Ponytail Palm Care – How to Grow Beaucarnea Recurvata

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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

Beaucarnea Recurvata Care

Common Name(s) Ponytail palm, bottle palm, elephant foot tree
Scientific Name Beaucarnea recurvata
Family Asparagaceae
Origin South america
Height Up to 15 feet
Light Full to partial sun
Water Mild-average
Temperature 65-75°F, but cooler in the winter
Humidity Average
Soil Fast draining soil
Fertilizer Spring
Propagation Cut the pup away
Pests Spidermites, 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

Pontail Palm Care

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.

Ponytail palm care is surprisingly easy for a palm. Learn exactly how to grow beautiful beaucarnea recurvata in your home with this in-depth guide.
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68 thoughts on “Ponytail Palm Care – How to Grow Beaucarnea Recurvata

  1. My cats ate all my leaves off of my ponytail. There are just a couple tiny sprouts now that are left. How can I get them to grow back? All of the ends are dried and covered with the dead leaf ends

  2. I was gifted a small ponytail palm that is very yellow and brownish on the ends of the leaves. I have accidentally been over watering it for the past couple of weeks because I thought it was dry. I will curb my watering instincts, but what else should I do?

    • I’ll make a video and article on this, but the short answer is you have to change out the soil. Rinse off the roots, cut away any dead roots, and then repot with fresh soil.

  3. HIya. I was wondering if I could bring my 18yr old ponytail indoors. ? It has spent Its whole life outdoors. Our climate isn’t the warmest all the time. But inside my house there is a window it would sit beautifully infront of. It would also be next to a log burner so it definitely would be warm. Should I leave it growing in it’s pot outside or if I brought it inside , would it die?

    • I can’t say for sure whether it would survive or not, but you can test for a few days and see how it responds. The thing about a plant that old living in the same spot is that it is very accustomed to that spot, so might stress a bit when moved.

  4. I have had my ponytail Palm for about 10 years now and have never had a problem. I went out of town for a month and when I came back, my palm looked TERRIBLE! My roommate felt the need to water it daily and give it a “prune”. It is now just a bare trunk in a pot. The base is still firm and I am being very very careful with it. I let it dry out for 3 weeks before giving it any water. I now water it every 2 weeks and I also have some kelp fertilizer (Kelp Man) that I give to it very very sparingly. I have also rearranged my kitchen so that it now sits in the sunniest spot.

    What are the chances of it coming back and growing some new fronds? Are there any other remedies I can try?

    • WHAT?! A prune while you were away? That’s a bit rude. It sounds like you’re doing everything you should be doing, so I can’t give you much more advice. Fingers crossed for you!

  5. I recently purchased a ponytail palm. I was just wondering how you make the leaf more curled into ringlets? Thank you.

  6. My ponytail palm is about nine years old always been healthy but today lose all of it’s leaves, will they grow back and what do I need to do.

    • I’d check to see if anything in the environment changed and try to give it the conditions recommended in the guide. Something must have happened in the growing environment for it to drop all of its leaves like that!

  7. Hi if my plant is outdoors how will it handle the cold. It is undercover but the bottom leaves are turning yellow. Have watered about every ten days. Do I perhaps need to bring it in doors for winter?

  8. My bulb seem dry and hollow. Is it ok ?
    And I dropped it busted my pot and to report. While this happened I broke a small sprout off. It’s have a bad day.

  9. Hi there, I was just wondering about my Ponytail — It seems healthy, but it is quite wobbly in the pot. Is this something to worry about?
    The trunk is firm/hard, and there’s been some new fronds in the recent past. I’ve been watering it probably 1 x week or a bit less than that.
    Thanks for any info!

    • Hmmm…wobbly makes me initially think of root rot eroding out some of the stability, so definitely make sure to check for that. Could also just be a lot of new growth up top destabilizing it a bit! Might be time for a repotting.

  10. I have a ponytail palm that is about 10 years old. When I got the plant there were three bulbs in the pot. Over the years repotting I now have a huge plant that has outgrown it’s pot. Can I divide the bulbs into separate pots. My animals have done some damage to the fronds by pulling them off. Can I cur the top foliage? Will it make new?
    Thank you
    Ellie

    • You totally can remove the bulbs! Follow the propagation instructions in that section and you should be just fine! You can also clip some of the foliage if you feel it doesn’t look great…the plant will recover, just slowly.

  11. Hi there, My Ponytail is outside and it’s getting very tall and I would like to trim it down so it’s not as tall. Is this possible without killing the plant?

