Last Updated on September 3, 2022 by Plant Mom Care
Beaucarnea recurvata, or ponytail palm, an evergreen succulent in the Asparagaceae genus, is indigenous to Mexico. Regardless of its common name, it is not a true palm. It is popularly cultivated as an ornamental worldwide while is deemed as being threatened in its native habitat. Mexico has registered a few plants that are 350 years old.
It grows to more than 20 feet with a conspicuous expanded base where it stores water, although it will reach about 3 feet tall when cultivated indoors. The trusses of thin, long, leathery leaves grow from a single stem similar to a palm and produce small white or pink flowers once the plant is more than 10 years old.
The plant grows slowly, is tolerant of long dry periods, and is usually cultivated indoors or planted outdoors since it is relatively tolerant and needs very little maintenance. It is also cultivated as a Bonsai by some enthusiasts.
While they do flower when grown outdoors, producing both male (white) and female (pink) flowers but they rarely flower indoors, taking almost 30 years before flowers appear. When grown outdoors, the base (caudex) can grow as much as 12 feet wide, although growth is limited indoors.
The size of the base plays a role in the flowering process as it provides the plant with the necessary energy reserves.
Ponytail Palm Light Requirements
Ponytail palms can grow in an assortment of lighting conditions, from full sun to shade, or indoors with indirect, bright light. While they can tolerate low-light conditions as they are effective survivors, the longer they remain in low light makes them use up more energy resources.
Once these reserves are depleted, a lot of leaves will become brown. The only way to revive it is to reposition it somewhere with adequate light. It needs plenty of sunshine to build up and store energy.
Ponytail Palm Watering
As a succulent, the Ponytail Palm favors dry soil but you shouldn’t neglect them either.
Water well and saturate the roots before letting the soil become dry. This might seem odd to the typical gardener but fight the urge to water them frequently. It thrives best with a comprehensive watering once every 3 or 4 weeks.
Alternatively (ensure the soil is very dry before doing this), allow the plant to get as much water as it needs by placing the pot in a dish of water and let it sit for around 30-45 minutes. Take out the pot when the topsoil is moist and drain thoroughly.
Ponytail Palm Humidity
Ponytail Palms don’t like humidity levels to be high. The average range of 40% is good enough for it indoors, even when the level drops in winter, making them perfect plants to raise.
Careful focus must be paid to humidity variations and watering schedules, as high humidity levels and regular watering will lead to over-watering problems.
Their natural growing conditions of low humidity makes them very tolerant to low levels and intolerant of higher levels. Remember, dry air is the best friend of the plant.
Ponytail Palm Temperature
The plant will be fine in average indoor temperature ranges of 65-75°F. Temperature levels below 45°F will damage the leaves.
Ponytail Palm Soil
Potting mixes that are suitable for cacti or succulents will do just fine because they drain fast. It is not a fan of wet soil and potting it in a clay pot will also help in getting rid of excess moisture.
Ponytail Palm Repotting
First, lightly water the soil before proceeding. Use a tall pot a little bigger than the base to prevent leaves from touching the ground. Gravel or pebbles should be laid in the pot first, then finally add fast-draining potting mix to cover the roots.
The roots tend to grow compacted as the plant prefers to be somewhat root bound, but this makes it difficult for the roots to grow properly in new soil. Gently remove old soil away from the roots, trying your best to limit any damage, and then transfer it to your new pot.
Ponytail Palm Propagation
It is propagated from seeds or offshoots, but since it rarely flowers and produces seeds, making new plants from offshoots is the way to go, unless you can source the seeds locally or online. Offshoots (or pups) grow from the base of the plant and can be separated when they reach about 4 inches long. When separating the offshoots, try to get part of the roots and plant it straight into fast-draining soil.
It doesn’t really need feeding, but a fertilizer diluted to half the recommended dose can be fed to the plant once during the warmer months.
The leaves are prone to damage and develop brown or black tips, discolored tips can be cut away but don’t cut too much at a time, trimming away in stages to prevent the plant going into shock.
Ponytail Palm Common Problems
There are only a few problems to keep an eye out for but timing is important because once disease sets in, the outcome can be ominous. Some of the diseases that the plant is most prone to comprise stem/root rot, mold, and blight.
Over-watering harms the roots and affects the delivery of nutrients. The first sign of root rot is when leaves turn yellow and wilt, indicating that the plant is water-logged and its roots have started rotting. This is a problem that can kill a Ponytail Palm. Hence, the soil has to be very dry before watering again.
Failure to do this aeration of the soil, culminating in a lack of oxygen that ultimately causes root rot. If this is ignored while you continue to water the plant, the trunk will get soggy sooner or later as the root rot spreads. The plant can’t recover if there’s too much damage among the roots. You can try and nurse it to health by repotting it in dry soil if it is grown indoors but this is difficult to do for plants growing outdoors.
Leaves turning brown and curling inward are an indication of dehydration, not sickness. If watering the plant has been extremely neglected, this browning can appear to seem like your plant is dying. All it needs is a thorough watering to perk it up, making sure it drains properly.
Most of the diseases begin when pests like mealybugs, scale, aphids, spider mites, and other insects attack the leaves. These insects often excrete a gooey substance where fungus spores lodge themselves, infect the foliage, depriving light, causing deficient chlorophyll creation and slowing photosynthesis.
Mealybugs need rapid treatment as colonies can appear very fast and infect other plants. They have a waxy layer that shields them from pesticides and the usual treatment of spraying them with water will lead to over-watering issues in this plant.
The best defense is a cotton swab saturated with rubbing alcohol, although you should test this on an unaffected leaf as it might induce leaf burn. If there is no reaction, use this to kill the pests and displace them from the plant and give the leaves a wipe down with repeated applications of insecticide soap to kill off any remnants.
Plants can be affected by black sooty mold that fastens to sticky pest excrements. While this isn’t an infection that affects the plant directly, it will prevent sunlight from reaching the leaves, preventing them from producing chlorophyll and photosynthesis stops. If ignored, this can kill the plant.
This can be prevented by eliminating pests and fungus. Eliminating the fungus is difficult because it gets deeply set in the leaves. Saturate the foliage with an insecticidal soap solution for a couple of hours to soften the mold, which can then be scraped off. Cutaway some badly affected leaves but don’t trim more than 20% of the foliage all at once.
Botrytis blight is a type of gray mold fungus infection in plants grown indoors but is rather rare as they seldom flower indoors or grown in high humidity. It appears like gray dust that slowly covers the leaves until brown lesions appear. The spores only grow in temperatures between 45 to 60°F and when humidity is over 90%.
The spores are normally spread by water droplets and by the wind in outdoor settings. In spite of being rare on indoor plants, it can be an issue for plants already affected by over-watering or over-feeding. It rarely affects healthy foliage and focuses on damaged leaves.
The wrong kind of soil, excess fertilizer and even the wrong size of the pot can bring an early death due to insufficient drainage issues.