Ponytail Palm Care – How to Grow Beaucarnea Recurvata

The ponytail palm is a unique houseplant that — SURPRISE — isn't a palm at all! It is actually a succulent, believe it or not.

It's an excellent choice if you want to add a beautiful houseplant to your home without spending a lot of time caring for it. You can also grow it well as a bonsai!

In this guide, you'll learn exactly how to care for, troubleshoot, and propagate this wonderful houseplant — let's go!

Ponytail Palm Overview

Common Name(s)Ponytail palm, bottle palm, elephant foot tree
Scientific NameBeaucarnea recurvata
FamilyAsparagaceae
OriginSouth america
HeightUp to 15 feet
LightFull to partial sun
WaterMild-average
Temperature65-75°F, but cooler in the winter
HumidityAverage
SoilFast draining soil
FertilizerSpring
PropagationCut the pup away
PestsSpidermites, over watering

The base of the ponytail palm has a bulging appearance with a more narrow trunk , topped with a fountain of long, slender leaves resembling blades of grass. The foliage generally curves downward and can be as much as two feet long and just an inch wide. Because the foliage is quite long, ponytail palms require a generous amount of space.

As a young plant, ponytail palms barely have a noticeable trunk. Instead, it resembles an onion plant. As the plant matures, the trunk begins to widen and becomes more pronounced.

Eventually, the trunk will develop a brownish-gray colored bark with a texture that very closely resembles an elephant's foot. The base will continue to grow in size, giving the plant a bottle shape.​

This is where the ponytail palm gets its nicknames of "bottle palm" and ​"elephant foot tree." 

Ponytail palms grow slowly, but when grown outside in warm climates they can reach heights of 20 feet or more. When grown as a houseplant, it will usually grows to about three feet tall.

It rarely flowers indoors, but when grown outdoors it will also produce flower stalks that can reach 16 feet or more in height. The stalks produce clusters of small yellowish or beige-colored flowers that open during the summer months.​

Ponytail Palm Care

Overall, beaucarnea recurvata care is pretty simple: give it a good amount of light and don't over-water it. But there are some special things to keep in mind with this plant that we get into below.

Light

Because they're native to sunny desert regions, ponytail palms flourish in bright light. However, they can tolerate some shade, but won't grow as quickly.

Place them as close as you can to a west or east-facing windowsill where they'll get plenty of light and be bathed in the desert heat that they're used to.​

Water

The root system of beaucarnea recurvatas are similar to that of a cactus. The plant's roots push deep into the soil to store water through dry spells. Water is also stored in its wide base.

These plants only need to be watered every one to two weeks, but can go as long as four weeks before needing a drink. Before watering, poke your finger into the soil and make sure it's dry to at least 1" deep.

When you water thoroughly soak the soil and let any excess water drain out.

Soil

Ponytail palms don't need much in the way of soil. Buying a specialized palm, succulent, or cactus mix will work well. 

You can also mix your own soil substrate by combining the following:

  • Two parts of garden soil
  • One part perlite
  • One part coconut peat
  • One part sand, vermiculite, or expanded clay pellets

Try not to add too much peat as it will retain too much water and compact the soil.

Fertilizer

Use a liquid cactus fertilizer once every 2-4 weeks during the growing season. In the off season, you can decrease to once every 1-2 months or so.​

Repotting

You may not ever need to re-pot your ponytail palm. At most you'll need to do so just once every 4-5 years due to its slow growth.

Be sure to pick a wide pot due to the large bulbous root and stem. ​

When you re-pot the plant, water the soil thoroughly but don't apply any fertilizer for at least four weeks. The loose soil in a newly re-potted plant allows too much fertilizer to reach the roots causing them to burn.​

Pruning​

This plant takes up a wide footprint, so you may be tempted to prune the leaves. Resist this temptation. If you prune the leaves they will develop brown edges that don't look good.

Instead, prune the stem if you feel it's getting too tall. at least 2' above the bottom of the plant and wait. After 2-3 weeks, you'll see at least two new shoots sprout.

Ponytail Palm Propagation

These plants produce little "pups" when propagating themselves. All you really need to do to propagate it is to remove the pup from an existing plant and repot it.

To remove a pup, brush soil away from the base of the plant so you can get at the pups. Use a sterilized knife to slice the pup off of the plant. If there are multiple pups, choose one that is at least 4" tall as it will already be developing roots.

Place the pup in a fresh pot of cactus mix and either place in a high-humidity area or cover with a clear plastic bag. Mist the plant every few days to keep the ​humidity high.

