Indian Date palm grow in the demonstration garden and I cannot get over how quickly it has become a nice specimen palm in the short period of time since it was planted.  Should I get one or does it grow well because you are taking care of it? 

A:  The Indian Date Palm (Phoenix sylvestris) is a terrific addition to any Florida landscape. Wild Indian Date Palm It is growing well because is it the “Right Plant for the Right Place”.  We also provide the recommended palm fertilizer spring, summer and fall.  I am especially fond of the blue-green fronds.  Do not be fooled into thinking the fronds are soft and feathery – they have long spines which can easily prick and cause damage if you are not careful.  The date palms are known for their drought tolerance and fairly slow growth – although ours has nearly tripled in size since we planted it five years ago.  They are well suited to Florida conditions if they are not over-watered and are provided with regular applications of palm fertilizer.  Remember the ideal palm fertilizer is 8-2-12-4, which is Nitrogen-Phosphorus- Potassium- Magnesium. Use a slow release product unless your soil is alkaline (high pH) then use quick release for all the nutrients. The date palms have the typical diamond-shaped leaf scars on the trunk of the tree. Most specimen palms are single trunked, including the Indian Date Palm. Do not plant palms or any tree too deeply. Palms should be planted or transplanted only once the threat of frost is gone – now would be a good time of year to start.  Keep lawn grass as far away from the palms as possible and keep mulch away from the trunks of any tree, shrub or palm. 


Q: What can you tell me about the Majesty Palm I just planted?
Majesty Palm

A: The Majesty Palm, Ravenea glauca, is a native of Madagascar and produces a single trunk with feathery fronds.Majesty Palm is widely adaptable, requires moderate to high light but it tends to yellow somewhat without some shade. It is moderately drought and salt tolerant, has no insect or disease problems if planted on the correct site.It is a popular interior plant and for Northeast Florida it may not be suited for outdoor planting because it is classified as zone 10-11 (Amelia Island is zone 9a). Mature height can reach 15-20 feet and it reaches 10 feet quickly then slows its growth. Late spring and early summer are the best times of year to transplant palms. When pruning palms it is best to leave the frond attached to the palm until it is completely brown.

Pygmy Date Palm

Q:  I have a pygmy date palm that looks like it suffered damage from the frost we had this winter. The stems are still green, but all of the leaves are brown and dry. Is there anything I should do to help it regrow? If I pruned off the fronds the palm would appear totally bare. 

A:  Pygmy date palms, Phoenix roebelenii, should be grown only in south Florida as it is too cold here.  Because this winter was so cold we may see some death to the Queen palms as well. Unfortunately, the attractive little pygmy date palm has been added to landscapes in many residential areas here in Northeast Florida so your loss is not the only one. The bad news is there is little that can be done right now except to wait and see. The palm may recover but we may see no progress until late spring or summer. Palms are different that most other trees. In fact, they are more closely related to grass than hardwood trees. They have only one point of growth which is at the top. If this area dies or freezes then the whole palm will die. Palms generally go into dormancy period during cooler temperatures and no growth will occur until warmer temperatures are consistent. Apply palm fertilizer in late spring, summer and fall on an annual basis. The fertilizer should be a configuration of 8-2-12-4 (N-P-K-Mg). For right now, just wait and hope for the best. I would refrain from removing any fronds as you stated there is still some green on them. We should remove only totally brown fronds from any palm. Attached below is a publication from the University of Florida on pygmy date palms.


Q:  My Queen Palm is browning around the frond edges.  I think it may have some freeze damage.  What do you think? 

