Well used, cycads give gardens a lush, tropical feel with their majestic silver, blue-grey or green fronds in a crown of large leaves on top of soft thick stem or trunk. They also make handsome potted or feature plants. Cycads come from regions all over the world including from Australia. Native cycads are found in three plant families. The best-known genera are Macrozamia, Lepidozamia and Zamia.

They have been around for millions of years existing before the dinosaur period. The “Age of Cycads” was the predominate vegetation during the Jurassic period although their numbers and species have dwindled and some varieties have become endangered.

Cycads resembling palms and tree ferns. Some cycads are commonly known as palms – for example sago palm (Cycas revoluta), which is one of the most commonly grown cycads in gardens, even though they are not related to palms.

Cycads produce male and female cones on separate plants. They are classified as non-flowering plants known as gymnosperms as, like conifers, they produce seed in cones. Seed-bearing cones are found on female plants.

Growing conditions

Aspect Most cycads prefer a full sun to light shade position and in nature often grow in dappled light under trees. There are however varieties that will grow in arid dry conditions with little rainfall.

Soil Cycads tolerate a wide range of soils but do best with good drainage. Cycads can be grown in containers using a premium potting mix such as Seasol Advanced Potting Mix.

Climate There are cycad selections for every climate. Cycads are mainly tropical and subtropical but there are cycads from cooler and arid zones. Be guided in your selection by those that do well in your local climate. If you are unsure of a variety to suit your location, check with horticultural staff at your local hardware or garden centre who can advise you on a plant to suit your garden.

How to grow and look after cycads from planting to feeding and pests & diseases
How to grow and look after cycads from planting to feeding and pests & diseases

General care

Watering Regular water as plants become established after planting and during extended dry periods. As plants mature many need little additional watering although those in containers will need regular watering. Check plant tags for individual water requirements.

Feeding and mulching Cycads can be fed via your preferred method, either liquid or granular food, or a combination of both, depending on your plant variety. Keep plants lush and leafy with a granular fertiliser such as PowerFeed Controlled Release All Purpose including Natives during the growing season. Remember to water it in thoroughly after application. If you prefer liquid feeding apply PowerFeed All Purpose including Natives at half strength monthly during the growing season. 

Spread mulch such as composted bark or gravel underneath to deter weed competition and retain moisture.

Pruning Prune with secateurs to remove spent, diseased and damaged fronds. Some cycads have prickly foliage, so use gloves and long-handled loppers.

Watch for These plants are generally free of pest and disease problems although some may be attacked by a caterpillar from the cycad blue butterfly (also called cycad moth), which can lead to the dying back of fronds. To protect cycads, cover with netting when butterflies are active. Regularly check plants for signs of caterpillars feeding in the crown of the plant. Remove by hand and squash or treat with an organic pesticide that targets caterpillars such as EarthCare Natural Pyrethrum insect spray.

In cooler regions some tropical cycads may get brown spots on the fronds during cold and frosty conditions. Move these cycads to a warm spot if in a pot or cover with a blanket or shade cloth if in the ground.