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Q: Transplanting large sago ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Transplanting large sago
Category: Family and Home > Gardening
Asked by: h60crewman-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 10 Jul 2005 19:54 PDT
Expires: 09 Aug 2005 19:54 PDT
Question ID: 541997
How do I successfully transplant a large female Sago Palm from very
hard, clay-like soil?  The sago is approximately six feet tall (from
base to foliage top).  It also has some well established pups on the
bottom (about 10 inches wide at the base)  Added much is
this likely to weigh so that I am not without the right equipment when I start?
Subject: Re: Transplanting large sago
Answered By: crabcakes-ga on 10 Jul 2005 22:16 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi H60crewman,

  I too love all kinds of palms, and live in palm country myself!
Luckily, I've never had to move one.

?Sago palm. (Fig. 1-5,B) Major confusion is associated with this
common name because it refers to the true palm Metroxylon sagu as well
as to the palm-like Asian cycad Cycas revoluta, in the family
Cycadaceae. Both the stem (which is sometimes branching) and the
terminal crown of pinnate leaves of Cycas revoluta are similar to
those of a true palm. However, Cycas revoluta leaves are stiff and
borne as a rosette not singly as in palms; the male inflorescence
resembles a cone, a key identifying character. Cycas revoluta is the
most widely cultivated cycad. Edible starch, "sago," can be extracted
from the stem of both Metroxylon sago and Cycas revoluta, which
explains the shared common name.?

?TRANSPLANTING or MOVING Cycads can be successful if a few guidelines
are followed.  Move sagos during winter or early spring when they are
not actively growing.

If it is a relatively small one with trunk diameter of 4" or less, it
won't be a big problem. First remove all but the uppermost ring of
leaves - you will damage some roots in the transplant process so you
must reduce the number of leaves to one ring of the topmost leaves -
remove all others.  This will also help you see the base of the plant
while you are digging.  Use a sharp shooter shovel (one that is
straight and narrow, plus sharp at the end) and dig about 6" away from
the trunk, at least 12" deep while retaining as many roots as
possible.  Using the shovel, gently crowbar it out of the ground.

Move it to a pre-dug hole slightly larger than the root-ball of the
plant.  Center the plant in the hole, being sure that the soil level
is slightly above the old one, about an 1" (add soil to the bottom of
the hole if needed).  Backfill with a mixture of 1/2 peat moss and 1/2
 garden soil that was removed from the hole.  Water when the soil
becomes almost dry. If transplanting is successful, new leaves will
emerge by summer. It often takes a year or two for the Cycad to
actively resume normal growth.
If you prefer to put the big sago in a large pot or box instead of
planting it, use a container only slightly larger than the rootball.
If it is a large sago, with a trunk diameter of 6" or more and trunk
height of over 12", then you will need plenty of help.  Sago trunks
and roots can be very heavy.  Use the same procedure above, but dig a
larger, deeper root-ball and hole.

If you have never transplanted a large palm or Cycad, then call your
local landscape contractor and arrange to have them do it.  I remember
the first one our nursery ever dug - with a trunk diameter of 12" and
height of 5'.  It took two men an hour to dig the root ball, then we
found it all so heavy that we had to bring our farm winch truck just
to lift it out of the ground!  Unless you have a winch truck handy,
don't even try it.  We moved about 2 more large ones over the years
and then decided it was just too much trouble! ? 

?Large landscape palms are usually dug from established groves or
landscape plantings. The roots cut in transplanting generally do not
resume growth as they do with other plants. Instead the palms develop
a new root system from the root crown and that portion of the stem
below ground level. The larger the rootball taken with a mature palm,
the more undamaged it will have and the faster the tree will recover.

