Ponytail Palm Care: How to Grow Beaucarnea Recurvata
Ponytail palm care is surprisingly easy to do. Learn exactly how to grow Beaucarnea recurvata palms in your home with this in-depth guide.
The ponytail palm is a unique houseplant that — SURPRISE — is neither a palm or a ponytail! Ponytail palms are actually succulents, believe it or not. Succulent or palm, it adds a bit of tropical flair and botanical interest to any area of your home.
The ponytail palm plant is 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 grow it as a bonsai, and it doesn’t need a as much light or water as palms do.
In this guide, you’ll learn exactly how to care for, troubleshoot, and propagate ponytail palms — let’s go!
Ponytail Palm Overview
|Common Name(s)||Ponytail palm, bottle palm, elephant foot tree, elephant’s foot palm|
|Scientific Name||Beaucarnea recurvata|
|Height||Up to 15 feet|
|Light||Partial sun, bright light|
|Temperature||65-75°F, but cooler in the winter|
|Soil||Fast draining soil|
|Pests and Diseases||Spider mites, mealybugs, scale, leaf spot, stem rot, bacterial leaf streak|
All About Ponytail Palms
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 of ponytail palms is quite long, they 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 develops a brownish-gray colored bark with a texture that very closely resembles an elephant’s foot, hence the common name, elephant’s foot tree. The base will continue to grow in size, giving the ponytail palm plant a bottle shape. This is where the plants store water.
This is also where ponytail palms gets their nicknames of “bottle palm” and ”elephant’s foot palm.” Ponytail palm plants grow slowly, but when they’re grown outside in warm climates they can reach heights of 20 feet or more. As a houseplant, the palm usually grows to about three feet tall and possibly 10 to 15 at full maturity.
Ponytail palms rarely flower indoors, but if you’re growing your ponytail palm outdoors it will also produce flower stalks that can reach 16 feet or more in height. The stalks bloom clusters of small yellowish or beige-colored flowers that open during the summer months.
There is no evidence that ponytail palm is toxic to cats or dogs, so rest safely on that knowledge! But, you may still want to keep your ponytail palms out of the way of your pets, as they can cause damage to the leaves or trunk.
Ponytail Palm Care
Overall, care for a ponytail palm is pretty simple. Give yours a good amount of bright light and don’t over-water it. There are some special things to keep in mind with this plant that we get into below.
Because ponytail palms are among those in the desert plant category, they flourish in bright light. However, they can tolerate some shade, but won’t grow as quickly. When you care for a ponytail succulent, place it as close as you can to a west or east-facing windowsill where it get plenty of light and is bathed in the desert heat that it’s used to. Bright indirect light is best.
The ponytail palm plant’s ideal temperature range is between 60° and 80° Fahrenheit. Keep it out of temperatures below 40°, but don’t worry much if the air conditioning breaks in the heat of summer. Heat is no problem as long as adequate moisture is present. But remember that too much direct sunlight can cause problems.
The root system of Beaucarnea recurvatas are similar to that of a cactus. They push deep into the soil to store water through dry spells. Water is also stored in the wide base of ponytail palms, which can keep the soil moist. Water your palm every one to two weeks. It can go as long as four weeks before needing a drink. If it’s in full sun, it will need water more often than that.
Before watering your ponytail palm, 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. When it comes to humidity, about 40% is ideal for the ponytail palm. Since most homes sit around 30 to 50%, you probably won’t have to provide additional humidity from a humidifier or daily misting.
Indoor ponytail palms don’t need much in the way of soil. Buying a specialized palm, succulent soil, or cactus mix works great. You can also mix your own soil substrate for your ponytail palm by combining the following:
- Two parts of garden soil or potting soil
- One part perlite
- One part coconut coir or peat moss
- 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 around your ponytail palm plant.
Fertilize your ponytail palm with a liquid cactus fertilizer diluted to half strength once every 2-4 weeks during the growing seasons of spring and summer. In the off seasons (fall and winter), decrease to once every 1-2 months or so. Don’t overfertilize, or fertilize your ponytail palm at the wrong time as this can create beneficial conditions for diseases and pests.
Repotting Ponytail Palms
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. Pick a pot wide enough to accommodate the large bulbous root and stem of your current ponytail palm. 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 ponytail palm plant allows too much fertilizer to reach the roots causing them to burn.
