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My New Litter of Pups

Renee headshot 

mother plant

Here's one of our incredible sago palms near our front door. We have two big ones. This is the biggest. As you can also see, there's a lot of vegetation near the base. Those are the sago palm's children huddled up around the base of mom. Upon looking, I observed that I had some teenagers in there and that they very much needed to go out on their own. While I was doing that, I decided to wean some of the younger ones. They're perfectly able to live on their own. Mom is getting crowded out! Time to liberate mom!

But before I go on, for those of you who do not live in the Central Valley, you might ask, "What's a sago palm?"

Sago palms (Cycas revoluta) are not really palms. They are an ancient relative of conifer trees. Sago palms produce both seeds and offsets, also called pups. The pups are miniature clones of the parent plant that develop around the base. Propagation is a (fairly) simple process of removing the pups from the base of a mature plant and potting them up. The sago palm is hardy in Zones 8a though 11.

Things You Will Need:

• Hori-hori knife (optional but highly desired)
• Sturdy screwdriver or small pry bar
• Sand
• Peat moss
• Pots
• Long sleeve substantial shirt (sagos have stickers!)
• Leather gloves (pups are pokey!)

Here's what you do to get those pups off mom. First, clear some of the soil away from the base of the palm with your hands to expose the pups. The pups have a bulb-like shape.

Here's where I ran into my first hurdle: getting the pups off. Most things you read on the internet say that they are "loosely" attached. My pups were not even loosely attached. They were stuck like glue! So what do I do? Knowing that I didn't pay anything for the pups, I proceeded to get them loose by whatever means necessary! If some of the pups were sacrificed, well then so be it. There's no cost involved. However, I tried to save as many as I can. They're tough so I wasn't worried too much.

babies
Here's a big teenager at the bottom and some small ones just above it.

I dug around them to find the base of the pup where it attaches to the parent plant. I looked for the narrow(er) base. It's not very narrow. Just a little bit more narrow. Some say pull the pup free by gently wiggling it. Some say if it doesn't come easily, cut the pup at the narrow base where it attaches. You can try either of those methods. I got out my sturdy screwdriver and pried them loose. I used the hori-hori knife to cut and scrape dirt as needed.

It took concerted effort to pry my pups loose. Especially the big ones. Some came off with roots. Most didn't. That's alright. With care they will get new roots back soon.

pups
This shows the different sizes I got.

Then I cut off the leaves from the top of the pup.

trimmed
You see the brown shoots at the crown? They will eventually be leaves.

Now I'm going to leave them in a shady spot for a week before potting. This allows the wound to heal, minimizing the risk of rot when you put it in the soil.

When you're ready to go, choose a pot 2 inches larger than the diameter of the pup. For example, a pup with a 3-inch diameter needs a 5-inch pot. Fill the pot two-thirds full with a blend of half sand and half peat moss.

Scoop out a shallow hole in the center of the pot and place the sago palm pup in the soil with the side that was attached to the parent plant facing down. Refill the hole so that the pup is one-half  below the soil line.

Water the pot so that it is thoroughly damp all the way through. Let the potting mix dry out before watering again.

walmart
I took this picture at WalMart. It takes weeks for the leaves to appear.

Look for new leaf growth as the sago palm pup creates new roots.

If you live where temperatures drop below 20 degrees you can grow them in a pot. Bring them into a protected garage or porch during frosty winter weather.

I'm hoping to eventually sell the successful ones. The sago palm from Walmart had a $25 price tag on it. I have 25 pups. Do the math. That's a tidy little chunk o' change.