How to remove suckers from the mother plant for propagation.

This is a basic introduction on how to remove and establish cycad suckers. It also provide some information on the care and growth requirements of cycads.

With maturity of a cycad comes the like hood of basal growths also known as pups or suckers. These are small vegetative offsets and will be the same species and sex as the mother plant. Should it be left undisturbed it may mature into a healthy part of the original plant. Some species sucker more than others. However, these offsets also offer a means of propagating the plant. When pups reach a certain size, they can be removed and propagated. These pups will eventually make a normal, full-sized plant.

Follow these steps to successfully remove the suckers and re-establish it as individual plants.

  1. Dig away and fully expose the sucker to be removed.
  2. Spray with water to remove excess dirt from the sucker and the mother plant.
  3. Use a sharp sterilised cutting tool such as a saw, chisel or knife to cut off the sucker. It is   important to make a clean cut as damaged or roughly cut tissue is a prime place for rot to form. It is important to be reminded that when you remove a sucker, you are not only at risk to lose the pup, but also to losing or harming the mother plant. With proper precaution, though, this can be avoided.
  4. When you remove a sucker, cut at the base or side of the pup where it meets the mother plant.
  5. Apply a fungicide like Steri-seal to the cut area. Some people would seal the cut surface with agricultural tar at this time. Others would leave the cut area of your mother plant exposed for 1-2 weeks so that it can callous over. Everyone agrees not to replace the dirt around the cut surface for at least several weeks. Several weeks to a couple of months later the soil may be replaced around the treated surface of the mother plant.
  6. It is recommended that the removed suckers are rooted immediately after removal and if this is not the case, suckers should be stored in a dry, protected location until you are ready to do the work needed to start the rooting-out process.
  7. Do not refrigerate or freeze the suckers.

In preparation of the actual transplant of the suckers, it is recommended you consider the following advice very carefully:

  1. Make sure the sucker is free of any rot. In cycads rot can manifest itself by having a dark tan to brown/black colour; the plant’s tissue also tends to be soft. This is important as rot can cause the plant to decline or possibly die if it is not addressed. If you find rot, use a sharp, sterile cutting tool to remove it. Cut the rot away until you have only hard tissue that is whitish or a light tan. Note: in some cases you may not find whitish or light tan tissue; in such cases, cut back to hard tissue. Do not over dissect the cycad as this can kill it.
  2. Important: When dealing with chemicals, always use the proper protective gear: gloves, masks, etc.) After you have cut away rot or if the plant was healthy to begin with, soak the plant in both a fungicide and root stimulant. First soak your plant in a liquid fungicide solution for 30 minutes. Next you will want to soak your plant in a root stimulant, like our Rootstim for 30 minutes. The reason why I recommend soaking the plants in 30 minute intervals is because it allows the caudex to absorb both the fungicide and root stimulant into its tissue. We have had much more success with soaking rather than a rudimentary spraying of a caudex.
  3. When you soak your cycad in the fungicide and root stimulant, you should look and see if the sucker floats. Cycad suckers will float if they are desiccated or if they have central rot. It typically means that the cycad will not establish and will die.

Planting and establishing your cycad sucker:

  1. Sprinkle a powder root stimulant, such as idole-3-butyric acid, onto the base of the sucker and/or the roots of the plant.
  2. If you had to dissect your sucker at all or if it was removed, you should now seal the cuts with an agricultural tar; apply the tar only to areas that have been cut. This assists in keeping the cut surface clean and also helps to protect from future rot. Other sealing agents such as melted wax can be used.
  3. You will need new clean pumice or scoria. When you plant your sucker, it is important to use pumice or scoria because it is a dry medium and you are less likely to incur rot or other problems such as excessive wetness which can lead to rot. I would not suggest using something like perlite in establishing your cycads as we have found that your risk of rot is higher because it does not drain as well. Some growers use coarse sand. Remember to inspect your sucker for rot before potting it. This may not be apparent from the top of the sucker, so check the bottom.
  4. The size of pot you use first in establishing your sucker is not very important. It should be large enough to accommodate the size of the sucker and give some room to form roots, about 10 – 15 cm.
  5. The time it takes a cycad to establish can vary, but a fairly accurate estimate of time would be 6 - 10 months for the cycad to make roots and a flush of leaves. This is not always the case though, sometimes it can take a year or more. An important variable is the ambient temperature. Rooting occurs more rapidly with hot weather. Bottom heat is generally not necessary.
  6. When your plant has formed roots and sent out a flush of leaves, you can plant the cycad in the ground or move it up into a lager pot. Ensure that the cycad has good roots. If you see roots coming from the bottom of the pot, this is a good indication that the plant is ready. Leaving it for extended period in the pumice is possible, but remember that your fertilizing program will have to make up for this rather sterile medium.
  7. In the case of moving the cycad up into a lager pot, you use a deep pot (cycads tend to like deep pots). In my experience they grow faster and seem to be healthier in a deep pot.

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