For the first year, my cycad was a stout and aesthetic little plant. But then its annual fronds shot out. And they kept shooting out. And today the plant looks like this:

out of control cycad

Each frond is about 2 feet long. That makes for a big footprint in a small NYC apartment.

What can I do to manage the directionality of its fronds and the plant's overall growth? (Is it too late?)

2 Answers 2


That's a very interesting looking plant! It looks like it has been repotted into a larger pot than the original. Cycads like root space, so all the new soil promoted lots of root growth, which can support lots of top growth. That (I'm pretty sure) is what happened here. Cycads can grow large. I'm guessing that you have Encephalartos lanatus, which can easily get over 4 1/2' high and wide. They will grow fast (relatively) in a large pot, so to keep them slower, you have to keep them root-bound in a smaller pot. They tolerate this, and grow much slower.

Yours has very long leaf stems and is kind of scrawny, which is a sign of etiolation (the adverse effects of low light on plant growth). If you need to keep it small, I'd take it from it's pot, remove the soil, and put it in a smaller pot, that holds the roots, but not with much extra space. The idea is something like bonsai, but not to that extent. When the plant puts out some new smaller leaves, you can cut the long ones out (one at a time). Giving them strong light will also promote strong but compact growth.

For now, using a support to keep the floppy fronds up and out of the way is a good idea, as long as you ensure that they still get good lighting. Overhead lighting won't provide full coverage when the fronds are arranged vertically. Side lighting may be beneficial. This will not harm the plant, and it will still be able to put out new growth.


I agree with J.Musser for increasing the light. But I would accept that this plant will be larger than you wanted. Not a plant to 'bonsai'...there is always a way to make room in your apartment for a healthy, vigorous plant, grin!

I would actually go for a larger pot, new potting soil with bacteria and mycorrhizae included in the soil or the fertilizer. Get good organic fertilizer that is a bit lower in Nitrogen (the first number of the 3 main nutrients; Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium - NPK) so that more energy at first in the new pot goes into roots. I would then go to equal amounts or close to equal of NPK (once your plant gets acclimated to the new pot). Another good choice for fertilizer and easier to use is Osmocote 14-14-14. Lasts 4 months without you worrying about fertilizer or worse, over doing the fertilizer. But then make sure the potting soil comes with bacteria and mycorrhizae. Get a great grow light for this guy or make sure he sits very near a south-facing window. Keep the plant from getting sunburn by pulling it back out of the direct sun.

When you water, SOAK your plant and pot in the shower (cold water). Allow it to drain and dry off a bit in the shower. It will love soaking up the moisture in the air. Then replace it in its saucer in its new and sunnier spot. Keep this plant away from forced air vents and drafts. Allow your soil to dry out quite a bit. It will still be moist when you water again but barely. It is so very important to water deeply and then allow the soil to dry out before watering again.

If your water is softened I'd augment the showers with distilled water or alternate waterings between the shower and distilled or bottled water for drinking. Softened water or tap water from the city is full of salts and fluoride (poison). You will start to see deposits on the top of the soil and the tips of your fronds and leaves will yellow. This means you need to water less with tap water, more with bottled water or rain water. I would then transplant the plant back into the same pot with new soil. Be careful to disturb the roots as little as possible when changing the soil. If you see roots starting to encircle the pot, clip those roots and plan on getting a bigger pot soon.

Clay works best for these plants. The pot breathes and you'll see deposits on the outside of clay pots if you are using too much tap water. When you change the soil, scrub the clay pot with a brush to get rid of the salt/mineral deposits.

Careful with support. Support actually makes the plant dependent on support. Like a cast on your arm? You arm atrophies from the support. Any support for those long leaves will be temporary until you get new growth to allow you to cut off leggy growth.

The kitchen or the bathroom if there is a lot of light or a south-facing window is the best place for these tropical plants because of the moisture. If you start seeing tip burn and you know you are only using well water or rain water or distilled water or bottled water then you need to increase the humidity in the room. Spraying your plant does nothing for the humidity. Get a flat tray and fill it with river rock or pea gravel and keep water in the rocks. You can even set your plant right on top. Make sure the bottom of the pot never sits in water. Also do NOT use any rock or gravels in the bottom of the pot. Fill your pot with potting soil only (never garden soil). If the saucer gets filled with water, dump your saucer out. You can also set the pot up on little 'pot feet' above the saucer or tray of rocks. This will ensure good drainage.

If this plant is too big for you give it to a friend and get cactus type plants. Or a real bonsai. Whatever plant you keep inside needs light! There is one plant I know that can survive in deepest shade and that is the 'Cast Iron Plant'. Not nearly as pretty as this one, however.

Cut off all the dead fronds. For now, keep anything that has green in it until your plant gets established and has lots of healthy fronds. Then feel free to cut any less than perfect fronds off. Keep an eye out for spider mite (you'll see webbing in between the leaves and stalks). Watering in the shower helps a lot to minimize these pests.

If you have a covered porch take this plant out for the summer. Keep it out of the direct sunlight! This way it will get more energy to handle the low-light winters.

Let us know how your plant does...good luck!

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