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Question: cicas

I planted some small cicas in my garden. Some leaves have yellow patches as I can solve the problem. I have also been advised to also give iron to them is advisable. Thanks

Answer: cicas

Dear Giosue,
cycas are very slow-growing plants, whose exotic appearance leads us to think that they are delicate, difficult to care for, or easy prey for insects and fungal diseases; in reality they are resistant plants, which if placed in the correct climate do not require great care and survive without problems even in critical conditions; the only "defect" they have is a very slow development.
Having said that, it often happens that cycas plants are filled with small spots on the foliage, usually yellowish; the main reason is usually due to a lack of nutrients in the soil. Fertilization of cycas is generally done by spreading at the foot of the trunk a small handful of slow-release granular fertilizer for green plants, which will be gradually dissolved from the water of bad weather and watering; providing this fertilizer at the beginning of spring, the plant will have it for about four months, and therefore in practice for the whole growing season. If you don't like granular fertilizer, dissolve the fertilizer for green plants in the water of your cycads, every 15-17 days, from April to September.
It happens that in particular conditions the cycas suffer from ferric chlorosis; in this case, however, they are unlikely to have yellow spots, rather the color of the foliage, usually a beautiful dark green, becomes progressively more and more clear, until it becomes almost yellow: all the foliage, starting from the thick and fleshy petiole, up to apex of the frond.
In the event that tomorrow your plant becomes completely yellow, you may have to practice a greening treatment, using fertilizer; but in this case I think it is not this problem.
It also happens that some spots are due to the presence of parasites on the plant, generally they are cochineal; in this case, however, you should see the bugs attached to the leaves on the underside with the naked eye. If you notice small white, swollen dots that burst at the simple pressure with a finger, then sprinkle the plant with white oil, activated with an insecticide product based on pyrethrum. Or, if the spots are few, and the insects in small numbers, remove them with a cotton bud soaked in alcohol. Cochineal grows on plants grown in very dry air and soil conditions, and lack of ventilation.
The umpteenth motio for which some cycas present some spots is often due to excesses of watering, or excess of water due to the bad weather; in this case, in addition to the spots, the fronds are soft and slightly floppy; if the plants are in the garden, and therefore it is not possible to dose the amount of water they receive, there is only to hope that the soil will dry with the sun in the coming months.

The cycas

Cycads are part of the Cycadaceae family which includes 12 species. They are very similar to palm trees, although they are in effect different plants. They have a central trunk with a crown at the top created by leathery, pinnate, shiny, dark green leaves. There are male and female specimens, since they are dioecious plants. At full maturity they can produce very showy and decorative yellow inflorescences from the center of the tuft of leaves. Usually in nurseries and at household level they are reproduced by agamic means: in Italy, therefore, the present specimens are almost all females. If the female flower is pollinated (we have to do it manually) a false drupe develops during the summer. The seeds will then be completely ripe at the beginning of the following year when they take on a color that can go from yellow to intense orange. They come mainly from Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Pacific islands.


The cicas are plants widely used both in the ground and as pot plants because they give a lot of satisfaction without requiring special care and attention.


In Italy they can live outside almost anywhere. It is good only to avoid the alpine and pre-Alpine areas. They withstand the cold well up to -10 ° C, but if they are placed in a place sheltered from the wind they also stand up to -15. Therefore, if we live in an area where, even occasionally, these temperatures are reached, it is better to place them alongside a wall, possibly facing south so that during the day they absorb heat to be released during the night. In the case of very cold winters we can also activate it by protecting the trunk with insulating material or with specific non-woven fabric. Placing them near a wall can also be useful to protect them from winds and currents, since they do not particularly love them. They can also clearly be grown in pots. In that case it is preferable to keep them indoors only during the winter. During the vegetative period, instead, it would be better to move them in the garden or on a balcony, in a very bright area, but not with direct light (because the plant, little used, could be damaged).


If placed outside this plant lives well both in full sun and in partial shade. It is advisable only to avoid complete shade. At home it must have as bright an exposure as possible.


If our plant is in full ground it will need to be watered quite frequently so that the soil always remains moist. We only avoid that there are hollows around the trunk that, by allowing water to stagnate, would cause root rot or collar rot.
If it grows instead in the container the irrigation must be commensurate to the exposure. The only way to adjust is to insert a finger deep into the soil to make sure of the degree of humidity present. However, it is always very important to avoid stagnation with a lot of equilibrium in the interventions and by setting up a thick draining layer on the bottom made up of shards, gravel or expanded clay.
We also avoid using the saucer as much as possible.


They are not very demanding in terms of substrate. In full ground they tolerate practically all soils well. The ideal however is a mixture of clayey earth, woodland and sand. It is important, however, to create a good draining layer at the bottom of the hole with some gravel at the time of planting, the substrate is rather clayey and compact. Even in a container, the only precaution that must be observed is to create a beautiful, rather thick, draining layer, as mentioned above. They are plants that grow very slowly and this aspect is emphasized if they are kept in a container. So repotting should be done rarely, usually every three years. The important thing is to choose one slightly larger than the previous one so that the plant is stimulated to produce leaves rather than roots.


