How To Care For A Ponytail Palm

The Ponytail Palm, rarely referred to by its botanical name Beaucarnea recurvata is a misunderstood plant. 

While it looks like a tropical palm, it’s a succulent plant, and this is the ‘root’ of many plant deaths, as the plant is not getting what it needs.

When you know what this plant needs, it’s simple to care for and adds a tropical touch to any room.

Interested in knowing more about this unusual plant? Here’s what you need to know.

The Ponytail Palm At A Glance

The Ponytail Palm is a striking plant, and though it may look like a palm tree, it’s a close relative of Yucca plants, so it’s much easier to care for.

Ponytail Palms can live for a long time provided that you give them the right care, and they will look after themselves to an extent when it comes to watering, making them the perfect choice for those who don’t have a lot of time on their hands.

These plants are easily recognizable, with a single thick trunk that looks like a stump, and an explosion of long, strap-like leaves at the top.

The leaves can reach about 3 feet long at maturity, reaching even more when the plant is grown outside.

As for the plant’s height, it rarely gets larger than 4 feet tall, but it can reach anywhere between 5 and 30 feet tall outdoors, most likely about 10 feet unless conditions are optimal.

While the Ponytail Palm hails from Eastern Mexico, it is grown across the world as a striking houseplant, and as an ornamental plant in warm climates.

A Note On Toxicity

Ponytail Palms are considered non-toxic, but their unusual appearance can be a magnet for curiosity, especially in cats. 

Something to keep in mind, as although this plant won’t cause any severe problems if your pet eats it, they will probably throw up.

The Secret To Plant Care: Understanding Your Plant’s Native Conditions

The secret to mastering plant care and getting your plants to flourish is to consider their native conditions and try to mimic them as much as possible.

For very leafy, tropical plants, this can be a challenge, but when it comes to the Ponytail Palm, it’s fairly easy.

The Ponytail Palm comes from the semidesert eastern parts of Mexico, where conditions are continually dry and warm. 

This makes them very suited to indoor life in drier rooms, as for the most part, they will have everything they need from the get-go.

Ponytail Palms prefer warm temperatures, but around average household temperatures will do, provided that these plants are away from sources of heat or drafts. 

Ideal Light Levels For Ponytail Palms

Ponytail Palm plants need plenty of indirect light to thrive. Aim to give this plant as much light as possible without any prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, as the leaves can burn.

A good way of achieving this is to put your plant as close to a window as possible, preferably one that only gets morning sunlight and no direct afternoon light.

If you have a very sunny window, set your Ponytail Palm further back from the window, or behind a sheer curtain, so it doesn’t burn in the bright sunlight.

Ideal Soil For Ponytail Palms

When it comes to soil, sharply draining compost is a must for a Ponytail Palm. Regular houseplant compost or compost mixes for leafy tropical plants are not a good idea for this plant.

Instead, opt for a cactus compost mix, preferably amending it by adding some grit or pumice to the mix, and this will prevent water from pooling at the roots for too long.

It also means that plenty of oxygen can get to the roots of your plant, which is exactly what the Ponytail Palm needs.

When To Water A Ponytail Palm

Ponytail palms are forgiving when it comes to underwatering or even forgetting to water your plant for a while, but one thing they will not tolerate is constantly wet soil.

You can get away with watering your plant as infrequently as letting the top quarter of the soil dry out or so. Ideally, allow the top two inches of soil to dry out, but a little more will not harm your plant.

Try to avoid watering your plant on a set schedule, or watering it blindly where you don’t check to see if the soil is still too wet before watering, as both of these can cause root rot.

It’s also a good idea to avoid bottom watering your Ponytail Palm, as it is too easy to forget about it and leave your plant sitting in water, which leads to root rot!

Scale back the watering a little in fall as the plant’s growth slows down, and further in winter, as it won’t need nearly as much water as it would during the growing season.

Should You Increase Humidity For Ponytail Palms?

While the common name can suggest that this plant would prefer higher humidity as a palm tree, it’s important to keep this plant in a room with lower humidity levels.

