Jungle Music Palms and Cycads Nursery

Nursery Hours:
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Phone: (619) 291-4605
Fax: (619) 574-1595

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by Phil Bergman


Description of Article

This article is a pictorial guide to repotting of a cycad plant.  There is discussion of when and how to put your cycad into a larger container, the preferable pot size to use and things to avoid. 


As many of you know, there is very little information in books and on the Internet about how to grow cycads.  If given good culture, cycads will grow and many species are actually fairly "fast" growers.  As a plant gets larger, its roots and root mass also grow.  This requires repotting the cycad into a larger container.  I am often asked "how do I do it?"  At our nursery, we repot thousands of cycads.  What this article will do is give you a series of pictures with discussion on the actual process of moving a cycad into a larger container.  I will make comments on each topic discussed below and discuss container size, cycad potting soil, things to avoid, and make general comments on cycad culture.



Cycads have very large root systems for the size of the plant above the ground.  This is most apparent with plants in the juvenile stage.  A simple single leaf germinated seed can have a main root that is quite large.  As the plant grows for the next several years, this main radical can expand and get surprisingly large.  It would not be unusual to have an Encephalartos with a cuadex (trunk) of 2 inches and leaves about 2 feet long to have a main subterranean root that is the size of a large potato or yam.  As the cycad grows and ages, you might see a "bulging" of the container.  As time goes on, the soil will become filled with roots.  Roots may begin to emerge from the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.  Below are some things which might let you know that it's time to repot.

  The plant becomes unstable and tips over easily
  The caudex occupies 50% or more of the diameter of the container
  The container is becoming distorted or "bulging" significantly
  The plant starts to "lift itself" out of the container, visibly showing roots below the caudex
  New leaves seem to be stunted or not forming correctly
  Drainage of water through the container seems to be restricted
  The container is breaking or cracking apart
  The plant just appears too big for the container
  When the existing soil in the pot is broken down or decomposing
new seedling Encephalartos
Typically new Encephalartos seedlings

Encephalartos altensteinii too big for pot
This caudex is too big for this container

Cycad roots band container
Roots of band size cycad ready for repot
Cycas, overgrown for cit pot
A Cycas which outgrew a citrus pot
Encephalartos altensteinii 2g size
This Encephalartos is unstable in its 2 gallon pot
Broken down cycad soil
Old broken down cycad soil
Overgrown cycad in citrus pot
Overgrown cycad in citrus pot
Bulging pot from cycad root
Bulging pot from cycad roots
Damaged pot from cycad roots
Damaged pot from cycad roots
Damaged cycad pots
More examples roots damaging cycad pots
Unstable cycad
Unstable cycad in citrus pot
Cycad roots seedling
Even cycad seedlings have big roots



The general rule is that one selects the next larger size of container, but this is variable.  It might also depend on what containers are available to you.  In The West Coast, container sizes are different than in the Eastern U.S.  Out here we go by "gallon size" whereas back East the containers are measured in "inches" such as "eight inch", "ten inch", etc.  One could simply select a container that is three to six inches greater in diameter and also in depth.  You may have heard that cycads like "deep pots".  This is true.  I would take depth over diameter when selecting a container size.  This is why the citrus pot size is more popular than the 5 gallon pot.  It is more narrow, but about 3 to 6 inches deeper.  This gives the roots more room.  Above 15g size it is sometimes better to go with a 24 inch box.  This is because available pots greater than the 15g size often are no deeper than the 15g.  In fact, the typical 20g pot is the exact same depth as a 15g pot.  Note should be made that some people prefer un-glazed clay pots saying they "breathe better".  This is true and may aerate the roots better.  But, containers made from clay are much more expensive that plastic pots.  If the clay pot has an enamel coat, it will breathe no better than a plastic pot.  

  Select a container 3 to 6 inches wider and deeper than the existing pot
  Try to select a new container that adds depth (taller pot) thus giving more root depth



Although there's variability in the needs between cycad genera, in general all types of cycads like a good draining soil.  What "good draining" means is that you will promptly see any added water into the pot come through the bottom holes in a matter of seconds.  If you water your plant and it takes several minutes for water to appear out of the bottom drain holes, your drainage is not optimal.  Materials that promote drainage include such items as pumice, pebbles, large Perlite, very coarse sand, coarse decomposed granite, wood chips (until they break down) and coarse peat moss.  Items that slow drainage include fine sand (20 grit as an example), clay soil, fine top soil, or any fine particulate matter.  You can use topsoil in a cycad mix, but you must "open it up" with the more coarse items or it will not drain well.  Below is a general recipe for cycad soil with comments about the mix we use at the nursery. 

