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Agriculture Today

Foliage problems on sago palms

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South Texas Gardener
July 18, 2012 | 3,670 views | Post a comment

Q. I have two large sago palms. Starting about two years ago every time they put out new leaves, they have brown patches all over them or the bottom half of the leaves comes out and dies immediately. They are growing great and the unaffected part of the leaves looks good.

A. The symptoms sound like you may have more than one problem happening here. Sago palms are tough but foliage problems do regularly appear. Do you have scale insects on the stems and leaves? They are sucking insects that live in shells on the leaves and stems. They are hard to kill. Obtain some horticultural oil and dilute it as the label directs. Mix in some acephate (Orthene) and then apply thoroughly to the plants. The oil suffocates and the acephate helps kill the pests. Is there any chance that the plant is receiving too much water or that the water is not draining well? If there is any question, cut back on the water. Sagos are almost impossible to kill with drought but they can react in the manner you describe to excess water. It will be a relatively slow recovery period.

Q. I have a magnolia tree that I’ve had about three, maybe four years now. I would guesstimate its height to be about 20 feet. My question is what could be causing some of the leaves to turn brown? I’ve read that it could be caused by lack of water or too much water. Considering the spring we’ve had, I can’t imagine it’s a lack of water. Is there something to be concerned about and/or what is the recommended treatment? The tree currently has several buds and has bloomed every year.

A. Magnolias have a very difficult time in obtaining iron from our soils. They are acid lovers. The symptoms are caused by that difficulty. The tree is trying to grow in response to the wonderful conditions this spring but probably has a damaged root system from last year’s drought. If good conditions continue, it should grow through it but they are always sensitive to the stresses of our soil and erratic rainfall.

Calvin Finch is a horticulturist and the San Antonio Water System’s project director of regional initiatives and special projects. Hear him on “Gardening South Texas” on KLUP 930 AM radio Saturdays noon to 2 p.m., and 1-3 p.m. Sundays. Or, email him at

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