These are vegetables with very slow growth. If kept outside on average they grow 3 cm in height per year, if kept in pots at most 1 cm. For this reason they do not need abundant fertilizations. Usually we intervene every 2 months with a well balanced liquid product that brings macro and microelements. If the plant is in full ground we can distribute even a small handful of slow release granular fertilizer only once or twice a year (perhaps at the end of winter and in mid-summer). It may happen that the leaves are pale green. This can be caused by a lack of iron bound to a fairly high pH of our soil. In that case we can intervene in advance incorporating some iron sulphate. If the situation continues to recur, we can also administer products based on chelated iron, both by irrigation and by foliar fertilization. Let us always remember to distribute them in the evening or early in the morning as light and heat lead to a rapid deterioration and therefore to a lower efficacy of the product.

Plant cleaning

If the plant grows regularly, it is normal to see at least two leaves at the base turn yellow every year. These must be eliminated without leaving any stumps because they could rot and become vehicles for pathogens. The best way to get rid of the leaves is to simply pull them down hard. Generally in this way they detach directly from the trunk without leaving traces.


In order to bloom the cycads must be rather large reaching at least 2.5 meters in height. This means that the plant must be at least 10 years old. It is almost impossible to see the specimens grown in pots bloom.

Pests and diseases

It is generally a very resistant plant. If there is any error in cultivation, they can be attacked by pathogens of various kinds. It is therefore advisable to keep them well monitored by observing the trunk and upper and lower pages of the leaves regularly.
Yellow cycas leaves
It can happen especially in summer. The cause may be an excess of irrigation (especially if they are in a container or in a soil that is too heavy) or an excess of nitrogen fertilizer.
In this case it is very important to suspend the administration of water and coadjuvants for a certain period and to keep the soil dry for a while longer than necessary.
It should be remembered that apart from a few rare exceptions, the use of the saucer is mostly harmful because it hinders the flow of water, causing the roots to rot.
Leaves with dark round spots
They can be caused by winter frosts or water shortages (in summer). In this case it is good to remove excessively damaged leaves and restore adequate irrigation.
If the spots were on the underside of the leaf they could instead be caused by the cottony cochineal. If you look carefully at the plant it should not be difficult to identify some specimens. In this case (if the infestation is of small-medium size) we can remove them manually with a cotton swab soaked in alcohol and washing the leaves well with soapy water to remove any smoke.
If you find that the problem is widespread, you can use a systemic insecticide in combination with a mineral oil. There are also formulations with both premixed products.
If the infestation occurs regularly every year and your plants are in pots, you can also think about acting beforehand by inserting insecticide tablets into the soil. They usually last about 3 months and protect from a wide range of insects.


The multiplication of cycas can be obtained mainly by seed or sucker.
Seed reproduction is very slow as only about nine months are required for germination. Furthermore, as we have said, it is difficult to get the plant to produce them.
If you proceed by taking a sucker instead you will be able to have a new plant in a fairly short time. First of all, take the shoots at the base or along the trunk. They should be placed in a small vase halfway up their height. The soil must be very light and draining, possibly composed of sand and perlite. Always leave this substratum rather dry so that the sucker is stimulated to produce roots. When these have appeared they can begin to irrigate more abundantly.
It will take at least 10 months before the first leaves appear. At that point you can transfer the seedling to a slightly larger (but not too much!) Pot with richer soil. The first leaves are always rather tender and delicate: it is therefore necessary to handle the plant very gently.


Cycas revoluta: it is native to South-East Asia. It is the most cultivated species in Europe. It has arched leaves. Growth is very slow. Usually they reach a maximum of 2 meters in height.
Cycas siamesis: it looks a lot like revoluta, but it is even smaller.
Cycas circinalis: it is higher than revoluta (up to 6 meters), it has a faster growth and bigger leaves (they can even reach one meter in length).

Cicas: male Cycas

Cycas is a dioecious plant, meaning that it is a plant that has a male species and a female species. Usually plants carry both male and female flowers but there are exceptions, such as cycads or kiwis, in which the plants are of a very distinct sex, either male or female.
To understand if it is a male or a female, however, it is necessary to see the flower because the other characteristics are identical in both plants.
The blooming male cycas produces a strobilus, a species of large elongated cone bearing the single male flowers (called microsporophylls) which are scaly and carry scattered or grouped pollen sacs. The male flowers are produced at the center of a group of leaves and have a very characteristic yellow-orange color.
The female cycas instead they produce different flowers than the male ones both from an aesthetic point of view and from a functional point of view. The feminine flowers (called sporophilli) always form terminal strokes but their shape is wider and less elongated and the "scales" are more accentuated.
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Cycadaceae, 12 species
Origin Asia, Africa, Oceania

Full sun or very bright if inside
Ground Medium, not particularly demanding. Well drained.
Irrigation Abundant without stagnation
Composting Once every 2 months
Height Up to 6 meters. The maximum release is 3 meters.
Playback Sowing or taking basal shoots.