Problems

Ponytail Palms and Your Cat or Dog

There's a high amount of saponin in the leaves of the ponytail palm, which is poisonous to animals. If you have pets, put the ponytail palm in an area where they're not going to be munching on it all of the time!

Growing Problems

Mention common growing problems that gardeners face with this plant and how to either prevent or control them. These will often be misapplications of the care guide above (too little sun, too much water, etc.).​

Pests

Almost no pests bother the ponytail palm, and even the ones that do won't cause serious harm to it.

However, you might find the classic houseplant pests on your palm — scales, mealybugs, and spider mites.

Here's how to treat these pests:

  1. If it's early, hand-pick and wipe off with cotton swabs soaked in rubbing alcohol
  2. Use water to wash them off of your plant
  3. Use a systemic insecticide to kill everything on the plant

Diseases

Most of the diseases you'll run into have to do with over-watering, so making sure that the soil is not overly moist will solve a lot of problems.

​You'll know if your ponytail palm is suffering from a root or stem rot if you see it start to sag, leaves turn yellow, and sections of the plant begin to feel "mushy."

If you notice these symptoms, stop watering your plant so often. Cut off mushy or infected areas. You can even repot it into fresh, drier soil and clean the root system off.

The only other disease you'll run into is sooty mold. It doesn't kill the plant: most gardeners simply don't like the look of it. To control sooty mold, you can simply wash it off the plant.​

FAQs​

Q. The leaves of my bottle palm are turning yellow and brown, what is going on?

A. If your plant's lower leaves become yellow or start to turn brown, it's a good sign that the plant isn't receiving enough water.

Q. How should I care for my ponytail palm during the winter?

A. While this plant definitely loves warm sunny locations, it prefers cooler temperatures of around 50° during the winter months.

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  • Peter METCALFE

    We have a Ponytail on our front porch – it is now about 1,2 meters tall. It has now for the first time in 20 years sprung a seed like cluster or flower. What do I do with this ‘flower’ or ‘seed’? –

  • Rhonda Slaughter

    I have a beautiful 4′ ponytail, I live close to Houston, TX. Would it be ok to plant it in the ground in my back yard, and cover it during cooler tempertures?

    • lex

      It really depends on how good your soil is and how much sun it is getting .If you think it is in a good spot than I say yes.

  • Sparks

    I have a pony tail plant that is 16 feet tall with root ball about 21/2 feet across. I have been offered a lot of money for it, have been told I should insure it. It has never been indoors, and I have run out of pots that are big enough for it. It is beautiful and has never flowered. But this year it made a side shoot, that I call baby pony.ok I like my plants.

    • Carol Balkcom

      I have a ponytail plant that is 31 years old. It has reached the ceiling once and I cut it back to about 2 feet about 8 years ago . The root ball is approx. 22 or 23 inches around. It has broke every pot that it has been in.I would like to know if the root ball can be cut down smaller or will it kill it? I can”t find a pot big enough to transplant in.

  • mary dolin

    I’m just a beginner with ponytails. I bought one at Walmart with 4 bulbs need info on taking care of them. I have repotted them. Should I water them often since I just separated them?

    • lex

      You should water it when it is dry or they are not growing

    • Cheryl

      How do I divide a pony tail without damaging it?

  • P. Sandidge

    My Pony Tail plant is dieing, how can I bring it back, what type of soil and pot do I need. Does it sit on top of the soil or down in the soil. Please help, It was doing so well.

  • Diana Kight

    P. Sandidge… You can soak your plant in water for about 2 hours and use a miracle grow soil, sand and perlite equal amount and use a well drain pot , don’t bury the swollen trunk , you need to expose it , after repotting your plant ,you can water it every 2-4 weeks , feel the dirt before watering again.. Good luck !! If your plant is root bound you can root prune 1/3 of the roots only, water and soak your plant first before you root prune it

  • lex

    I have a ponytail i just got it about 3months ago it is the prettiest plant . It does good in warm temperatures. If you have cats be ware mine love it they will eat it. In 3 months it has grown 3in taller and 5in wider. Water it about 1 time every week. They are pretty strong . They are not weak plants.

  • Meg Johnson

    I bought one Pony tail palm at Sam’s warehouse club 26th of this month, in a ceramic pot and tiny pebbles clustered (pasted) and show no soil at all and noticeably the pot has no holes at the bottom, my main concern is, how much water and how often can I do these… HELP!!! thank you

    • Lynn

      Hi Meg, I bought a similar ponnytail at costco about 10 years ago. It’s still in the same pot (glued pebbles and all) and is thriving. I give it about a cup of water every week or so…sometimes I forget, but it doesn’t seem to mind. I wouldn’t worry too much about your ponnytail in it’s current pot.

