Updated: Dec 5, 2022
How to effectively use them in your planting scheme
Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) is a fairly common ornamental plant in southern landscapes. Sagos are members of the Cycad family, ancient plants dating back to the time of the dinosaurs. These slow growing plants are native to Japan and parts of China but are not true palms.
I have found that the sago is one of those plants that many people have strong opinions about. Some people love their bold, symmetrical appearance and use them to accent entry walks or other high visibility areas of the home. Other people consider them a nuisance or even a hazard. The sharp, needle-like leaflets can be painful and the plants are known to be toxic to people and pets. There are many sources of information on the cultivation and care of sagos; this is not one of them. My intention is to offer my personal professional opinion of the best way to use them in the landscape.
As mentioned, sagos are often seen accenting the front walk of a home or on either side of the front door. This is probably a result of their consistently symmetrical growth habit and bold, eye-catching appearance. However, over time these plants can get large and encroach upon the walkway creating an unfriendly and often painful welcome. Additionally as the plant grows it may become shabby with dead leaves and unwanted 'pups' growing from the base of the trunk.
If you like the look of sago palms, I believe that incorporating them into a informal mixed border of evergreen and deciduous shrubs is a very effective way to use them. The sago will provide a visually bold textured accent to plantings of flowering shrubs and perennials, giving a hint of the tropics while obscuring some of its less attractive attributes. This will also keep the sharp leaflets and toxic parts of this plant at a friendly distance from people and pets.
As is the case with most bold textures, less is often more. One or two sago palms in a garden can provide great visual interest. Too many can be chaotic and visually confusing. Since it is a bold textured plant, I would avoid using sagos in combination with other large leafed 'tropical' plants like bananas, gingers or dwarf palmettos or other palms. Doing so could result in your garden looking like a jungle!
Sagos perform well in containers. Placed on a patio or pool deck, the elegant foliage makes a beautiful accent and they are fairly easy to maintain. Just remember to keep them away from areas where people, especially children, are likely to brush past them.
These slow growing ornamentals can be expensive, especially at a large size. Take the time to do some research before deciding whether to use them. Consider where they will be located and if they might pose a hazard to children or pets. Remember that the leaflets can be unfriendly and many parts of the plant can be toxic if ingested.
Whether you love them or hate them, sagos have a place in many warm climate gardens. They are easy to maintain and, used properly, will provide texture and visual interest to your garden for many years.
If you would like further information about this topic or others, please feel free to contact me!
I am always happy to help you to achieve a beautiful and functional garden and landscape!