Beaucarnea recurvata is a gorgeous, exotic-looking plant. This might make a new owner weary and worry about equally exotic needs. The good news is that your ponytail palm is easy to care for once you know how. Before we begin, rest assured that anyone can keep a ponytail palm happy and thriving. Our care guide is packed with all the tips you need, so keep on reading!
Table of Contents
Origins and Appearance
Despite its name, the ponytail palm is not a true palm. This succulent is native to Belize, Mexico and Guatemala where it often grows in semi-desert areas.
The palm’s appearance is one of the main reasons why the plant is so popular with homeowners. The stem is light and gray in color. This trunk also holds most of the plant’s water, giving it a swollen appearance. Fun fact; this bulbous shape earned the palm the nickname of “Elephant’s Foot.”
The leaves are long, ribbon-like and curl back towards the trunk. This gives the plant the appearance of having hair. The foliage is also smooth to the touch and the color can range from dark green to light green while the dried leaves often appear tan to yellow.
Temperature and Humidity
This evergreen plant needs an environment that reflects its native roots. In other words, warm and dry conditions will keep your ponytail palm very happy. But when it comes down to specifics, what exactly is required to match this plant’s temperature needs?
Since this is a semi-desert plant, the best temperature range falls between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 26 degrees Celsius). These palms do not fare well when temperatures are really low. If your home is situated in an area that experiences harsh winters or really cold days, keep your palm in a pot indoors rather than planting it in the garden. Any prolonged temperature exposure below 50 F (10 C) can kill the plant.
The palm can tolerate dry conditions well. For this reason, they thrive best in low-humidity conditions.
Watering and Feeding
Water When Dry
Only water your palm when the soil feels dry. A rough timeline for potted palms is every week or 14 days during spring and summer. Cut back to monthly watering during the winter and only water your outdoor garden palm if you live in a dry area without regular rain.
During the growing seasons, you can give the roots or leaves a weekly feeding. You can do this with an organic liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion. If you prefer slow-release pellets, only give your palm a feeding once in the spring. Cut back drastically or stop feeding the plant altogether during the fall and winter.
Soil and Repotting
A ponytail palm will do well in potting soil that is specifically designed for a cactus or succulent. In other words, a sandy blend that drains well. Adding some peat won’t hurt either! The best pH level should be “neutral” or in the range of 6.5 to 7.5.
In the wild (or outside in the garden), this plant can reach an impressive 30 feet tall. But if you want to keep it small, the plant readily responds to being kept in a pot and slows its own growth accordingly. If you want a king-sized palm, repot your baby plant every year until you can plant it outside. But if your goal is a small and manageable ponytail palm, then you can repot every two to three years.
Get all the best tips on how to re-pot your house plants.
When to Prune a Ponytail Palm
This species does not require seasonal pruning to ensure good health or new foliage growth. In fact, they will happily live for years without a single snip. However, there are times when your leafy pet can do with a haircut.
- Cut off damaged tips.
- If you don’t want extra trunks, prune away secondary offshoots that appear on the main trunk.
Pests and Diseases
Most houseplants are susceptible to pests and illnesses and the ponytail plant is no different. As with most things, prevention is the best policy and in this case, proper care and a close eye on your palm will either prevent problems altogether or catch them early. Let’s look at the most common issues you can expect and also, the best solutions.
When you detect a problem with your palm, the chances are that you will face a pest (diseases are more rare). Use a good organic pesticide or horticultural soap for all the following pests.
If you own a plant, you will meet the aphid gang sooner or later. These green bugs suddenly appear in droves and love to cluster on stems and the underside of leaves. Always check areas of new growth on your palm as these pesky goobers attack fresh foliage first.
These arachnids leave web-like strings but a heavy infestation can also cause leaves to develop spots (yellow or white). When left unchecked, large areas of a plant can also turn yellow or bronze.
The first sign that you are dealing with this pest is a cottony white wax. The bugs themselves have a mealy, white appearance (hence the name).
When this condition appears, you will notice scale-like bumps on the trunk or leaves. Scale insects often secrete a substance that can also cause a bloom of black mold. In the case of a severe, unchecked infestation, leaves turn yellow and the plant looks sick.
Diseases and Problems
The good news is that your ponytail palm is a tough guy. Diseases and other issues are exceptionally rare but three things can crop up. Let’s have a look at each problem, its prognosis and what to expect.
This unfortunate condition is caused by too much water and is characterized by a squishy, unhealthy-looking trunk. By the time these symptoms appear, rescue is often no longer possible. You can attempt to save the plant by keeping it dry for a long period and changing the wet soil for dry earth.
You can easily avoid this deadly development by keeping the palm in well-draining soil and only giving the plant water when completely dry.
When this fungal infection takes hold, you will notice gray dust on the leaves (this is the spores of the mold). Plants can infect each other with this disease which is known to be harmful to palms already suffering from other problems. Avoid gray mold by keeping a good distance between your house plants and never allowing the humidity to rise too much as the spores only germinate when the humidity hits 93 percent or above.
If your plant is infected, use a high-quality organic fungicide and apply as per the product’s directions.
Yes, you can propagate your own palm at home. The best way is to take “pups” from the parent plant. These pups are side shoots that appear at the bottom of the base. During spring, choose pups that are at least 4 inches (10 cm) tall and cut at their base to remove them from the parent. They can then be planted in well-draining soil.
The ponytail plant is considered non-toxic to pets and other animals. They are also non-toxic for humans. However, rather play it safe and place your palm out of reach of uninformed persons, kids and pets. The leaves have a sharp edge that can cause cuts.
Yes, these plants thrive in full sun. This makes them perfect for gardens and that window sill that needs a beautiful plant!
This can be the result of either too much water – or too little. There is a way to tell the difference. If the leaves also display a yellow tinge, then the problem is overwatering. A thirsty plant will only have brown tips that appear crispy.
Ponytail palms grow at different rates. Some grow exceptionally slow while others can grow rapidly. But on average, when planted in the garden and experiencing optimal conditions, your palm can grow roughly 12 inches (30 cm) a year.