Gently remove the entire plant from the current pot, and separate the root mass carefully. Then add a little fresh potting media in to the new pot, and place the newly separated root mass of the ponytail palm plant within the new pot. Top it off, and add a small amount of water. After that, you’re set!
Pruning Your Ponytail Palm
The ponytail palm plant takes up a wide footprint, so you may be tempted to prune the leaves. Resist this temptation, unless the leaves are diseased. 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.
You can remove any ponytail palm suckers, also known as pups, from the base of your ponytail palm to propagate into new plants when you do your regular pruning.
Ponytail Palm Propagation
Ponytail palm 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. Do this in the active growth season of spring.
To remove a ponytail palm pup, brush soil away from the base of the plant so you can access it. Use a sterilized knife to slice the pup off of the plant. If there are multiple ponytail palm pups, choose one that is at least 4″ tall as it will already be developing roots. Leave the others for later propagation. Remove all but the top two or three sets of leaves.
Plant 1/3 of the ponytail palm pup’s base in a fresh pot of cactus mix, and either place it in a high-humidity area or cover it with a clear plastic bag. Keep it in bright light, but out of full sun. Mist the plant every few days to keep the humidity high. It may take a month or slightly more for the ponytail palm pup to root.
Troubleshooting the Ponytail Palm
While you probably won’t run into a ton of issues when you care for a ponytail palm, there are a few things that can occur. Let’s discuss those now so you can have a healthy and happy indoor ponytail palm plant.
Most of the growing problems that pony tail palm plants face have to do with improper growing conditions. Brown tips can result from multiple variables. Remember to water more often in the growing season, and only fertilize then too, avoiding overwatering or fertilizing at all in fall and winter.
Improper light conditions may make your ponytail palm plant grow slower or get singed, brown tips. It can also reduce its ability to absorb water and fertilizer, which could lead to disease and pest issues. Give your ponytail palm bright light in the sunniest room of your house whenever possible but not so much it gets brown tips.
Spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects are all common pests of indoor plants. They all feed on the sap of ponytail palm plants, if they are present at all. Spider mites weave tight webs around plants as they feed. Though they are rare, it’s important to remove them quickly and effectively. Start by wiping down your ponytail palm with a damp cloth.
Then follow up with a misting of an insecticidal soap or neem oil. If scale insects or mealybugs remain on the plant, pop them off with a q-tip soaked in alcohol. Monitor the situation over the course of a few weeks, reapplying any of the above treatments to your ponytail palm in intervals of 7 to 10 days as needed.
Most of the diseases you’ll run into on your ponytail palm have to do with over-watering, so making sure that the soil is not overly moist will solve a lot of problems. Leaf spot, stem rot, and bacterial leaf streak are three of these water-related diseases. 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 ponytail palm 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 on your ponytail palm is sooty mold. It doesn’t kill the plant, but it does result from honeydew secreted by the pests (spider mites, scale, mealybugs) mentioned in the last section. To control sooty mold, you can simply wash it off the ponytail palm plant. Prevent it through the pest control measures discussed above.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. The leaves of my bottle palm are turning yellow and brown, what is going on?
A. If your ponytail palm 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 the ponytail palm plant definitely loves warm sunny locations, it prefers cooler temperatures of around 50° during the winter months.
Q: How fast does Beaucarnea recurvata grow?
A: The ponytail palm is a slow grower. You shouldn’t have to repot your plant until about 4 to 5 years after it has been potted. It takes about this long for a ponytail palm to double in size.
Q: How tall does Beaucarnea recurvata grow?
A: In the wild, a ponytail palm grows up to 18 feet tall. Indoors, you’ll see it grow to 10 to 15 feet when it’s fully mature. Most of the time it stays around 3 feet tall.
Q: Is ponytail palm a good houseplant?
A: I mean, we did dedicate this whole piece to growing the ponytail palm indoors. So, yes! It’s perfect anywhere you want to have a tropical feel in your home.
Q: What is the lifespan of a ponytail palm?
A: Put the ponytail palm in your will because it will live for many decades. Reports suggest some have lived for 100-plus years!
Q: Can I cut the top off a ponytail palm?
A: While this is drastic and can result in issues, it’s possible to do so with two forked ponytail palm shoots resulting.
Q: Can ponytail palm take full sun?
A: While it likes bright indirect light, keep your ponytail palm out of direct sun.