This is the time of the year when your cycads and associated garden treasures should be thriving.
Cycads may be flushing leaves or in any of many stages of cone development. As you may know the process of producing leaves and cones is very taxing for most cycads. It is rare that a cycad would be able to produce a flush of leaves and cone all in one year, and then repeat the process year after year, even under the most favorable conditions. There are, however other signs that the plant is thriving, which is mentioned below. Since most of us do not have perfect conditions year round, nor do we know precisely what plant food or nutritional requirements each plant has during the growing season, we make an educated guess based on the experience of those who have come before us as well as contemporaries who have demonstrated a measure of success at growing. We also can go on the basic appearance of the plant, and it’s past history of leaf and cone production.
If you have been meeting the needs of your plants during the year, July, August, and September are the months that your plants should be looking their best (in the northern hemisphere). These are your “pay off” months, when you see the fruits of your labor.
Leaves and cones are a relatively obvious sign of growth that we tend to celebrate this time of year. But what about those plants that get the same care as all of the others, but tend to sit dormant during the growing season? Well I have come to realize that just because a cycad does not produce leaves or cones in a season, it does not mean that the cycad is not growing. As cycads mature, there are seasons when a plant may expend its growth in caudex size and/or root development, both of which are not as showy, yet equally important for the health of the plant. This type of growth isn’t always obvious, but I have observed on many occasions healthy plants with a full crown of leaves simply gaining caudex mass. This type of growth can also take the form of pup or offset development.
A sound fertilizer feeding regimen from March through September can help to promote healthy growth that may take the form of any combination of examples previously mentioned. Just remember that with any plant fertilizers, it is important not to exceed the recommended rate of feeding. In hotter dryer areas, especially in the summer months, your cycads can benefit from a top dressing of two to four inches of mulch and organic composted garden material, which helps to keep the soil from drying too rapidly. This material can include dead leaves and pine needles, grass clippings, chipped bark, and even kitchen scraps all of which have been collected and composted or broken down over time. Be sure not to put weeds and their flowers and seeds into this mix for obvious reasons. This organic mix also helps to feed the micro organisms in the soil that assist in breaking down the organic material so that the plants can absorb that nutrition.
Caring for your plants with ample watering, proper feeding, mulching, and, of course, weeding will surely pay off in the form of larger caudexes, healthy leaf crowns, increasing in number and size with each flush, cones, and the appearance of pups along the soil line. Cycads are slow, but there are rewards for your patience.
Grow and prosper,