A:  Queen Palm, Syagrus romanzoffiana, grows best in cold hardiness zone 9B – 11. Queen Palm Nassau County is in zones 8B-9A which means we are slightly out of the proper growing zone.  An exception may be if these palms are grown along the coastal areas in Nassau County as this area is just outside the cold hardiness zone.  The cold hardiness zone may be more important to those areas on the west part of the county, which is where you are located.  Some people in the west part of Nassau County reported temperatures this winter in the 20s which would explain some frost damage on these palms.  If the palm has suffered freeze damage you may see more browning as the summer approaches.  Remove the fronds only after they are completely brown to avoid any additional stress on the palm.  All palms and cycads obtain their nutrients from the green fronds so it is best to leave them on as long as possible.  Do keep them on a palm fertilizer regime of once every 6 weeks during spring, summer and fall.  Use a good, slow release palm fertilizer with potassium, magnesium and manganese in addition to nitrogen and phosphorus.  It is also possible for this palm to have a lethal disease caused by a fungus. This fungus attacks the area just below the bud.  The lowest (oldest) 2-3 leaves turn brown but do not break or hang down. The next 2-3 youngest leaves in the canopy will turn varying shades of yellow. The yellowing leaf symptoms alone are not indicative of the disease as these symptoms would be similar for natural dying, especially when potassium deficiency is present. What makes the disease different from the normal is that usually within two months of initial symptoms, the entire canopy has turned brown, as if freeze-dried in place. The leaves do not break or hang limply parallel to the trunk, they simply turn brown in place within the canopy. There are no management recommendations if your Queen palm has this fungal disease. We will need to take a “wait and see” approach.  If the bud dies, there is no recovery of the palm.  It would need to be cut down and removed.

Q:   My Queen palm appears to be dead.  Will it come back? Queen Palm freeze damage

A:   The short answer is you will have to wait until later in the spring by determining if any fronds come out green. The long answer is regarding which palms really can tolerate our colder winter weather. I know you are thinking you moved here because the average temperature is well above freezing, which is true, but nothing about this and the previous winter falls into the “average” category. Queen palms, Syagrus romanzoffiana, have feathery fronds and tall slender trunks which reach heights of up to 50 feet.  The cold hardiness zone for this palm is 9B – 11, remember we are in cold hardiness zone 8B-9A which is just above the Queen palm’s preferred area. This explains why so many of these palms have suffered over the last two years. It would be better to choose a cold hardy palm such as Pindo, Cabbage, Chinese Fan or Indian Date.  Refrain from planting the Pygmy Date Palm, Phoenix roebelenii, as it is also a south Florida palm in the 10-11 cold hardiness zones. The photos attached were taken by me last year after the freezing temperatures occurred and the Queen and  Pygmy palms did not recover.  We have several cold hardy palms in the UF/IFAS Nassau County demonstration garden, which we will be refurbishing later this spring and summer if we receive the grants we wrote this winter. Remember to use palm fertilizer on your palms spring, summer and fall.  For more complete information check out the publications from the University of Florida on the Queen palm:   and the Pygmy Date palm:



Q:  I have a whole bunch of mushrooms growing at the base of my sabal palm.  The palm has brown fronds, some appear to be dying.  We discovered an irrigation head had broken right at the base of this palm where the mushrooms are growing.  We do not know how long the water has been pooling as this site but we have removed broken head.  Do you think the extra water could have caused the palm to die? 

A:  After seeing the palm directly it appears the mushrooms are Armillaria mushrooms.Armillaria on palm  These honey-colored, clustering mushrooms usually do not live for long periods of time so I was glad for an opportunity to photograph them before they disappeared.  Armillaria fungi are normally found in the soil and generally do not pose a problem for healthy, unstressed plants. The fungi attack about 700 species of plants, most of them woody ornamentals.  However, some herbaceous plants can be susceptible such as blackberry, flowering bulbs, potato, raspberry, and strawberry. Armillaria often causes problems on oaks and maples in the urban landscapes where compacted soil is common and improper maintenance procedures often occur.  But any plant exposed to stresses such as drought, flooding, poor soil conditions drainage, frost, repeated defoliation by insects or diseases, herbicide damage, or injury from weed eaters or lawn mowers are susceptible to attack. The loss of fine feeder roots from this disease deprives affected plants of sufficient nutrients and water, and often results in branch dieback. There are no chemical applications to cure this disease. The best defense is to keep trees and shrubs from as many environmental stresses as we can control. I am confident the excessive water contributed to a root rot which placed the palm in a stressful situation. Once the palm became stressed the fungi took over. The palm should be removed and destroyed as soon as possible.  Removal of some of the soil might be beneficial as well.  We discussed leaving the site bare and avoiding putting another plant in the site.  Another lesson learned it to consider checking irrigation systems on a regular basis. This would help avoid potential damage to the grass and plants in our landscapes. 

