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Cycas, an alternative to palm trees


The specific care that’s needed for a cycas, how and when it should be repotted and watered and diseases that infect it.

Core Cycas facts

Family – Cycadaceae
Type – indoor plant

Exposure – well-lit, full sun – Soil – soil mix – Foliage – evergreen

These are the answers to the many questions that can arise when one has the luck of owning a magnificent cycas.

Not quite a palm tree but still an amazing ornamental plant, cycas is very appealing.

Planting and repotting cycas

Cycas in pots or garden boxes

Cycas requires good soil mix that can be amended with ⅓ compost, if you’ve got any.

Cycas in potTo secure drainage for pots with only one hole at the bottom, pour clay pebbles or small stones into the pot to form a layer. This prevents the hole from clogging. Roots shouldn’t wallow in water, which could be fatal to it.

  • Increase drainage of the soil mix itself with sand, perlite or a few handfuls of clay balls.
  • Set it up in a fair-sized pot filled with special indoor plant or green plant soil mix.
  • Although it may be necessary to repot it in spring every 2 or 3 years, when not repotting then go for regular topdressing. This should answer the nutrient needs of the plant.

Outdoor cycas

  • Use a blend of soil mix, garden soil and sand.
  • Don’t plant in a hollow or sunk-down spot: water might collect in it and choke the plant if it rains too much.

Generally speaking, most cycas don’t tolerate the cold, except Cycas revoluta which survives temperatures just below freezing.

Placing indoor cycas at the right spot

Under our climates, cycas adapts well to living indoors in our homes and apartments, except for Cycas revoluta which quite appreciates cooler temperatures in winter.

  • It grows best when surrounding temperatures hold at around 70 to 72°F (20 to 22°C) and requires very good light, even direct sunlight.

Choose for it a place near a window facing to the South or West so that it would bathe in a good deal of both indirect light and sunlight.

If you live in a house that is quite dark, avoid purchasing Cycas because it won’t cope well with the lack of luminosity.

Watering and adding fertilizer

Finding the right balance is the key…

In spring and summer

This is usually the time of the year when cycas grows most.
Water regularly while letting the soil mix dry in the surface before watering again.

Watering must be regular but limited, in order to not suffocate the plant’s roots.
You might say that watering every 2 or 3 days is often needed.

  • Every two weeks, add liquid fertilizer, but wet the soil mix beforehand.

Starting in fall and then in winter

Start reducing the watering: water needs begin to decrease.
Only when the soil is dry down to the first inch or so (a couple centimeters), water to moisten the entire soil mix clump again.

One could say that watering once every 15 days should be enough.
But this also depends on where your cycas is placed: if in full sun, its needs will surely be higher.

  • This season is also when to stop adding fertilizer, from October all the way to March and April.

Fertilizer for cycas

This plant needs much more nitrogen than it does phosphorus and potassium. In conventional fertilizers, this means the “N” ratio must be higher than that of the “P” and “K”. For example, an 18 – 8 – 8 or a 24 – 8 – 8 fertilizer is perfect. Typically, manure has lots of nitrogen, with that from birds and goats being the highest. There are other ways to increase nitrogen content though:

Diseases and parasites that attack cycas

Leaves are twisted

This is undoubtedly due to lack of light or excess water.

  • Find a more exposed location for it and reduce watering to match our recommendations above.

Leaves turn yellow

If the plant continues to produce new leaves, this is part of your cycas’s natural cycle. Trees, even evergreen trees, lose their leaves to renew them.

  • So you can simply let them dry up and fall off from the cycas, or cut them when they’ve finished drying up.
  • If no new shoots appear, however, and your cycas looks pitiful, check on your watering and water drainage. Eventually, you might need to support the plant with liquid fertilizer every fortnight.

You should know that once a leaf turns yellow, be it due to pests, frost, or lack of nutrients, that same leaf won’t turn green again. You’ll have to cajole the plant into setting out new, healthy fronds!

Learn more about cycas

Japanese garden with outdoor cycasAlthough it may run contrary to popular belief, cycas isn’t a palm tree, but it does look very similar.

  • The care it needs is often very close to that of a palm tree, except for fertilizer. It needs much more nitrogen.

All in one aesthetic, resilient and very easy to grow, this is one of the most appreciated and often-purchased indoor plants. Outdoors, it adds a timeless feature to the garden, slowly evolving. It is native to Japan, which makes it a perfect complement to any Japanese garden.

Its foliage is particularly elegant and unique, and its thick trunk brings a touch of exotic life to a living room, dining area, or any other room of the house that is well-lit.

Smart tip about cycas

Cycas is one of the plants that date back to the time of dinosaurs! Like the ZZ plant or the Ginkgo biloba tree, cycas leaves routinely appear in fossils that are over 60 million years old.

Read also:


Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
Flower Council Holland
CC BY-SA 2.0: J Brew, Doug Beckers
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  • Tim Passey wrote on 13 July 2022 at 11 h 29 min

    Sorry but no… adding gravel to the bottom does not help drainage at all, it makes your soil wetter. You can understand that here.

    • Gaspard wrote on 13 July 2022 at 14 h 11 min

      Hi Tim, I understand that the drainage for the soil itself is unchanged by the gravel, you’re right on that. It does however help avoid clogging for the plant pot: usually for cycas it’s a fairly large pot, clay more often than not, and those often have but one single hole in the center for extra water to drain out. Gravel keeps the hole from clogging.

      For the soil, it’s best to amend the entire soil mix with sand, perlite, vermiculite and the like to modify water retention properties. Thanks for chipping in!

  • Here wrote on 4 May 2021 at 13 h 28 min

    Thank you for the article, it’s really helpful for beginners

    • Gaspard wrote on 8 May 2021 at 3 h 55 min

      Thanks for saying so, it’s nice to know you liked the article!

  • Sandy wrote on 1 June 2020 at 13 h 57 min

    What type of fertilizer do you recommend? Once the leaves are a little yellow do they return to green?

    • Gaspard wrote on 2 June 2020 at 15 h 13 min

      Hi Sandy, for cycas it’s recommended to have lots of nitrogen in your fertilizer. The first number in the group of three should be the highest – that’s the N for nitrogen in NPK. Manure in general is excellent, chicken and goat manure being the best, but there are lots of other options. And no, a leaf that has turned yellow will not revert to green 🙁 but there will be new sprouts coming up to replace the old leaves!