    • It’s a single-trunk plant, so it would just kill the plant unfortunately. Your best option is to propagate by removing some of the pups and replanting those, then growing them up!

  12. I have a ponytail palm (about 15 yo, completely healthy, 6 ft long leaves) except my grandson uprooted it and ripped the roots right off. My question is will it survive being re-potted. I potted it back like you normally would and made sure it was at the original soil line.

  13. Leaves have about 10″ of brown at ends , and some patches, or elongated tan spots with thin dark brown ring. These are near the bottom, on some – not all. There are a few at the top that are dark red, but read that was normal, but is it? Don’t know if the brown spots could be fungus?

  14. We have a problem with our palm in the office. There are some kind of white soft spots on the leafs and also now on the wall of the plant. We cleaned it all the time, also repotted but it’s getting worse and worce. The leafs are drying and fall down. It looks like the plant is dying. Do you have any advice or suggestion? Polona

  15. Please help. I have had my pony tail palm for 1 and half yrs. I love it and i keep it in doors except in warner weather i take it outside thru day and bring it back in of evening. It was doing so good and had grown nice long leaves? I dont know much about plants even at 41 lol. But the last 2 months i noticed it turning brown and dry i been watering it like 2 cups water every 3wks (i read that on some blog was doing ok with this routine) but the poor this os dying i assume. Like said all leaves brown dried up nd brittle looking there still just couple green spots. How do i save this beautiful plant?? And i keep reading about “pups” and bulbs. The bulbs its the things sprouting from main trunk i have 4 at top of trunk that sprouts my green leaves. Is this what you cut off and replant for another pony tail? And what is a pup and what does it look like and located? I believe someone said it grows from the big bulb part of trunk at base line?? I dont have this but just curious because i would love to have one or two more plants. And need this one back beautiful green and thriving. I dont know what happened. Thanks!!

    • Hm…it could be needing to be repotted, the soil could be running out of nutrition, could be a watering issue…hard to say without pictures! You could also try growing from a pup or new bulb too.

  16. Hi, we have a ponytail palm that started out 30 years ago as a house plant. It’s been with us and now lives outside our home in Florida. Recently has experienced a huge growth spurt and is now approx. 17ft. tall and has sprouted what appears to be flowers or seeds. Do we cut these end growths off or do they just fall off by themselves. Don’t want to hurt the plant. What should we do?? Marilyn & Bob

  17. I need help with my ponytail palm… My son knocked the plant and it fell on the floor.
    I have three small/medium palm in a big pot.
    As it fell, one of the palm leaves bunch got cut exactly where they start, at the stem…
    Will it regrow? it was the biggest one, the best one in the pot 🙁
    What should i do?
    Please help!
    Thank you!

  18. We have a 50 year old ponytail palm that’s getting too tall for it’s space. It’s in a room with cathedral ceiling and gets lots of light, so it’s happy! But what do we do when it starts to bend against the ceiling?

  19. I think I left my pony tail palm outside too long into the fall. When I brought it in all the leaves turned a different shade of green and when I gave them a little tug they all came off! will they grow back? I’m going to repot and separate as its a 3 bulb plant, but I’m not sure if it will grown new leaves ~ I’ve had it for about 4 years and always put it on my deck in the summer, and I should have brought it in sooner ~ any suggestions?
    Thank you

  20. I need help, I got a ponytail 2 months ago, it was doing great but then it started to look funny…well, it has mold and the root is rotting. I came to find out my husband was overwatering the ponytail palm. I really like it and want to save it, is there anything that I can do?

    • Sorry to hear Laura! Your best option is to unpot it, rinse the soil off of the roots and cut away any rot. Then repot in fresh potting soil and see if you can nurse it back to health. It might not work, but it’s your best chance!

  21. i don’t have a comment, but a question. I have a poony palm & it was doing great until we had the hurricane. Irma. The top crown where all the growth comes from lookes like it was sawed off. Found some ants & wonder if they did this or what. It has been a healthy beautiful plant & still is but I am afraid it will die without the crown. What should I do.

  22. 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

  23. 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.

  24. 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?

  25. 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.

  26. 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

  27. 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.

    • 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.

  28. 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?

  29. 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

  30. 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

  31. 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

    • 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.

      • 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!

  32. 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.

  33. 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

  34. 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.

  35. 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?

  36. 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.

    • 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.

  37. 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?

  38. 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’? –

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