Most succulents, including the Ponytail Palm, do not appreciate high levels of humidity, and will rot if the air is constantly too damp for them to cope with.

So save your humidity-rich rooms for the likes of leafy tropical plants, and put your succulents, including any Ponytail Palms, in a drier environment.

Repotting And Pruning A Ponytail Palm

You won’t have to worry about repotting your Ponytail Palm very often, as these plants grow very slowly.

It also helps that on the whole, they prefer to be pot-bound. It’s also harder to overwater them, and it limits the growth of the plant.

But there is a point where your plant needs more room. If watering doesn’t seem to do much for your plant, it doesn’t look to be hydrating it, and roots are coming out of the drainage holes, it’s time to give your plant more room.

Repot your Ponytail Palm during the growing season in spring and summer, and when you do size up, choose one pot size upwards, so you won’t drown the plant when you water it again.

Just before repotting, run your fingers down the edges of the root ball to break some of the roots free of the soil. This encourages the plant to grow into the fresh compost you’ll put it into.

As you put your plant into fresh soil, firm down the compost as you go, and water it when you’re finished to get rid of any air pockets.

Make sure that the trunk of the Ponytail Palm is at the same depth as it was in its original pot. Burying it deeper than that can rot the stem.

When it comes to pruning your Ponytail Palm, there are two reasons why you would: to encourage a bushier plant or to get rid of any dead leaves. Otherwise, the plant will do fine left to its own devices.

If you do want to create a denser Ponytail Palm, steel yourself. 

To encourage the plant to branch out, you’ll need to cut the growing tip of your Ponytail Palm, which will force the plant to grow more than one trunk. You can see why this method is not for the faint-hearted!

Ponytail Palm Propagation

The Ponytail Palm is not too difficult to propagate, as the plant will do the majority of the work for you. 

As long as the growing conditions are right, and the plant is old enough, it will start to produce offsets at the bottom of the trunk, which you can separate from the main plant and grow on as separate plants.

These offsets aren’t produced regularly, so it’s important to wait until the offsets are big enough for transplanting, to ensure success.

Use a sharp knife to separate the plantlets from the original, or if you find it easier, take the whole plant out of the pot to separate them.

Allow the offsets to dry out for a few days before planting them up in the soil, and then put them in bright and indirect light.

Problems To Watch Out For

Ponytail Palms are easy plants to take care of, but that does not mean that you’ll never have problems with them.

Brown Leaf Tips

The most common problem on a Ponytail Palm is brown leaf tips. There are a few causes, but they all have one thing in common: something is making your plant unhappy.

Your plant’s leaf tips may be turning brown when the plant is getting too much or too little water, or it’s getting too dry and then too wet. Try to be consistent with your watering practices. 

Brown leaf tips can be a sign of sun scorch, where the plant is getting too much direct sunlight.

Your plant may also develop brown leaf tips when you’re overdoing it with fertilizer. Maybe you’re eyeballing the amounts, using the wrong type (use a succulent feed), you are feeding the plant more often than you should.

Lower Leaves Drying Up

Over time, your plant will discard the older, lower leaves, and they will gradually turn yellow and then brown. Simply trim them or pull them from the plant.

This is a natural process, and nothing to worry about. However, if you notice that the leaves are turning yellow rapidly, this is usually a sign of moisture problems: either overwatering or underwatering and something you shouldn’t ignore.


Mealybugs, scale, spider mites, and thrips are the villains to watch out for when it comes to pest control on Ponytail Palm plants.

As the leaves are so long and can pack together quite densely, it can be difficult to notice an infestation before it gets out of hand.

It’s a good idea to get up close to your plant every week or two to take a look at the leaves, including the undersides, for any unexplained damage, bumps, or discoloration.

Treat any pests with a horticultural soap, and rinse the leaves in between applications.

Final Thoughts

Ponytail Palms are beautiful and easy to look after, provided that you give them plenty of indirect light, warmth, and infrequent watering.

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