Large palms must be handled gently and with care in all phases of the
transplanting operation. Rough handling or bumping can damage the
terminal bud and kill the tree. Once dug from the original location,
palms should not be left lying out in the hot sun for long periods of
time either at the digging site or at the planting site. One way to
accomplish this is to cover the root ball with burlap that is kept
damp. Do not use plastic for this purpose.
Fifty percent or more of the lower and older green fronds are removed
from the crown of large palm that is to be transplanted. The smaller
the size of the rootball, the more leaves that should be removed. The
remaining fronds are tied together over the tender bud with soft rope
or binder twine to protect it from drying and sun scald. These fronds
may be cut back 30 percent to 50 percent of their length to reduce
plant water loss and wind resistance. This seems more important for
fan palms than for feather palms.

Depending on the time of year the palm is planted, the fronds may be
left tied around the bud for two to six months. When new growth begins
to bulge out below the point at which the fronds are tied, the rope or
twine can be cut to release the foliage crown. In hot summer weather
it may be preferable to gradually loosen and open the tie over a
period of several weeks. Some landscape contractors prefer to let the
tree break the twine as the twine rots and the expanding new growth
exerts pressure.
One of the most important requirements for success with transplanting
large palms is that the planting site be well-drained. Caliche,
hardpan, compacted soil layers, or abrupt changes in soil texture
("layering") prevents good soil drainage and aeration. The result is
constantly wet, saturated soil in the planting pit and almost certain
death of transplanted palms.

Once  the planting pit has been dug, fill it with two to four feet of
water. If water does not drain at the rate of at least two inches per
hour or four feet in 24 hours, alternate provisions must be made for
drainage. Good water drainage in and below the planting pit, and
irrigation scheduling based on plant water use are essential to the
survival of large transplanted palms.
I?ll bet folks at Rincon Gardens would be able to answer any other
questions you may have!

 Rincon Gardens 
3945 Pacific Coast Hwy 
Ventura, California 93001 
(805) 658-1518 

?Dug palms regenerate some roots from the cut ends, but other new
roots develop from the root crown. In some species, increased root
regeneration has been measured with longer cut stubs in larger root
balls. Root regeneration depends on adequate water and oxygen. At
times the root ball may be deeper than it is wide. In general, larger
root balls make for better establishment in less than perfect

Water of dug palms is stored in the trunk and lost through the leaves.
For this reason, up to half of older living fronds may be removed for
transport. The remaining fronds are tied together over the tender bud
with a biodegradable twine to protect it from drying and sun scald.
(On some species the bud may be actually splinted to protect it from
breaking.) Depending on the time of year the palm is planted, the
fronds should be left tied around the bud for 2 to 3 months. In arid
climates, the chance of the twine actually rotting is slim. When new
growth begins to bulge out below the point at which the fronds are
tied, the rope may be cut to gradually release the foliage. Leave the
old fronds in place for a month more to protect the bud and new
The planting hole for large pre-dug palms should be only as deep as
the root ball and should drain in 24 hours as discussed above.
Backfill need not be amended. Loosen the soil 3 feet beyond each side
of the root ball to encourage lateral root growth.

Large pre-dug palms should be planted at their original planting
depth. Planting too deeply may cause root suffocation due to
restricted oxygen, nutritional deficiencies, root rot disease and
frequently loss of the palm.
Don?t plant the crowns deep simply to ensure that the trees don?t fall over.
Large palms may be braced when installed with at least three 2x4
lumber braces (at 45 from the ground) against 1 ft lengths of 2x4
that are vertically strapped or banded around the trunk.

Protect the trunk with nylon, burlap, or other suitable material where
the one foot lengths of 2x4 are secured. Do not nail these vertical
pieces into the trunk. Supports can be removed when fronds are untied.
Water large palms immediately as discussed above. Daily irrigations to
a depth of 2 ft may gradually be reduced to once a week during the
first warm season. Allow for differences in soil texture: clay soils
will need watering less often than sandy soils. Bubbler or soaker
irrigation into a built-up well should wet an area 2 feet beyond the
root ball. As discussed above, drip emitters should be spaced at 2
feet and at 4 feet beyond the trunk.?

?  ?Can I dig and move my Sago??
 The answer is yes. One would preferably dig a very large rootball,
giving ample distance from the trunk. This would optimally be done
during the Spring or Summer. Care should be taken not to cut through
any sizeable roots (greater than one inch) or rot could set in. It is
also advised to remove a good portion of the leaves before attempting
to relocate the plant, especially if a smaller than desirable rootball
is unavoidable. Water it adequately after moving, making sure not to
over-water the plant. The Sago Palm is quite durable. As a nurseryman,
it is quite easy to reestablish plants that have had all of their
leaves and roots removed. But, common sense would lead you to avoid
damage to existing roots if possible.? 

?It is best to transplant young palms from containers, since they are
not very tolerant of root disturbance until visible trunk development
has taken place. Palms establish most quickly if transplanted during
the spring and early summer when the soil temperatures are on the
increase. This is the time of active root activity for this tree.?
?Transplant failures can be greatly minimized by understanding how
palm root systems regenerate and by providing adequate care during the
first critical months after transplanting. Palm roots are unique,
because when one is cut, it usually completely dies back and the plant
must regenerate a completely new root system after transplanting.
Without proper care during this critical period, the growing tip of
the plant (bud) may dry out and die.
Palms establish most quickly if transplanted during the spring and
early summer when soil temperatures are on the increase. Young palms,
without visible trunk development, are not very tolerant of root
disturbance and are best transplanted only from containers.

Care of the Bud and Fronds: The greatest loss of water in newly dug
palms occurs from transpiration through the leaves. Minimize this
problem by removing one half or more of the older leaves at the time
of digging. Tie the remaining leaves together in a bundle around the
bud with biodegradable twine.
Some types of palms like the sabal palm need special treatment, since
they must regenerate all new roots from the trunk. For these cases,
the best method of ensuring survival after transplanting may be to
remove all the leaves. Complete leaf removal may also be advisable
during installation of any species where normal post-transplant
irrigation is impossible.

Where practical, misting or irrigation of the foliage may reduce water
loss during the transplant process, though there is a risk of
increasing disease problems in the canopy.

Transplanting Depth: It is very important that palms not be
transplanted any deeper than they were originally grown. The root
initiation zone at the base of the trunk is extremely sensitive in
this regard, and planting too deeply will cause root suffocation,
nutritional deficiencies, root rot disease and, frequently, loss of
palm. The decline of deeply planted palms may take several years to
become apparent, especially on very well-drained soils, but it can
only be reversed by removing the backfill from the suffocated root
initiation zone
or replanting the palm. All air pockets should be tamped out of the
backfill as the planting hole is filled.

Support: Larger palms will require some form of bracing to maintain
stability during the first six to eight months after installation.
Under no circumstances should nails be driven directly into a palm
trunk. Such damage is permanent, and provides entryway for pathogens
and possibly insect pests as well.?

This is a cached page, meaning it may not be around for much longer.
If you find this site interesting, copy and paste it into a word
processing document, or print it out.

?If you live in an area with sandy soil, you're in luck. Many palms
will do just fine in sandy soil with the occasional addition of
dolomitic lime and fertilizer. Some palms such as the Chinese windmill
palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, will do much better in sandy soil if it
is enriched with organic matter such as pine bark, composted leaves,
etc. Another problem with sandy soil can be a lack of soil
micronutrients, particularly manganese. A lack of these elements can
cause palms' leaves to take on an unattractive, yellowish color, and
can result in an overall lack of vigor. If your soil is extremely
sandy, you may want to have a soil test done to check on the levels of
these nutrients. Your county extension service can do the test and can
recommend fertilizers or trace element supplements to correct any

There are some special planting rules that apply when you're
transplanting large palms that have been dug from the ground.?

The best I can do for ?guestimating? the weight of your tree would be
about 200 pounds,  using the site below, whose estimate is over a ton
for a 12 meter tree. The 12 meter tree has a thicker trunk, and more
leaves, weighing about 2,000 pounds. If we extrapolate, using less
trunk weight, fewer fronds, etc., I would guess about 200 pounds for
your tree. 1 tonne = 0.98 Imperial ton. Your tree is 6 feet, roughly 2
?A mature sago palm often attains an overall height of some 10 ? 15 m.
The trunk can weight well over one tonne with a diameter of 40-50 cm
without leaf sheaths.?

On a lighter note:

Personally, I prefer the ?big guy? method:
?You want to move your palm or tree only once weather conditions are
warm and reliable, e.g. springtime is ideal or the sure rainy season
First, get a big guy with a strong sharp shovel

Have him cut down around the base of your palm or tree out about 12-15 inches
Now send the shovel down underneath the plant. Likely you'll need a
trench around the outside cut so the big guy can dig under the plant.
Try to dig beneath the root mass. Cutting some roots is OK

If you have a cycad like a sago palm, take a sharp knife and cut away
the babies sending the knife right along the outside of the mother
plant.  Don't worry about hurting the mother plant

Replant the babies in similar sun/water conditions (where it is now)
until established and obviously growing ...then move them where you
want them. Many might die, but some will make it

After big guy #1 has cut your plant loose, get two more big guys to
pull out the plant ...maybe ropes or chains or maybe a truck to pull
Have your new hole ready. Fuss with the measurement so that it's not
too deep. Too deep = death. A bit higher (out of the ground) is OK but
try for perfection to match the old and new soil level exactly

After the plant is lowered into its new hole check your depth
measurement again.  Adjust to perfection.  Next fill the hole 90% with
water then wait for the water to sink in a little. As the water goes
down, add soil in small bunches and stomp it in well after every
addition of soil. You can use a wooden 2X4 or use your shoes/feet. If
needed, add more water as you go so all the soil is 100% wet
When you get to the top, all the soil will be wet and very firm
against roots of the plant.  You may need or want to stake your palm. 
NEVER use nails
Water a little daily to keep the soil moderately moist until
established again.  If you do all this right, your plant should start
growing immediately and be happy

After your palm starts visibly growing in its new spot, fertilize per this page?

Extra Bonus:

My neighbor, who is in landscaping, uses a large sheet to carry
smaller palms like yours. You may need 3-4 people to carry the sheet
carrying the palm to the new location.  He also tells me that slow
soaking the ground around the roots will make it easier to dig up the
root ball, by softening the clay-like soil.

Good luck with your palm! (I have several in my yard and love them!)
If any part of my answer is unclear, please request an Answer
Clarification, before you rate, and I will be happy to respond.

Sincerely, Crabcakes

Search terms
Transplanting sago palms
Transplanting feather palms
Weight of palm trees
Sago palms
h60crewman-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

Thanks for the info.  I am grabbing my shovel and a couple of "big
guys" for the move!

Subject: Re: Transplanting large sago
From: crabcakes-ga on 15 Jul 2005 10:06 PDT
Hi H60crewman,
  Thank you for the 5 stars! I hope its not 118 degrees where you live!
Regards, Crabcakes
Subject: Re: Transplanting large sago
From: h60crewman-ga on 24 Jan 2006 22:23 PST

Just thought I would pass this along...

I finally transplanted that sago.  I did it about four months ago, and
it appears to be doing well.

I dumped a large amount of Vitamin-B and fish emulsion at the root
base after transplanting, and I kept it watered enough to where the
soil would get dry on the top, but damp just below the surface.  It
worked out great.

The weight, however...was much more than anyone (other than a pro)
might have anticipated.  I used a small backhoe to get the job done.

Thanks for everything.
Subject: Re: Transplanting large sago
From: crabcakes-ga on 24 Jan 2006 22:27 PST
It's so good to get feedback! Thank you for letting me know - I
appreciate the news!

Sincerely, Crabcakes

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