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Growing Better Cycads From Seed

Peter Heibloem

Lepidozamia peroffskyana
Female cone of Lepidozamia peroffskyana
Scaly or pineapple zamia

I germinate my cycad seed in cliptop plastic bags in slightly damp perlite and vermiculite soaked in fungicide (Previcure) in cool place. This keeps pests out and avoids the temptation to force the seed into early germination which never works and usually spoils the seed. After the seed is germinated, I put the seed on a hot bed until the root is 25-50 mm (1-2 inches) long and then into the pot. This minimises losses which can occur if the seed dries out before the root is long enough.

Use community pots for sprouted seeds which are at least 300 mm (12 inches) deep. This promotes strong tap root development and conserves valuable space. After 1-2 years or longer, seedlings can be removed and put into individual containers. Put one inch of gravel at the bottom of your pot for extra drainage and one inch of coarse river sand on the top of the potting mix to prevent the potting mix from drying out too fast.

Give the cycad seedlings more water rather than less water so that they never dry out. To prevent root rot, make sure that the potting mix is very open and exceptionally well drained. This will allow more air around the roots and promote faster root development.

Fertilise the cycads with slow release Osmocote or Nutricote. I use the 6-9 months formula with trace elements added. I also water with Naturakelp or a fish/seaweed concentrate about every six weeks.

Planting cycad seed too early often ruins the seed, especially if it is planted in hot or wet conditions, or it dries out before it is ready to germinate. Storing fresh seed in plastic bags in cool, dry conditions for 2-6 months is recommended. To determine when the seed is ready to germinate, a few can be planted or placed in damp vermiculite in another bag. Or if numbers permit, one can be cut open to observe the development of the embryo. From my experience, very few varieties of cycad seed are ready to germinate after they come off the plant.

The most common mistake I have made is keeping the seed too damp and planting the seed too early. If your seed start to dry out (check every two weeks for 'rattlers'), soak the seed again to rehydrate it, then dry it and store it again until it is time to plant.

From the newsletter of ASGAP's Cycad, Zamia and Palm Study Group, June/July 1996.

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