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Is Your Sago Palm Dying?

Oriental or Aulacaspis cycad scale
likely is your problem

All around Florida and now other states as well,  sago palms are turning completely white and dying. The culprit is an accidentally introduced (1994) cycad scale insect

click pics to enlarge

There have been various (changing) recommendations on what to do from authorities such as the University of Florida. Previously, various typically used (on scale insects) chemical insecticides have been recommended with various combinations and application frequencies. Apparently, those ideas did not work. Sagos kept dying

click pics to enlarge

The latest (February 1999) recommendation is to spray a highly refined horticultural oil spray. The recommendation is to spray at 10-day intervals and spray at least four times

Doing so you will find the scale does not fall off your sago. Your sago will remain white with the bodies of the scale insects. The suggestion, therefore, is to use a power spray of water 7-10 days after the 4th (last) oil spraying to help wash away the scale bodies

It has been our experience that it is effective to remove the food supply these scales are feeding on - namely the sago fronds themselves. We have been successful (vanquishing other varieties of cycad scales) by cutting off all the fronds as close as possible to the main trunk then allowing new green fronds to grow back in.  Best done in spring or summer

Carefully dispose of the infected fronds

If you use our technique, we recommend fertilization of your sago 2-3 weeks before frond removal. We would then also use the oil spray applied thoroughly over every visible part of your sago right down to the ground

Expect to wait at least several weeks before new fronds appear

Another official recommendation for sagos not yet infected by the scale is to use "Garlic Barrier" as an insect repellent. I am not familiar with this product nor do I know where to buy it. Companies that sell organic gardening supplies are said to carry the product

A reader has written us email with her successful solution that has lasted almost a whole year

The Orlando Sentinel published an article discussing how plain coffee grounds can assist in control, read this idea

Update, March 28, 1999

Georgia Tasker reported today in the Miami Herald that sagos are now also "being battered by another, possibly lethal enemy: a fungal infection that enters the interior of the plants through roots weakened by the (scale) insects."

The fungus is fusarium. The scale is said to weaken the plants allowing the fusarium. to enter. The top fronds of sagos collapse, "seemingly overnight."

To combat the fungus, homeowners may use Captan fungicide which is said to be effective

To fight the scales themselves, the latest suggestion is to use an organic fish and sesame oil product called Organocide. The product is said to work well against the "crawler" stage of the scales' life cycle. Also suggested as effective is using ultra-fine oil, a paraffin product. Use these products as recommended in the first part of this page

Update, September, 1999

Organocide is now commonly available in garden centers at your favorite local nursery. Organocide remains the recommended product. If you have the scale (and almost everyone does) buy the product and apply it ASAP. Don't forget to buy a good sprayer when you're out shopping

We have received many emails saying that after application, sagos remain white (the scale color). People are fearful the spray has not worked

To know if your applications are working, you'll have to touch the white scale areas. Best is to run your finger along the bottom rib of an affected frond. If white comes off on your finger, you have removed dead scales. If a yellow or orange color goo comes off, you have rubbed on live scales

Dead white scales remain on the fronds after they are dead. Only repeated strong water sprayings will remove the white. Also, you can be patient and over time new fronds will replace the white appearance

A major problem is scale re-infection. Even if you kill off all the scales on your sagos, they can come back and frequently they do. They come from other infected sagos near your home. The point is, re-check often (say, monthly) with the finger test. If re-infection occurs, re-spray (the whole 4x or 5x cycle) all over again

As a sago is weakened by scale infestation, fungus can attack the plant. The fungus may be the actual fatal enemy. It is important to take action ASAP

Good luck

Miracle solution?
You be the judge below

We received email from Barbara,

"While all the Sago's in my neighborhood have been devastated by the scale, mine still stands strong. When I first noticed the scale I didn't know what to do. Everyone told me that no matter what you try it just will not work. In desperation, I looked for something that maybe none has tried and decided to spray my Sago with Flea & Tick spray. Well, much to my happy surprise, within 24 hours of spraying it, all the white scale had fallen off and the sago continues to flourish. That was last fall (1999) and it still grows strong. I don't know if it was just luck or if the flea & tick spray could really be a solution to this problem, but it worked for me."

Email was sent back to Barbara asking about what brand of spray she used,

Hi Karl,

I may be wrong as a year has now gone by, but I believe it was either Raid Flea spray or Hartz Flea & Tick spray. Hope this helps save the sago for someone else


Thanks Barbara.  Your idea sure sounds like it's worth a try.   If you readers want to try a spray as suggested, but are not sure, you could spray part of your plant and see what happens.  Please report your progress so we can post your experiences online to help others.   Thank you

I have used Hartz Flea and Tick spray for 18 months now, and kept my sagos healthy, despite being surrounded by neighbors with sick and dying sagos. I have been re-infected at 6 month intervals, so I have now used 3 bottles at a bottle cost around $5 each.

George, September, 2002

Thank you, George

I am using a product called Oxidate fromBioSafe Systems. I use 1 oz of Oxidateper gallon of water. My last treatmentwas on 19 May'02 and I do not see anysigns of scale yet. One advantage ofOxidate is that when you spray it onyour palm, the white scale falls offimmediately!

Thank you, Nathan

I havehad great success with the Hartz Flea &Tick Killer FOR HOME use. Theone for Dogs is too strong and burned myplant so badly I had toeventually remove the fronds anyway. Istill check them every month orso and spray lightly if anything appearssuspicious. But the plants havecome back with new growth this year andare BEAUTIFUL. For anyone stillstruggling with this, Hartz is an easy,cheap and effective solution.

Thank you, Tricia Brannon

Email from Kathleen Feline indicates great success using "Critter Oil", an all-organic product she found on the Internet.  She sprayed about 3x a month until the infection was gone

Rita from Florida, March 2007

I too have rid my sago palms using HartzMountain Flea and Tick for HOMES lastyear. Do not use the one for dogs, it'stoo strong. It's amazing how it saved mysagos which had quite a lot of scale onthem.  They're still nice and healthy andno more scale. PS: It took 2 bottles tocompletely rid them

Thank you, Rita

I live in New York City and have a Sago Palm which started to get the scales I used a mixture of an alcohol named (Relampago) Its a green alcohol used in the Latino community for sore muscles. I mixed half alcohol and half water with a little dishwashing liquid then sprayed 2X a day for 7 days, spraying very close to the leaves so the spray is strong. This got rid of those little buggers and my Sago is thriving

Thank you, David

Alternatives to using sagos in your landscape

Sagos are extremely popular with landscapers and homeowners. The reason is they can perform many functions in the tropical landscape. Now with cycad scale likely to kill all our palms (cycads), alternatives need to be considered. For now, our advice is to not plant any queen or king sagos until further notice.

As one alternative, consider the Florida native zamia called Coontie. Zamia floridana, related to the queen sago, is rated for the whole state and grows slowly to about three feet maximum. Coontie can grow in full sun to dense shade but prefers shade, even dense shade.

Dion edule is related to the zamia and other cycads. Rated for central to south Florida, dions can grow to about 6 feet although slowly. Prefers full sun to some shade. Another pic here.

Cycas taitungensis (Prince Sago) is also cold tolerant and salt tolerant as well. It is faster growing than both alternatives above.

Ceratozamia kuesteriana takes cold well. Related to coontie (zamia) and sagos, they grow about 4-8 feet tall (slowly) with medium to dark green leaves. Needs sandy well drained soil. Plant in full sun to partial shade. Requires little care after being established.

Seen at Fairchild Tropical Gardens is another zamia, encephalartos trispinosus.