Following one of the most abundant rainy seasons that we have had in many years, I am seeing many mature cycads that look as if they are primed to produce significant growth in the form of leaves or cones. As I am located in southern California, nearly every year my Encephalartos princeps are one of the earliest species to flush new leaves. Of the seven E. princeps that I have growing in the ground, at least four plants have flushed new leaves or are in the process of doing so. The other three may cone later in the year or just grow in the caudex (trunk) or root areas.
Growth in the area of caudex and roots is often overlooked in terms of development. I often hear collectors converse about their plants and state that their cycads had not set any new leaves or produced cones in the past year or two on plants that look to be healthy. This observation is often misleading. Many growers of cycads consider new leaves or cones to be the only significant growth that cycads exhibit. Since a new set of leaves and cone production are relatively spectacular events, it is easy to overlook the less obvious. Equally important and less spectacular are root and trunk growth. The roots and trunk are the necessary prerequisites to a robust healthy cycad. This year’s deep soak rains should make a significant impact on gardens throughout SoCal. Cycads should show considerable progress in all phases of growth.
For all cycads in the ground before the seasonal rains arrive (late fall through spring), I generally try to top dress and turn into the soil some organic fertilizer. If I don’t get any fertilizer down before the rains have completed their seasonal cycle, I may not see significant growth benefits until the following season. Since cycads are survivors and can be very forgiving, any organic food, even if administered late in the season, will likely eventually be beneficial to the plant.
Conversely I recommend that growers feed, plants both in the ground as well as in pots, in the warm months of the year. (Typically between March and September.) Although I prefer organic fertilizer for plants in the ground, I do use chemical water soluble fertilizer for juvenile potted plants. As always, if you are using chemical fertilizer, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. In time you may eventually gain familiarity with your chosen fertilizer products and their benefits and results. Perhaps at that time you may choose to experiment as needed with the frequency and dosage. Bear in mind that chemical fertilizers can be a two-edged sword. If used properly, they can be beneficial to your plants, and just the opposite is true if you over fertilize with your water soluble chemical fertilizer.
Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, are far more forgiving. It would usually take a sizeable miscalculation in the application of organic fertilizer to cause serious damage. Just bear in mind that doubling your fertilizer in any application doesn’t mean that your plants will grow twice as fast. Moderation is a good policy.
All the best this growing season.
Grow and prosper,