Skip to main content

What’s Wrong With My Sago Palm?

Is the newest growth on your sago palm turning yellow, brown, frizzy looking and dying – is it a pest or disease or something else?

king sago palm with manganese deficiency symptoms

Photo credit: Mary Derrick

This sago palm is suffering from a classic case of manganese deficiency. When sago palms lack manganese, the newest leaves will develop yellow splotches or be entirely yellow. As the leaves die, they turn brown and take on a frizzled appearance. Sometimes the leaves or fruit may be smaller than normal. If left unchecked, the sago usually dies.

Manganese is a micronutrient required by all plants for normal, healthy growth and is most available for plant uptake when the soil pH is between 5.5 and 6.5. Soils in the Florida panhandle are often naturally low in manganese and then what available manganese is present can be unavailable for the plant to use if the pH of the soil is much above 6.5. Also, manganese tends to be leached from the soil when the pH is below 5.5.  Soil pH and nutrient testing is useful to determine if soils are nutrient deficient. Contact your county Extension office for information on getting that done.

[notice]Before treating, rule out an infestation of Asian cycad scale. Click here for a UF IFAS Extension publication on this damaging insect. Be aware that both are common problems for sago palms and that your sago may be afflicted with both![/notice]

If this is happening to a sago palm, the good news is that it is easy to correct. Manganese sulfate is readily available at garden centers, feed &seed stores and independent nurseries. Just make sure to get manganese sulfate and don’t confuse it with magnesium sulfate (Epson salts). The amount of manganese sulfate necessary to correct this deficiency  will vary with its size, soil type and pH. Sago palms in sandy, acidic soils require less manganese sulfate than those in high pH soils.   One ounce is sufficient for a very small plant in sandy, acidic soil. A very large sago in a high pH soil may require about five pounds, however. Spread the product evenly over the root zone and water in with about a half inch of water.

The affected leaves cannot be cured but new growth should return to normal. If the new growth is still affected, an additional application of manganese sulfate may be needed.  Once sago palms have suffered from a manganese deficiency, half the initial rate should be applied yearly to prevent the deficiency from re-occurring.

Even though sago palms are not true palms – they are cycads – their nutritional needs are very similar to palms. Most of the time they grow well without any supplemental fertilization, but if they do need fertilizing, use a 8-2-12-4 (the fourth number is magnesium) palm fertilizer with micronutrients and avoid using other fertilizer products in their root zones.

For more information on sago palms please see:

Cycas revoluta, Sago Palm

43 Comments on “What’s Wrong With My Sago Palm?

  1. Thanks for the sago nutrient tips. I read this after the fact but it is essentially what I did. I saw the commercial manganese sulphate bags at the store and got one (has a sago or palm on the bag). Here is my question. I had a fair amount of manganese sulphate left over and so I just dosed a little at other plants around the house. Probably a bad idea. MOST of the plants handled it fine.

    But a few took a sudden shock hit body blow. YEllowed up and knocked back a gardenia. Of three near each ohter only one was hit hard and it yellowed bad and browned and lost leaves. It might yet survive but the other two ether side will eventually fill in anyway.

    The other plant that took it poorly was a very nice Jasmine (larger leaf kind) that I’d transplanted about three years ago. It was doing well but after this it began to turn red leaved and the leaves died off. AS they died off, new leaf buds were and continue to push out from the branches and the ends of the crawling vines maintained greed and grew. I don’t think I killed it but it was close. It is slowly recovering.

    I had some yellow splotches of grass that had not responded to ammonium nitrate so I threw some manganese sulphate on those areas too. Just about killed it out – was brown in a week. But it is greening up again and will be ok in a few more weeks. I had used Aluminum Sulphate (I think) a couple of years ago to “acidify” some soil I had erroniously applied lime to and it worked great to save my centipede grass – which I now know liles acid soil. Anyway – the Aluminum Sulphate did the trick that time (made it more acid). But the manganese sulphate was did not play well with the grass.

