This post contains affiliate links. If you were to make a purchase through one, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Learn more.
The Ponytail Palm, or Beaucarnea recurvata, is a happy looking and very easy to care for indoor plant.
Ponytail palms don’t need a lot of care, they will survive if you forget to water it once in a while. As long as you don’t water it too often, your plant will be fine.
Ponytail palms get their common name from the way their leaves grow up and out as if tied in a ponytail. Another common name is Elephant’s foot plant because of the shape of the bulb on the bottom.
How to care for your Ponytail palm
If you are looking for a low maintenance houseplant that over the years, could grow into a full indoor tree-sized plant, the ponytail palm is for you.
Let me first tell you that your ponytail palm tree isn’t a real palm or a real tree at all. It is part of the Agave family and a so-called caudex plant. Meaning a plant that forms a water-storing succulent caudex, or bulb, at the base. They are native from semi-desert areas of southeastern Mexico.
Think about those things when you care for your ponytail palm. It originates from a dry and hot place where it doesn’t rain often. Hint: no need to water a lot!
Water storing bulb
Ponytail palms grow a large bulb, also known as a caudex, at the base of their trunk. This succulent caudex is where the plant stores water for possible periods of drought. In other words, it will save some water when it gets it, in case you will forget to water it by accident. It will be fine.
When your plant is still small, the caudex doesn’t really look like much of an elephant’s feet yet, but more like an onion plant. As the plant matures, the base of the trunk will grow wider and thicker.
Growing in the desert, ponytail palms are used to being in full sun. In your home, give it a place where it gets as much light as possible. Indoor ponytail palms like a lot of bright light.
On the other hand, your ponytail palm can also survive in a lower light, partial shade situation. Do try to give it at least a few hours of sun to do really well.
Don’t put your ponytail palm too close to cold windows during the winter. It can’t handle freezing temperatures. Move it away from the window a bit to spare it from cold damage.
In the ponytail palms’ native habitat, it rains in the summer and is dry for most of the winter. So as long as you water deeply when you do water, your plant can go for quite a long time without.
Overwatering is the thing to watch out for. Don’t water your plant too often. Also, try to not get water on the caudex and allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
Water your ponytail regularly from spring through fall. Reduce watering during the winter. Fertilize in the spring/summer.
How to know it’s time to water your plant? There’s another article about how and when to water houseplants that explains all you need to know about proper watering.
When to repot your Ponytail palm
Ponytail palms are slow-growing and don’t need to be repotted often. Every two to three years should be fine. At that time, even if the plant still has room to grow, you want to refresh the soil.
Repot in spring when the bulb is filling the pot and or when you see roots coming from the bottom drainage holes or growing above the soil.
Make sure to keep about half of the caudex above the soil. They don’t like to be completely covered.
After repotting let your plant rest a few days to a week before watering again.
You don’t have to trim the leaves of your ponytail palm. Just let them grow and cascade down as they do in nature.
This does mean you would have to find your plant a spot somewhere up on a plant shelf or a plant stand to give those leaves enough space to grow.
If you do really want to trim the leaves, you can. Your plant will be fine. Just don’t remove more than one-third of all the leaves at once.
Make the cut at an angle. That way, it will show less that the leaves have been cut.
The evergreen leaves are long and grass-like. Use caution when trimming or repotting because the leaves have sharp serrated edges which can irritate your skin.
If you are lucky, your mature ponytail plant will grow offshoots from its base. You can safely let these baby plants stay and grow there, or choose to separate and make more plants.
Often plant nurseries or garden centers will plant two or more ponytails close together in the same pot. This way your plant looks fuller sooner. It can be a bargain to buy that ‘one’ plant and turn it into multiple new plants.
How to separate Ponytail plants
If you choose to divide the plants or propagate the baby pups, make sure they are at least 4 inches tall before you remove them. At that point, they have most likely already started to form their own roots.
Depending on how many there are, separate single bulbs or keep a few together.
- Take them out of the pot and remove some soil to expose the bulbs.
- Gently tease the roots apart. Carefully separate the bulbs, trying not to damage the roots too much.