General Recipe for Cycad Potting Soil
1. One part pumice (one can substitute scoria)
2. One part 1/8 to 1/4 inch redwood orchid bark (make sure it's not fine)
3. One part course sand (grit # 12 best).
4. One part coarse peat moss.
Jungle Music's Cycad Potting Soil
To the above mixture we also add 1/2 part of horticultural charcoal and 1/2 part of perlite #2. This improves drainage and "sweetens" the mix.
To a one yard volume of either mix above, one should add approximately one to two pounds of dolomite lime, one pound of microelements (such as Ironite), and one pound of a slow release fertilizer (such as Osmocote).

Note:  This is a "potting soil" - a mix for the garden would be different and have to be blended with your native garden soil.

plastic pots
container sizes, left to right:
band, 1 gal, 2g, 5g, 7g, 15g, 20g, 24 in box

band size pot
close up band size container, the smallest pot
size we use





Perlite #2
Sand, coarse
Sand, coarse grit #12
Redwood bark chips
Peat Moss photo 
Peat Moss (not sphagnum moss)
Dolomite to correct (lower pH) acidity in soil
Cycad Potting Soil 
Finished Product - Cycad Potting Soil



Cycads are very sturdy plants and are not difficult to grow.  If you live in a warmer climate, you can repot them at any time during the growing season, which is spring to fall.  If you have a greenhouse you are growing the plants in, then almost any time of year would work.  Some prefer to repot their plants in late winter or early spring, thus giving them a full growing season ahead.  If you have a significant problem like a torn container or very poor drainage, I would favor repotting immediately as opposed to waiting for a more optimal time.



Below you will see a series of photographs taken while we repotted an Encephalartos.  I'll make comments in the left column.


This shows the cycad that
we have chosen to repot
Repotting cycad
You can see that the caudex
is very large for this citrus
pot container
Repotting cycad
You can also imagine how
this plant might be unstable
in its container
repotting cycad
One first grasps the caudex
firmly with one hand.  You
will be holding the plant with
this hand when you remove
the plant from the container
repotting cycad
With the plant's caudex being
firmly held, one tips up the end
of the container, holding the
plant in place and observing
for any movement of the root
repotting cycads
One would then continue inverting
the container until it is upside
down.  Typically, if well established,
the plant will start to slide out
of its pot
repotting cycad
Note that the root ball slide out
of the container intact.  Be aware
that sometimes this loose cycad
mix may fall away.  If happens,
just hold onto the plant and
continue with the repot.  You'll
be adding new mix to stabilize
the plant in the new container.
repotting cycads
Shown is a well rooted, tight
root ball that hasn't fallen
repotting cycads
Here new cycad potting soil
is being added to the container
that will be this cycad's new
pot.  You must measure
the height of the removed root
ball above so you know how
much soil to add to the bottom
of the pot before putting the
plant into this new pot.
repotting cycads
One would now place the cycad
into the pot with new mix at the
bottom of the container.  The
plnat must be held firmly,
suspening it in space.  You add
soil around the roots as you
hold the plant.
repotting cycads
Note how two hands are now holding
the plant.  As you add soil, the force
of the soil could knock the plant
out of your hands
repotting cycads
Mix is being carefully added
to the pot, pouring it down the
sides away from the rootball.
The plant is still being suspended
in air with two hands.
repotting cycads
Additional soil has been added
so the plant is now stabilized
and no longer needs to be held.
At this point one must start to
firmly pack in the potting soil.
repotting cycads
Extra potting soil is added
because, after you pack it in,
the level will drop. 
repotting cycads
The cycad mix is being packed
down into the pot
repotting cycads
For larger containers, you can
use your fists to pack in the
repotting cycads
The finished product with
the new cycad in a 15g
container.  Don't forget
to water.
repotting cycads





Thank you for reading about our nursery.

Phil Bergman

Owner of Jungle Music, Palm and Cycad Author and Creator of this Website


Nursery Location: 450 Ocean View Ave, Encinitas, CA 92024
Phone: 619 291 4605
Nursery Hours: 9AM to 4PM, Monday through Saturday

Email:   phil@junglemusic.net





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