    There was PLENTY Of rain after this application. And for weeks afterward. I think the rain allowed the sudden hit of acidic soil which shocked the sensitive plants but after more time — the added rain has at last diluted some of the effect and the plants are in recovery.

    So that is my story. Mr. “Never leave a partial bag when you can throw it all out and be done with it”.

    • Good atricle. I think they nailed it. Manganese toxicity. I am thinking the excess rain has helped as much as anything to leech out the overdose and I may add some dolomitic lime to a few of the plants.

  2. Thank you, Vic, for sharing your experiences with using manganese sulfate! You don’t mention how your sago palm responded to the treatment but I infer that it responded well to the manganese sulfate application.

    You are correct in saying that the rain helped wash some of the excess manganese from the soil; sandy soils will allow much of it to leach although rich, organic soils will hold onto it more tightly.

    This is a good reminder to all to use manganese sulfate and all other fertilizers according to professional recommendations and according to label directions.

    If you have not done it lately, I would encourage you to have a soil test for pH and nutrient levels through the University of Florida soils lab in Gainesville. Your local extension agent can give you the kit for sending in your soil.

    Different plants have varying responses to high levels of nutrients in fertilizers. Some can tolerate it well and others are very sensitive. It seems you learned that first hand.

    One of the major symptoms of manganese toxicity is the chlorosis (yellowing) of leaves starting with the new leaves. This happens because excess manganese interferes with the absorption of iron and the plant will develop an induced iron deficiency. Other symptoms are dead brown spots on older leaves with yellowing areas around them, delayed fruit ripening, and distortion of new leaves.

    For more information please see:
    Touria El‐Jaoual & Douglas A. Cox (1998) Manganese toxicity in plants, Journal of Plant Nutrition, 21:2, 353-386.

  3. My sago palm is about 5 years old. About 4 ft. high. Some of the leaves are dying. I live in phoenix, AZ. Will Manganese sulfate help. I love this palm and do not want to loose it. Please help!!!

    • That’s hard to say. Do the symptoms displayed by your sago match the description and the photo of the manganese deficiency in my article? If so, you can try my remedy. If there is any doubt, contact your local county Extension office for assistance. If you are in Maricopa County, here is their contact info: http://extension.arizona.edu/maricopa
      Good Luck!

  4. I have a sago palm and all the leaves turned yellow. There are green sprouts coming out at bottom of sago. I live in North Carolina and have only had the tree two years. Should I cut off the yellow leaves to allow the green leaves to grow? Should I fertilize? We had two rough snows this year and lately alot of rain.

    I have read mixed reviews on whether to cut the yellowed leaves but I dont want to inhibit the new green growth with the dying yellow leaves.

    • The green sprouts are pups that can be removed to form a new plant or they can be left in place to form a clump of sagos.

      I have some questions about the yellowing of the leaves before I can determine the cause and, thus, the action you should take.
      Did the sago leaf out normally this spring and have normal green leaves until recently?
      Have you closely inspected the leaves to search for any pests?
      Where is the sago in your landscape – in a landscape bed, surrounded by turf, next to a building, etc?
      How do the other surrounding plants look?
      Have you applied any fertilizer, insecticide or herbicide in the area?

      Generally, sagos do not need supplemental fertilization. I see them quite often in unattended landscapes looking quite healthy.

      You can send a photo to me at mderrick@ufl.edu and that may be helpful.

  5. Not sure how to add a photo but my Sago Palms have all dried on the tips of the leaves. And a few leaves dried and died completely. The Candle Pine alongside has died suddenly too. It appears poisoning has occurred. Will the Manganese Sulfate help at all. There is a little life left in them so need help and any advice please to try nurture them back. Thank you.

    • Please send photos to me directly at mderrick@ufl.edu. When you do, please include what you have applied to the plants (fertilizers, pesticides, anything else), where you live, how long the plants have been there, when they first showed symptoms and we will start on figuring out the problem and then, the solution.