Q:  In my neighborhood we have several Sabal palms, which are planted in common areas that are covered with a snow-like fungus.  What is it and how can we treat it?

A:  The snow-like covering on your palms is not a fungus but an insect called Sabal Palm Scale or Palmetto Scale, Comstockiella sabalis.  This insect is a common, native insect pest of palms, especially Sabal palms.  Females give birth to live young and may form extensive colonies on palm leaves, which causes yellowing of the leaf.  Their mouth parts pierce into the leaf tissue and they suck out the plant fluid causing a loss of chlorophyll.  Armored scales are protected by a waxy scale covering composed of secretions and occasionally cast skins, which form thick, wafer like layers when insect densities are high. In your case, the densities are extremely high probably because no one has been caring for these palms.  It is important to scout the plants at least once a week to catch the insects early when it is easier to treat them with chemicals.  Take a clean, damp paper towel and wipe off as much of it as possible – dispose of the used towels in a plastic bag before tossing them in the trash.  Spray the fronds and trunk with horticulture oil or insecticidal soap which can be purchased at most garden centers.  Follow the directions on the pesticide label and reapply as directed.  These “softer” chemicals will be very effective on the young crawler stage, which I was able to detect in large numbers from the specimen you brought to the office.  A strong chemical will not be able to penetrate the waxy coating and will therefore be ineffective.  Palm scale numbers are controlled naturally by tiny wasp parasitoids (Aphelinidae: Coccobius sp.) that develop in the body of the scale.  However, these wasps can be killed if strong insecticides are used, which then causes the populations of scale to soar.  In addition, a systemic pesticide could be used but do so sparingly.  These products are potent and expensive.  As always, follow the directions on the label as these chemicals can cause problems for some of our important animals.


Q:  I have yellow edges on my sago palm.  What could be wrong with it? 

A:  The sago palm appears to be deficient in magnesium.  It may be the soil,Magnesium deficiency on sago in which the cycad is planted, is also magnesium deficient.  It might be beneficial to add magnesium sulfate around the base of the cycad and throughout the canopy area.  Pull any mulch from around the base of the cycad, add the supplement, irrigate to get the product to the root area and place the mulch back.  Remember, no tree, shrub, palm or cycad should have mulch piled up against the base of the trunk. This inappropriate practice can cause fungal decay along the trunk tissue, permanently damaging the plant.  Keep an area, about a shovel’s width, around the base of any tree or shrub free of mulch.

Q:  Are king sagos (cycas revoluta) subject to Ganodema butt rot? If not, is there some other disease that has similar conks that cycads would be subject to?

A:  After looking at the photo you sent, it is quite probable the causal agent was Ganoderma.  Ganoderma, Ganoderma zonatum, attacks palms and hardwood trees so there is no reason to suspect cycads (sagos) would be an exception.  There are numerous types of shelf fungi but the quickness of the destruction of the plant points to ganoderma.  The only way to know for certain is to examine the trunk tissue after the sago is cut down.  The tissue will show a dark ring inside the trunk.  This fungus decomposes the lower part of the trunk palms or trees.  It is also possible for the fungi to be present without seeing the conks.  Once the conks appear on the trunk, the tree is quick to decline.  There are no chemical controls for the disease.  The palm should be removed and destroyed as soon as possible.  Remove all of the stump tissue along with the soil and do not plant another palm on the same site as these fungi live in the soil.  Keep the palms and cycads healthy by avoiding over irrigation and fertilization.  Palm fertilizers should be applied every spring, summer and fall using a 4-1-6-2 ratio (N-P-K-Mg respectively).  Fertilizer should be broadcast under the canopy of the palm or cycad.  Fertilizer should not be found in large clumps under the palm or allowed to stay on the fronds of the palms.  It should never be sprinkled around the bud area as fertilizer only benefits the plant if is can be absorbed by the root tissue.  Each fertilizer bag will provide instructions on how it should be applied properly, please read and follow the directions on the label.  