Or use a clean, sharp knife to make a straight cut in between the bulbs you want to separate.
- Allow the roots to rest and heal for at least a day.
- If working with young offshoots that might not have (a lot of) roots, apply a bit of rooting hormone to encourage rooting.
- Pot them up in their new pots, making sure to keep about half of the caudex above soil.
Do not water your new plants immediately after potting. Wait a few days to a week. Keep the soil moderately moist and in a few weeks new roots will start growing.
Common Ponytail Palm Problems
Don’t see your Ponytail Palm problem listed? Leave a comment with your question down below, and I will try to answer it asap. Let’s talk
It is normal for older leaves to eventually turn yellow, then brown, and finally dry up and fall off. As long as new leaves are still growing from the crown, it is all just part of the life cycle of your plant.
Yellow leaves on your ponytail palm can be a sign of overfertilizing. Remove the yellow leaves and slow down on the fertilizer.
More commonly yellow leaves are caused by overwatering. Watering too often and not letting the soil dry out can result in root rot. You might also notice drooping leaves and a soft caudex.
You might be able to save your plant if you stop watering immediately. If you catch it early, move your plant where it gets some sun and warmth and keep it dry.
If your situation is worse, you might need to remove the soil and inspect the roots. Remove any black, rotted roots. Carefully repot and adjust your watering schedule going forward.
If your ponytail palm grows in a lot of sun, new leaves might come out with a slightly yellow, light green color. They become greener as they get older.
It is not uncommon for bottom leaves to turn brown. It the natural way for your ponytail palm to shed its older leaves. Keep an eye out for new foliage to grow from the top of the plant. As long as it’s growing new leaves your plant is alright.
Other possible causes for brown leaves are a lack of light or too much direct light. It might be time to move your plant.
But most often it has to do with over or under-watering. Check if you are keeping the soil too wet or letting it get too dry. Adjust your watering routine.
Brown leaf tips
Similarly normal it is for your ponytail plant to have some brown leaf tips. This is a natural occurrence, unless your plant is suddenly having a lot of brown tips.
If your plant suddenly has a lot of brown tips do the same as with full browning leaves. How often have you watered lately? Is the soil very wet or dry? If that’s not is, check the location of your plant. Is it getting too much light or too little light?
DAMAGED LEAVES: You can safely trim off brown tips, or remove any leaves that have turned yellow or brown. These leaves won’t recover. Just take a pair of scissors and cut off most of the brown area. Leave a narrow margin at the tip and don’t actually cut into the green part.
Shrinking caudex bulb
Does your ponytail palm have a shriveled caudex that looks like its deflating? As long as it doesn’t feel soft and squishy, some shrinking of the bulb isn’t anything terrible.
If you haven’t watered in quite a while, your plant will have used up all the water stored in its base. It will literally be empty. That’s why you are seeing the deflation.
The bulb will firm up again after you water it a few times. Do let the soil dry out in between waterings.
Soft caudex bulb
If the caudex of your ponytail plant is soft and mushy, then you may have a more serious problem. If the inside of the bulb has started rotting, it may not recover.
Overwatering causes rot. It will start at the roots and proceeds to the caudex. It might be too late to save your plant, but if you catch it in time you might be able to still rescue it.
Gently remove your plant from its pot and inspect the roots. You are looking for firm, white, healthy roots. Black, mushy, possibly smelly roots are rotted and won’t survive.
If there are still some healthy roots remaining, proceed. Remove all the rotted roots. Put the plant it in a well-draining soil mix and move it somewhere bright and warm. It will take a while to recover. Keep an eye out for young, healthy growth. At that time resume regular care. Beware of overwatering again.
I have yet to meet a cat that doesn’t like to chew on a ponytail palm. Just like spider plants, those green grass-like leaves attract almost every cat.
Fortunately, ponytail palms are not poisonous. You just might want to keep it out of reach anyway to protect your plant.
Where to buy a Ponytail Palm
If you can, start at your local plant nursery or garden center to purchase your ponytail palm. In-person you can select the best plant to buy.
If you can’t find your plant in a local plant shop there are a number of great plant growers that sell them on Amazon and Etsy.