There are several things to consider when in the market for cycads as a signature element in your garden.
Understand Value/Rarity and Plant Size/Age
I combine budget and plant size into one heading because they are, for the most part, directly related to each other. When considering separate plants of the same species, if there are no obvious deficiencies or variations, the plant with the largest trunk (caudex) will have greater value. The caudex is the primary means of measure for determining value. The larger the caudex, the greater the value within each species. This rule doesn’t necessarily apply if one is comparing a large specimen of a common species to a small specimen of an extremely rare species. Having some sense of the relative rarity of each species can help the buyer to make a good decision on valuation.
Understand space requirements for mature plants
A mistake that is all too often made is the failure of the grower to adequately understand the mature size of each species being planted. Do your homework. Cycads typically do not produce fully mature leaves until the caudex has developed to approximately 90% of its mature footprint. In other words, mature size leaves are in direct relation to the development of the mature diameter of its caudex or its “footprint.” Learn the mature size of the caudex and leaves by reading or viewing mature plants, in order to gauge their approximate mature size. Leaf size can vary unnaturally if a plant is positioned in too much sun or too much deep shade. Too much sun can make leaves stay more compact (shorter), whereas too much shade can cause leaves to stretch out or extend in their attempt to reach for adequate light.
Choose an appropriate location for planting
Plant placement is a subject that can make or break the impact of a garden setting. I believe that cycads show best if they are given sufficient space to show their form without competing with other plants or architectural hindrances. In other words, give them the space that their mature form will need. This can be very difficult, especially if you are putting several young plants in the ground. Your garden will likely look somewhat sparse for a few years, but as they mature and fill out, your genius will become evident. It is also important to allow plenty of clearance around the anticipated mature leaf size beside foot paths for maintenance, pool access, and whatever pedestrian traffic your garden may experience. In addition don’t forget to leave plenty of clearance overhead. Under decks or eaves is not the best location for taller growing plants. You don’t want to have to remove them when they get big, if possible.
Understand the sun requirements of your cycad(s)
Another aspect of plant placement to consider is the amount of sun exposure or shade protection that each species prefers. In our southern California climate range, if you are planting within 15 or 20 miles of the ocean, most of the cycads available can take full sun. There are a few, however, that would prefer some shade or filtered sun exposure during the hottest hours of the afternoon. Some of the more tropical species do best with a bit more canopy protection. Further from the ocean, some plants may need more canopy protection.
In closing I hope that these recommendations give you confidence in your next cycad acquisition, and help you maximize your cycad growing experience. Remember that there are not too many absolute rules, and what I have suggested are just my take on certain guidelines that I have found to work for me. Be enthusiastic; be bold; and be wise.
Grow and prosper, Keith