Q:   What is wrong with my sago palm?  The newer fronds are brown and twisted. 

A:   You sago palm appears to have a nutrient deficiency called frizzle top. Fizzletop on sagoThe photo I took shows several seasons of fronds which have experienced this nutrient problem. The sago is lacking manganese (Mn), which can be found at your local garden center in the form of manganese sulfate. Do not confuse manganese sulfate with magnesium sulfate which is the ingredient found in Epsom salts. You will need to be sure to add manganese sulfate to your normal palm fertilizer if it does not already contain manganese. The fertilizer should be spread totally under the canopy of the fronds.  Add a small amount of water to be sure the fertilizer reaches the root area. Adding Mn now will not change the look of the current fronds. However, do not be tempted to remove all the ugly fronds especially if they still have any green color. The green color tells you the fronds are still providing food to the palm and removing them will stress the palm even more. Regarding removal of palm fronds, it is best to keep all fronds on all palms until they are totally brown


Q: I have a sago palm with fronds that are growing but as they develop they begin to turn yellow and then brown on the ends as if they look burnt.  My husband and I figure it is lacking something but we're not sure what.  We just cut all the fronds off but we did that before and they still came back the same way.  Can you help?  Thanks!

A: I am so glad you wrote.  I believe the problem you described is probably "frizzle-top" and your husband is correct in recognizing the sago needs something it is apparently not getting.The first thing to do is have the soil pH checked.  If the soil pH is too high (above 6.5) your palm may have some difficulty absorbing needed nutrients.  The next thing to do is check the soil moisture, too much water can cause root damage so the plants are unable to take up nutrients.  Cycads and palms are generally drought tolerant plants and after they are established in the landscape they should be able to survive by receiving only water from rain.  Of course they would need additional watering during severe drought conditions. Frizzle-top is caused by a lack of manganese.  To correct the frizzle-top problem spray the leaves with manganese sulfate at the rate of 1 teaspoon per gallon water monthly for 3 months.  In addition, use a palm fertilizer in the future to ensure against this problem.  Palms need potassium, magnesium and manganese in addition to nitrogen and phosphorus, to grow properly.  Generally palm fertilizers contain larger amounts of potassium, magnesium and manganese than the average fertilizer.  Check the label on the fertilizer to be sure you see those elements, and then follow the directions on the fertilizer label.  One more note:  apply fertilizer at the root area not the bud area. 

Q: I am concerned about my sago palm. The center of it is very large and puffy and full of red, round things. I have never seen this before. What is wrong with my sago?

A: You are not the first person to ask me about this structure on sago palms Sago Palmand I hope this will be good news for you. Sago palms are dioecious, which means the female and male reproductive structures are on separate plants (holly and ginko are additional examples). The sago palm you have is a “female” and the red structures you described are seeds. You probably have a male pollinator in the area which has enabled the female structure to produce seeds. If you want to propagate this plant any of the seeds could potentially become a new sago palm. However, it takes the seed anywhere from three to six months to germinate so be patient when propagating them. Some people remove or scratch the outer coating of the seed before planting, but it may not be necessary. It is important to plant the seed in a horizontal position just below the soil level and keep it moist but well-drained. By next year you could have several new babies to give away or replant. Good luck.

Q: I have 50 Sago Palm seeds (yellow 1" round).  How should I plant them so they will germinate?