      • Ellen

        I got a pony tail palm (3 inches tall) when I was 10 years old and now it lives in my court yard in San Diego and it is 20n feet tall(because I could not buy bigger pots) …I aged with it and am now 53 years old. Put your little one in some cactus dirt in a bigger pot and water once a week, but don’t drowned it and it will do great. Now if anyone can tell me how t0o separate a baby from the momma plant I would appreciate it. I am possibly retiring to a different location and can’t bear to not have a small grandchild plant!

  • Brenda

    We have just brought 2 pony tail plants we have never had one be for, so un sure how to care for them, we live in spain so they will be out side, when we transported the plants they are quite large, one of the plants lost all it’s leaves will they grow back again, and the other plant the leves are turing yellow where they grow out from the top, we did water them when we got them back.
    hope you can help
    Brenda

  • joe moehrle

    recently broke top of plant off, had this plant for many years, breaks my heart
    what do I DO, help thank you plant is 18 inches high

  • jo richardson

    what causes the bulbs to rot? should you not get them wet when watering?

  • Jerry R. Jones

    I have two large Pony Tails that I sat in the ground in their plastic pot when they began to break the pot open. They have actually thrived and one is 10 feet tall. Suddenly a few weeks ago the tall palm began to look like itstop growing fronds were turning yellow. Then with in a matter of four days a spike grew to about 24 inches before I notived small flowerets wer budding out of this new growth. It now after 1 week has a 3 foot tall growth of what I asume is the flower. My question is, will this growth damage the plant? Should I do anything to this growth?

  • Debbie Sweet

    My husband has had this Elaphants Foot Plant for 38 years. This last year it has been through a lot. It seemed to be in a bad apot. Something got dropped on it and put a small gash in the trunk. It was not growing at all so I made sure it had water. Apparently too much. Now the top of the plant is loose and moves some. I wondered if cutting the loose top off would be a good idea. We live in a cold climate, so putting it outside is not an option. Any advice to keep this plant alive would be appreciated.

    • Ellen

      Stop watering it and see what happens. I have had one for 40 years and it is now 20 feet tall. I live in California, but it’s first 8 years it lived in my bathroom in Oklahoma. I was forgetful sometime about the watering, so I figure yours must not be use to water either. Mine lives in my frontyard now in east county San Diego. Very good drainage! (South African climate) Stop watering and good luck.

  • I got A ponytail plant for my birthday and had no instructions ,It’s in a little 8 in pot with the bulb really showing, can I replant this now and how big should the pot be to start out and how deep I have the soil instructions you just gave someone ,I have a sunroom so the temperature will be the same at all time. I was concerned about exposing the bulb to much or not enough it’s really healthy looking and what kind of fertilizer do I use, when I do fertilize it. It’s approximately 16 inch from the bottom of the pot to the top not counting the limbs ..Any help will be appreciated

  • Tennille

    My mom bought us a ponytail palm for Christmas and it was doing great until our cat munched half the leaves off. I had to hang it from the ceiling in its pot and now the leaves keep turning brown and dropping and the green parts are really saggy and droopy. How can I save it? Any help is greatly appreciated.

  • gloria

    Hello, I have the same problem as Tennille. My cat loved to munch on the leaves. I have moved the plant out of her reach, but not much change in its appearance. Its foliage is droopy, turning brown then falling off. What should I do to help my plant be healthy?

  • plantlover

    I will share my experience with the ponytail and other plants, hope it helps.
    I’ve owned my ponytail less than a year but it has grown from a small tabletop sized plant to one in the extra large clay pot and over three feet tall. It has towering curved leaves and a huge base. It wont fit into the car it came home in. I have repotted it three times andd during the summer I watered her every day.
    I start with store soil and amend it with perlite, tree bark, and a soil perfector until it no longer clumps. I’ve experimented with equal parts soil and additives before, but it required to much watering and I didn’t have the time. So now the ratio is 2 parts soil and two parts of all of the other stuff. Beware: if you don’t have time to water your plant daily or every other day, it will die quickly. Also, my plant sat outside from the outset, I only now have it inside.

  • Holly

    I have a plant that is at least 60 years old. Without asking, my gardener (or his workers) cut the leaves back. I’m in a panic that it may have been harmed. It has never been cut like this. Will it regrow?

    Thanks