Cycad in Suburbia

(page 4)

As the weather cooled it still made steady but slower growth taking nearly a fortnight to double again, but the return of higher temperatures in mid August saw the fronds shoot up to about 40cm/I 6" and spread and expand to about half their final width in a single week. The highest temperature I recorded during this rapid growth was 80F/27C, a good deal cooler than say Leeds or London, seemingly proving great heat would be unnecessary, although areas of higher summer temperature would probably achieve faster results.

A word of warning to those contemplating growing the cycad which is not usually imparted or thought of: watch the new growth carefully as it is very soft indeed, very delicate and very easily damaged in the early stages of growth. I came out one morning to do the usual checks to find the tips of the spire pecked by birds. It was about eight inches high when this happened and made a perfect perch for our feathered friends, luckily the damage was only slight, about 1/4" off three tips but with going away for a week I was worried about further damage so I quickly made a cage out of chicken wire to go over the crown. On my return there was no further damage and the leaves had grown and expanded past this vulnerable stage.

Also keep a look out at night for earwigs amongst the parting spears. These pests easily show up under torchlight, the new leaves appear to he unaffected by spraying them with correctly mixed doses of insecticide. I have found the occasional slug climbing up the stem. The last week of August was unsettled with very heavy showers and occasional sunshine with temperatures averaging about 10C and although September started cool, overall the month was ideal for the growth of the cycad with several bursts of warm sunshine and much needed very heavy rain, so heavy in fact that I was concerned that the unhardened new growth would he damaged but it was not a problem.

Now into mid October the weather remained mild and the new leaves seem to have turned much harder. Quite suddenly they are very dark green above and a pale glaucous green below, in spite of being battered by strong north-westerly winds only slight damage to one or two of the leaflet tips occurred where they crashed together.

With the new leaves hardened and matured it will go into its third winter, I will of course give these new growths any protection necessary. Hopefully it won't be anywhere near as bad as last winter and this protection will be minimal and just for our darkest months. If all goes well as previous experience has shown I should have the pleasure of seeing the cycad become more and more established and maybe increasing in hardiness as its potentially vast root system spreads and hopefully becomes more accustomed to harsher conditions.

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