  6. The centet of my Seko palm was yellow. I cut out the center. Watered really well. I have 3 dogs that TT on it.

    • Could you send me photos of the sago, please to mderrick@ufl.edu? Include the age of the sago, how it hass been fertilized and where you reside. Thanks!

  7. I’ve read through the info and all the comments and think my sad looking Ssgo which had been doing wonderfully in a pot a short while ago has been over watered which has made it susceptiple to pests or disease. I would like to send you a photo if that’s ok. I would like to be able to treat the plant and restore it to its original beauty if possible. Any help you could provide would be appreciated. Thank you!

    • Yes, please send me some good photos and let’s work on determining the cause and remedy for the problem.

  8. Ill be sending a few shots of my sago with up close of core which newly sprouted but seems to have scale. Thanks for any advise on how to treat it.

    In sending them tomderrick@ufl.edu

    Thanks! Doris

  9. I live in coastal NC (Wilmington) and my sago palm, which has been doing well for years, has taken a turn for the worse. We had two severe winters, which killed the palm to the east side of the sago, but not the palm on the west side. I do not note any sign of scale on the fronds, The older fronds are turning yellow and becoming crispy. The new fronds are (so far) fine. Frost damage? Low manganese? Too much sun? It is in a moist part of the yard, but the drainage is okay, and, like I said, it has done well for years. Thanks. I can send a photo if that helps. Thanks so much for any help!

  10. My sago palm is all yellow-brown in middle it is 2ft high in middle of yard in Florida. Is the low magnisium the problem?the outside is green I notice spiders in there could they cause the browning?

      • I have a sago palm that the lower palms are turning black. Can you tell me what I can do? It is in a container and I need to transplant it. Is it still OK. Thanks
        Miriam

        • It’s hard to tell from your description what is going on with your sago. Sometimes when lower leaves of a plant have a black coating it is sooty mold that grows on honeydew excreted by insect pests feeding on the undersides of leaves higher up in the canopy. Treating the insects will eventually eliminate the sooty mold. Inspect your sago carefully and email photos to me at mderrick@ufl.edu.

  11. Email addresses not working. Is there a good one? Thanks

    • Start with clean, sharp pruners or loppers (depends on the size of the fronds) and make cuts close to the trunk. Pruning tools should be cleaned with alcohol or a 10% bleach solution before using to prevent the introduction of disease into the pruning cuts.
      How many fronds to remove depends on your personal preference. However, remember that the green plant tissue is making food for the plant through photosynthesis and you want to keep the healthy green fronds.

  12. Hi! We moved into our house this past summer and the sago palm was already established and has probably been here for several years. It’s between the front of the house (north facing) and our sidewalk. It finally sprouted some beautiful green fronds this August and within a few weeks they started turning yellow and now brown in the center. I haven’t noticed any pests and we haven’t treated it or fertilized it yet. I bought some manganese sulfate today to try treating it. I’m in Jacksonville, FL. Is it likely a manganese deficiency? If so, how much should I use? Should I spray it on the plant or put it in the ground around it, or both? The palm is about 4 ft tall and 3-4 ft wide including fronds, the stem/trunk is about 8in in diameter. Thank you for your time and any advice you have!

    • It sounds like it may well be a manganese deficiency – does it look like my photo in the article? You can send a photo or two to me at mderrick@ufl.edu to confirm.
      If it is confirmed, for a sago of that size I would spread about 3 pounds of the product evenly under the canopy of the sago and water in well. I would also do a light application of a good quality palm fertilizer like I describe in the article.

  13. Thanks for your response and the tips! Yes, it looks very much like the one in the picture above. I can take some pics tomorrow to send. Ours doesn’t have any older fronds on the bottom because we trimmed them all off when the new leaves came out… They looked bad too, but we didn’t realize it would be a continuing problem at the time.

  14. Can you please help me!! i have 2 Sago palms and both of them have yellow-brown sponge like material in the crown of the plant and the leaves are starting to turn yellow. I live in VA and moved the plants indoors for the season about a month back. Is it from overwatering leading to crowm rot? Pl help and how can i attach a picture?

