This page contains basic information on growing cycads, palms, and various succulents. Future pages will deal more in depth with their culture and care.. At the bottom of the page is a list of books that will help with identification, and growing advise.
Cycads have a reputation of difficult culture and slow growth. This may be true for some species, however many are easy and rewarding to grow. As seedlings cycads grow at their slowest, and as a result require more attention at this stage. Older plants, five years plus, grow faster and are more forgiving of mistakes in care. All cycads form a caudex. A caudex is a enlarged stem or root. For cycads the caudex is a swollen stem. Caudex sizes can vary from many meters in length to forming only underground (subterranean). The caudex of cycads can be a sensitive part of the plant, as a result many factors of their cultivation focus on keeping the caudex healthy.
In my experience with growing plants soil is one of the most important factors in good plant growth. Almost all cycads originate from environments where soils are well draining, or during wet times temperatures are warm. This is important since they do not like cold wet conditions. In southern California where we are located, our rainy season is in winter which is not optimum. I have lost many a plant in cold wet conditions. As a result we want our soil to be very well drained.In addition many species of cycads are also very drought resistant, so well drained soils are perfect for their culture. My soil mixes for cycads contain anywhere from 40 to 60 percent inorganics such as pumice, perilite, coarse sand, and gravel. Organics in our mixes may include, peat moss, small orchid bark, composted wood products and coir (coconut fiber). Other additives to our mixes may be lime to increase alkalinity of the soil and a slow release fertilizer.
Cycads come from many diverse environments, as a result it is difficult to generalize care. Factors such as lighting can vary greatly from species to species. Many Zamias thrive in filtered light compared to many Encephalartos species growing best in strong light conditions. Doing research and asking questions from experienced growers will help guide you in establishing proper growing conditions for your plants. I have found in my many years of growing plants that observation is one of your best assets in determining whats best for your plants. I walk my nursery every day and check whats going on. Plant problems show up quickly and must be dealt with right away. If a plant doesn't seem happy where it is, move it! This is how you learn whats best for you plants. Even the best growers kill plants! If you are not killing plants you don't have a "green thumb". Trial and error is your friend. I am constantly moving plants, changing lighting, watering etc. Factors such as watering, lighting, type of container, vary greatly in different climates. What works for me in California probably won't work for someone growing plants in New York. One thing all plants need is consistent fertilization. I give my plants small amount of fertilizer every time I water. I also alternate chemical with organic fertilizers. Currently I am experimenting with going with just organic. Only time will tell if my plants will thrive or stagnate. Joining plant groups on the web is also a great way to learn whats best for your plants. Good luck, and remember we are just an email away if you have any questions!