Why Is My Sago Palm Dying? (And How Can I Save It?)

Sago’s palm is not a true palm tree. Instead, it is a cycad. These low-growing palms have large green fronds, usually growing out from an unbranched trunk.

Sago palms are palm-like cycads and are native to the subtropical and tropical regions of the Old World. The cycads are largely cultivated as houseplants and used as ornamental plants in warm climatic regions.

Sago palms have large compound leaves that grow in a circinate fashion and have a dark green color. The leaves grow in whorls originating from the top of the trunk, and their leathery texture makes them excellent plants to add structural aesthetics to any space.

Sago palms are easy to take care of, low maintenance, modern indoor houseplants, but sometimes they dry out and require a little more care than you usually give.

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Why Is My Sago Palm Dying?

There can be many reasons for your sago palm dying or its leaves drying out. Sago’s palm shows signs of dying and drying out through various forms like leaf discoloration, browning of leaves, changes in the shape and appearance of leaves, stunted growth, etc.

Understanding the proper cause behind your sago palm’s declining health and appearance and its suitable remedy is essential to free your plant from stress and poor growing conditions.

Many reasons behind a dying sago palm include manganese deficiency, incorrect watering, nitrogen deficiency, sunlight fluctuations, transport shock, pests’ infestation, and root rot.

Manganese Deficiency

Every plant needs a healthy dose of nutrients for its growth and development, which is why manganese deficiency produces unfavorable symptoms in sago palms. Manganese deficiency is evident from the chlorosis and necrosis of sago palm leaves, particularly the newest growth.

Manganese deficiency begins its effects by the development of pale yellow-green splotches on the newest leaves, which further progresses to the whole sago palm leaves turning yellow.

Afterward, this condition leads to the sago palm turning brown and the leaves frizzling and dying afterward. Manganese deficiency also affects fruit and leaves development and can kill the whole sago palm if left untreated.

Incorrect Watering

Ideally, sago palm requires watering every four to six days when there is no rainfall. The plant must be watered enough so that the top 10 inches of its soil is always moist.

However, when the sago plant has grown mature, it becomes pretty drought resistant and doesn’t require watering much often.

Sago’s palms originate from Southern japan’s tropical islands, which means they are adaptable to frequent watering, but not too much.

Overwatering can develop fungal diseases in the plant roots, whereas underwatering can lead to sago palm leaves drying out.

The sago palm requires changing and adjusting its watering frequency as the weather conditions change.

In hotter months, sago palm gets thirsty more often and requires an increase in water quantity, whereas, in cooler months, you will need to reduce the watering frequency to maintain soil moisture.

Nitrogen Deficiency

Just like manganese deficiency affects the newer fronds of a sago palm, nitrogen deficiency attacks the older fronds.

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for sago palm leaves’ vibrant color and texture and contributes to healthy and strong root growth.

Sago palm fronds have a stunning deep green color, which can turn an unhealthy yellow if the plant suffers from nutrient deficiencies like nitrogen and manganese.

If you notice that the older fronds on your sago palm are turning yellow, it indicates nitrogen deficiency. These yellowed leaves will never recover their original color, but promptly addressing this deficiency is essential if newer plant fronds are to be saved from yellowing.

A nitrogen-rich fertilizer is efficient in preventing nitrogen deficiency. Fertilizing the plant is tricky, as over-fertilizing can also lead to a dying sago palm.

Since nitrogen is an important component of the building blocks of the plant body such as proteins and enzymes, nitrogen deficiency can be one of the reasons your sago palm is dying.

Sunlight Fluctuations

Sago palms require medium to bright light for their optimum growth. These tropical plants require about eight hours of sunlight per day and can even tolerate an extent of direct sunlight on hot summer days.

Houseplants commonly experience dying conditions as they do not receive adequate sunlight as outdoor plants do. If your sago palm is not receiving enough sunlight, its ability to photosynthesize and produce food and energy for the plant body will be inhibited.

Less photosynthesis will lead to the declining health of your sago palm, and the condition worsens in colder months when the days get shorter.

Try to reposition your sago palm in a well-lit area of your indoor space, which receives a minimum of 5 hours of filtered light.

On the other hand, ensure that you do not expose your plant to direct and intense sunlight for most of the day, as too much of the sun will scorch the leaves, leading to the tips of the sago palm turning brown.

The high-temperature stress and prolonged exposure to poor watering conditions are leading causes of sago palm leaves drying out.

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Transport Shock

This healthy and tough-looking plant can easily die due to transport shock. The sago palm is a plant that does not transport easily, especially when fully grown and mature. It does not appreciate transportation, so if you ever plan on moving your sago palm, do so with extreme precautions and care.

Disturbances in the root system after moving a sago palm will show themselves as yellowing or browning of fronds.

Ensure that when you remove the sago palm from its initial position, you must place it immediately in a plastic container with a mixture of rooting fertilizer and water.

Plant the sago palm in its new location as soon as you can, and make sure that the palm is as deep in its soil as it was before. Then water it and add more rooting fertilizer, and monitor the sago palm for a few weeks to see if it is doing well and whether or not transporting has damaged its root system.

Pests Infestation

The most common enemies of sago palms are mealybugs and scale insects. These pests suck the plant fluid from its stems and leaves, leaving the sago palm leaves drying out and dehydrated.


Mealybugs are white bugs that cause sago palm leaf discoloration as it feeds on their stems and fruits. This pest infestation must be promptly addressed as mealybugs reproduce rapidly and don’t kill with regular chemical control.

Spraying the sago palm with insecticidal soap and water is effective in washing away and killing mealy bugs. A chemical toxin that will penetrate their waxy coating will protect your sago palm from dying, but if the infestation gets out of hand, the sago palm must be disposed of properly.

Scale Insects

Scale insects appear as brown, black, gray, or white round insects on the sago palm. These sap-sucking insects form a resistant hard outer shell that protects them from insecticides. The scale insects deprive the sago palm of its nutrients, finally drying out its leaves.

Controlling scales is essential as these insects can eventually lead to sago palm dying after its leaves turn brown and heavily infested.

Removing scale insects can be challenging, as they do not detach from the plant even after dying. This is why a high-pressure water hose or scrub brush removes dead insects from sago palms.

Root Rot

Sago palms are also susceptible to root rot, just like other plants. The cycad is drug-resistant and requires adjustment in the watering schedule according to weather conditions.

When you overwater your sago palm, the oversaturation of soil makes the plant susceptible to many fungal diseases.

Phytophthora fungi are the most common plant disease and affect sago palms’ root system. Root rot directly results in a dying sago palm. It first causes leaf discoloration, wilting, and eventually leaf drop.

This disease thrives on poor draining and over-saturated soil, leading to poor nutrient uptake by the plant, eventually leading to its death. The infected sago palm develops a dark vertical sore on its trunk, oozing out a black or red sap.

Root rot can eventually kill your sago palm, but if it is promptly addressed, the sago palm can be saved. Cut away the rotten tissue from the plant roots, and seal the wounds by dusting them with a root stimulant.

Plant your sago palm in well-draining soil that will not retain a lot of moisture, and ensure that you do not overwater your plant in the future.

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A sago palm can outlive its plant owners if it receives proper light conditions, water levels in the soil, and pest infestation control. These are incredibly long-living cycads, as sago palms have a lifespan of approximately 200 years.

However, if the plant is gradually losing the color of its leaves or dropping them altogether, it is an alarming situation that must be promptly addressed.

Even though the dried-out or discolored leaves cannot become green again, a sago palm can be revived if the infected roots or leaves of the plant are adequately removed from the main body.

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