    • The yellow-brown sponge material is a natural feature of the plant, most likely yours is a female sago. Yes, sagos are either male or female plants. The leaves may be yellowing from lack of light – they like full sun so place it in a very sunny part of your home. Maybe it can stay outside unless it is freezing. You can send photos to me at mderrick@ufl.edu

  15. Hi Mary I have emailed you a photo of my plant and am hoping you can help. It was beautiful before I botched it!

    Allison

  16. my bottom leaves turned yellow only 2 days after a trasnplant and not are at the point of Frizzle bottom? every artice i see mentions the top leaves tunring yellow not the bottom but then some have pictures saying both are examples of manganese defincienty. just to be clear if my bottom leaves are turning yellow just like the frizzletop symptoms Is that a sign of mangenese defiencienty?? i need to treat it but i want too be sure i do the right thing. i just applied about 2 tablespoons of mangenese sulfate and appied some direcetly on the leaves as well. will this treat the problem? i ony got it 4 weeks ago it was in perfect condition until 2 to 3 days after i transpanted into a bigger pot because the roots where growing out of the old pots drainage holes. I used all purpose potting soil and organic fertalizer until i realized it didnt have the required nutriets. now i switched to palm gain a 8-2-12 fertalizer made for cycads and palms and i also added the magenese sulfate

    • The problem does not sound like a manganese deficiency. The yellowing bottom leaves could be from overwatering. Sagos need to dry out a bit between thorough waterings. When you transplanted the sago, is it sitting at the same soil level as before? Planting at a deeper level can be damaging to the plant. Many commercial potting mixes already have a 3 or 6 month controlled-release fertilizer incorporated into the mix and no further fertilizer should be used until after that time frame is passed. Remember that sagos can take full sun; I don’t know how much sun it was getting before purchase but you may gradually want to move it to more sun if it is in a shaded location. Sagos are tough plants and will survive the loss of some leaves.

  17. Mary,

    My sago does not look as bad as your picture. My leaves look as if there is rust on them. Could this also be manganese deficiency? Thank You for your time.

    Oscie Smith

  18. Ms. Derrick,
    I had 3 beautiful Sagos that are over a decade. I had my front yard re done new soil new plants etc. They all look like they are dying all of a sudden. Would you mind if I sent you some pics?

    Thanks You
    Joanna

    • Yes, please send some pictures to me at mderrick@ufl.edu. Include an overall photo of the landscape and then some closer shots of the plants. Also let me know what was done recently in the landscape, including fertilizing and any other products used in the vicinity.

  19. I have an older sago palm that I moved from one part of my garden to another last year. It did find through the year but ll the fronds got killed off in the harsh winter we had in Virginia Beach despite wrapping and covering in burlap.
    New fronds just started growing out, but many of the fronds are a slightly lighter shade of green and the needles on many are mutated. They are very wide and rectangular or growing forked. I’ve grown sagos for many years and have never seen this before. Has anybody experienced something like this?

    • The sago may be experiencing a boron deficiency. The heavy spring and summer rains could have leached the boron from the soil. Dissolve about 2 oz. of Borax in 5 gallons of water and drench the soil all under the canopy. The next set of leaves should be normal. It may be helpful to also apply a general purpose controlled release fertilizer at the same time.

  20. Note: a smaller sago I transplanted a few feet away is growing back normally.

  21. Hi, i need help with my sago palm. Today i noticed new leaves coming out from under the ground very close to the trunk. Is it normal? or i did something wrong? thank you

    • Your description sounds like the plant is making ‘pups’. This is normal. You can leave it be and you will have a multi-trunked sago or you can remove the pup and plant it elsewhere. To remove the pup, gently pull back the soil and cut off the pup vertically with a sharp shovel or blade in order to get as much of the pup as possible without harming the trunk of the original sago. Let it dry in a shady area for a day or so and then plant in a pot or directly into a planting bed. Keep moist but not too wet while it gets established.

  22. Thank you so much for your reply. I think I will leave them grow for now because I don’t have space in my garden.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *