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Complete Guide to Cycads: How to Grow & Care for “Macrozamia”

Read our complete guide to Cycad Plants for everything you will ever need to know! Tips for planting and caring for "Macrozamia"
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If you’re looking for an interesting tree to add to your garden, cycad may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Cycads are native to Australia and are one of the most primitive plants on the planet, as they have existed since before the dinosaurs.

The macrozamia is a genus of cycads, of which there are about 40 different species. Over the course of history, different parts of the plant have been used as food or for material; however, it does need to be processed properly; otherwise, it could be toxic.

Today, the cycad macrozamia is a very popular ornamental plant. It features a dense, hardy trunk that is topped with feathery-like leaves, creating quite a unique look.

Their appearance is similar to that of a palm tree; however, the two are not related, as palms produce flowers or fruit and cycads do not. In fact, despite their appearance, they are more closely related to the pine tree.

Cycads have remained relatively unchanged for the past 200 million years and are often referred to as “living fossils”. Cycad macrozamia are commonly grown as indoor plants; however, they do well when they are allowed time outdoors when the weather is warm enough and there is no risk of frost.

If you are interested in adding this unusual prehistoric tree in your outdoor garden or indoor conservatory, read on for some useful tips that you can use to ensure successful planting and care.

Growing Cycad Macrozamia

Since cycad macrozamia are quite hardy, growing them is pretty easy.

  • In order to ensure their success, well-drained soil and warmth are the most important requirements that must be met.
  • If they are allowed to sit in very moist soil, the roots will rot and the tree will die. Likewise, they do not fare well in cold weather. Therefore, the climate should be tropical or warm temperate for outdoor planting; otherwise, they should be kept indoors until the weather is warm enough and there is no risk of frost, then they can be brought outdoors.
  • Generally, they like full sun; however, some varieties prefer protection from direct sunlight during the height of the day. Most species will not do well in full shade.
  • When grown indoors, cycad macrozamia do very well when planted in terra cotta pots filled with standard potting soil or a cactus mix.
  • Do note that you should not expect fast growth, as cycad macrozamia are slow growing.  Also, they prefer to be root-bound, so frequent repotting will not be necessary.

Cycads Plant Seeds, Available from Amazon

How to Plant Cycad Macrozamia

For the best results, prior to planting, you’ll want to prepare the soil.

  • Dig a hole that’s at least 50 percent larger than rootball and mix in a generous amount of and fertilizer.
  • As mentioned, cycads do require well-drained soil, so if your soil is heavy clay and you intend on adding them to an outdoor garden, it’s best to plant them above the ground, either in a mount or in a raised bed.
  • Once the soil is ready, prepare the cycad for planting. If you are transplanting your cycad from a pot, gently remove it from the container and then soak, dust, or spray the root ball with rooting hormone and fungicide (both can be purchased from a garden center or an online retailer).
  • Make sure to use sterile equipment, if you can; the cleaner your gardening tools are, the less risk of transferring potential diseases to the tree.
  • If you are planting a cycad that is growing in the ground or a bare-root tree, soaking the roots in a fungicide-rooting hormone mixture is recommended, as this will help to reduce the risk of fungal infection and promote the development of new roots.
  • If any significant root breakage has occurred, be sure to treat it with a tree sealer. Once your cycad macrozamia is in the ground, cover the root ball with soil and lightly tamp it down. Water and spread mulch around the base of the tree.

If you are planting a cycad in a pot, as noted above, a terra cotta pot filled with well-draining potting soil or a cactus mix is ideal. Make sure you choose a pot that is large enough to accommodate the root ball and the roots as they continue to grow.

Additionally, be sure that the container features enough holes on the base to allow for adequate drainage. You’ll want to also make sure that you dig a hole in the soil that is large enough to accommodate the root ball, with room to spare.

Once set in the container, cover the root ball with soil, lightly tamp it down, and water.

When your cycad is planted, place the container in a location where it will receive ample amounts of sunlight.

Cycad trees add a touch of exotic to your yard
Cycad trees add a touch of exotic to your yard

Cycad Macrozamia Care Tips

While a cycad macozamia does not require a tremendous amount of care or maintenance, it does require some degree of attention in order to ensure optimal health. The following care tips will help to ensure your ornamental fossil tree will flourish.

Watering

Remember that cycads do not like to be kept wet, but not saturate. If their soil is kept too moist, they can suffer root rot and will eventually die.

To determine when the tree needs to be watered, check the surface of the soil. If the surface is dry to the touch, it needs to be watered.

When watering, fully soak the soil; however, it’s important to allow the water to drain completely. The frequency of watering depends on the climate in your location.

In hot, arid climates, cycads usually need to be watered twice a week. In the winter or for indoor plants, frequent watering usually isn’t necessary.

It’s important to note that checking the soil on a regular basis is important, as the dryness of the soil will indicate when it’s time to water your tree.

Feeding

Cycads don’t need a tremendous amount of food; however, to maintain optimal growth, they do need to be fed. Fertilizing in the early spring and again in the beginning or the middle the summer season.

To fertilize, use a granular slow-release fertilizer that contains a mixture of phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, and magnesium. A fertilizer that is designed for palm trees will likely contain these nutrients and will suffice for a cycad.

Sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of fertilizer per every 2-square feet of area around the base of the plant. Mix the fertilizer into the soil; about 2 inches down.

After applying fertilizer, be sure to thoroughly water your cycad and allow the soil to fully drain.

Beautiful Palm leaves
Beautiful Palm leaves

Lighting

Cycad macrozamia like a lot of sun. Outdoors, they should be planted in a location that receives direct sunlight for the majority of the day, but that is protected from the heat of the sun at the height of the day.

Indoors, a cycad macrozamia should be placed in a location that receives plenty of sunlight. A cycad will not flourish if it is planted in a shady location.

Pruning

There isn’t a lot of work involved with pruning cycads, as they do not produce flowers. However, you should maintain the fronds. As they yellow and begin to die, cut the fronds off of the trunk to prevent nutrient loss from the rest of the plant.

Additionally, pruning can prevent any disease that the dead fronds may contain from spreading to the rest of the tree. Cut the fronts approximately 1 to 2 inches from the trunk.

Pest and Disease Prevention

Generally speaking, pests usually aren’t a major concern for cycads; however, they can be affected by weevils, scale, and other chewing insects, which can infest and feed off of their fronds.

To prevent or treat pest infestation, apply a natural insecticide that would be considered suitable for organic gardening. You do not want to use a harsh insecticide, as it could cause extensive damage or potentially kill the tree.

In regard to disease, the biggest threat to a cycad is rotting roots and stems, which can occur as a result of excessive watering; particularly if the tree is planted in poor draining soil.

Therefore, to avoid rot, make sure that your tree is planted in well-draining soil and that you do not overwater it. As mentioned above, check the soil and only water the tree when the surface feels dry to the touch.

Propagating Cycads

Though difficult, it is possible to propagate cycads. The seeds of this tree are unique from other plants, as they do not have a dormancy period.

However, if the seed dries out, the embryo will also die, so it does need to be planted immediately after it is obtained. Additionally, cycad seeds are very susceptible to rot when they are planted in highly moist soil.

If planted in well-draining, nutrient-rich soil, and if you follow proper watering, lighting, and temperature guidelines, you should be able to successfully grow a cycad from a seed.

Conclusion

Cycads are unique, attention-grabbing plants that will be sure to add interest to your outdoor garden or indoor conservatory. By following the above-mentioned tips, you can ensure a healthy, well-established tree that will last for years to come.

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Hollie Carter

Hollie is a life-long gardener, having started helping her Dad work on their yard when she was just 5. Since then she has gone on to develop a passion for growing vegetables & fruit in her garden. She has an affinity with nature and loves to share her knowledge gained over a lifetime with readers online. Hollie has written for a number of publications and is now the resident garden blogger here at GardenBeast. Contact her at hollie@gardenbeast.com or follow on twitter https://twitter.com/greenholliec

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