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 Name||Beaucarnea recurvata|
|Height||Up to 15 feet|
|Light||Full to partial sun|
|Temperature||65-75°F, but cooler in the winter|
|Soil||Fast draining soil|
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.).
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:
- If it's early, hand-pick and wipe off with cotton swabs soaked in rubbing alcohol
- Use water to wash them off of your plant
- Use a systemic insecticide to kill everything on the plant
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.
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.