A: Your seeds are yellow?  Normally the seeds, when mature, are bright orange or red. 
They are generally ready to remove from the parent plant around March when they have reached the size of a walnut.  If you remove them before they are mature they may not germinate or grow.  Test the seed ahead of time by placing it in water; if it floats then the seed is not good.  The outer covering of the seed should be removed. You should wear gloves when working with these seeds because they contain a poison.  You can plant the seeds horizontally (not point down) about 1 inch deep (which is shallow).  The top of the seed should be just at soil level.  It would be best to use clean potting soil or sand.  Do not fertilize them.  Keep them out of direct sun. The soil should be moist but not wet.  It may take them several months to sprout so do not be discouraged.

Q: I want to plant a couple of sago palms near my septic system but I am concerned about the roots growing into the system.  How large does the root system get?

A: My first thought was to consider the environmental issue so I contacted the environmental health department in Nassau County regarding any regulation addressing the distance trees or shrubs should be planted from septic tanks. The environmental health department stated there is no regulation regarding the distance of shrubs and trees from septic tanks but roots are the main reason for septic tank damage and failure.  Sagos and other palms do not have woody roots like most of our woody ornamentals but they are massive and will continue to grow in length as long as the palm is alive.  It might be best if you avoid planting shrubs and trees near the septic tank area.  However, if you want something decorative near the area you might consider planting turfgrass and we have plenty of options as long as the area is in full sun. You might also consider a small ornamental grass like muhly grass ( Muhlenbergia capillaris) since the roots are generally only 6-8 inches in length and should not interfere with the operation of the septic tank. Muhly grass is particularly attractive when it produces masses of thin plumes in colors ranging from whites to pinks to reds and purples in the late summer early fall. Various natural varieties are found in pine flatwoods, sandhills, moist hammocks, and beach dunes. I have even seen it appear locally along the roadsides and it can be grown throughout the entire state. Muhly grass grows well in a large variety of soil types, it is highly drought and salt tolerant, and can handle full sun to partial shade. It sounds like the perfect plant, right?

Q:  My sago palm has brown leaves and some of them are curled.  What is wrong? 

A:   This is the time of the year when we begin to see new fronds appear on sago palms and nutrient deficiencies become more evident.  Several plants in our area, such as sago palms and citrus, require special nutrients. These nutrients need to be applied on a regular basis.  The rule of thumb is to apply the fertilizer often but in small amounts.  Sago palms should be fertilized using special palm fertilizers at least 3 times a year (spring, summer and fall).  Most of the nutrients in the fertilizer should be slow release.  Follow the directions on the label for best results.  Broadcasting the fertilizer underneath the canopy works best for the plant. You may need to rake away mulch so the fertilizer reaches the root area.  Irrigation directly after application of fertilizer, ¼ inch of water, increases the potential of nutrients reaching the root area efficiently.  Move the mulch back over the root area.  Remember, mulch should never be touching the trunk of any tree or shrub. It is best to keep palm fronds on the plant as long as possible.  In fact, remove the fronds only when they are completely brown. As long as some green remains on the frond, then it has the capability of producing food for the plant.  Removal of too many fronds causes the plant additional stress. 

Q:  I have a beautiful sago palm that has another little tree growing out of its side.  Do I need to worry about the large tree surviving this new growth? 

A:  The growth you described is called a pup.  You can remove it or leave it attached.  If you remove it you should do it as soon as possible.  Once you have removed the pup, put it in clean soil.  Keep the soil moist but not wet to encourage root growth.  Put the newly planted pup in a protected site that will obtain lots of indirect sunlight.  It may take it several months for the pup to develop roots as these plants grow very slowly.  Some people like the look of the multi-stemmed palms and leaving the pup attached would be one way of achieving that look.  It really is up to you.  No long term damage will occur to the adult plant if you leave the pup attached.  Remember palms, and plants similar to palms (cycads), should be fertilized using palm fertilizer during spring, summer and fall.  Spread the fertilizer throughout the whole canopy (along the root area).  Be sure to irrigate the palm around the root area immediately after applying the fertilizer’; about ¼ inch is sufficient.