Despite their palm-like appearance, Ponytail palms have little in common with palm tree and they’re more closely related to agave plants and yuccas.
It’s a beginner friendly plant that doesn’t mind a bit of benign neglect. Of all its plant care needs the trickiest to master is watering since it’s easy to overwater a ponytail palm.
No doubt, ponytail palms are unusually shaped, but enthusiasts love them for their tropical feel and low upkeep requirements.
If you’re considering this plant for your home, read the ponytail palm care tips I compiled below.
Ponytail Palm Care Tips
Ponytail palm trees are considered long-lived plants that will thrive with minimal care. Yet, if you want to make sure that your plant will thrive, you need to set up ideal growing conditions.
The tips and info below will help you do that.
The size of ponytail palms depends on where the plant is grown.
If grown indoors, the leaves can grow 3 feet long. Outdoors, when the plant is grown as a landscape plant, it doesn’t grow larger than 8-10 feet.
In its native habitat (eastern Mexico), the ponytail plant thrives most, and grows the biggest, reaching heights of 30 feet.
Ponytail palms thrive in bright light conditions. Place them in a north or south-facing window or keep the outside during the summer in full sun.
The ponytail palm doesn’t mind indirect light either and may do well in partial shade to during the winter, as long as it gets enough light during the summer.
Ponytail palms don’t need a lot of water to thrive and does best in semi-dry conditions. The general watering rule that applies for succulents holds true for ponytail palms as well, namely that you should allow the top 2-3 inches of soil to dry out before the next watering.
When watering, soak the soil and allow excess water to drain. Allow the pot to sit several minutes in the dish at the bottom of the pot, then throw away any remaining water.
These plants will need more water during spring and summer and less water in autumn and winter. In winter, you should water only occasionally.
Make sure that your pot has drain holes in the bottom to allow quick drainage and to prevent the plant from sitting in soggy soil, which is dangerous for all succulents.
The problem in watering these plants is usually that it’s easy to overwater. I suggest that you err on the side of caution and slightly underwater.
If the leaves on the plant start to turn brown and the trunk is shriveled, it means you’re underwatering. Yellow leaves and a squishy trunk mean you’re overwatering.
Temperature & Humidity
Ponytail palms are not as temperature sensitive as other succulents, but it’s still best to keep the plant in temperatures above 40 F degrees.
Normal room temperature is usually fine for this plant most of the year, but in winter, the plant enjoys slightly cooler, 50-55 F degrees that mimic the natural dormancy cycle of the plant.
Increasing humidity levels in not needed, the plant tolerates semi-dry conditions and the environment of our homes is right for them too.
Cactus or succulent soil works just as well for ponytail palms. Alternatively, you can create your own soil mix for ponytail palms by using 1 part potting soil, 1 part perlite, and 1 part sand.
Overall, you need a fast draining soil and good aeration, which is a common requirement for most succulents and cacti.
Fertilizing should be done with succulents/cacti fertilizer once a month in winter and biweekly during the spring and summer growing season.
Potting & Repotting
Ponytail palms don’t mind getting rootbound, however, they stop growing if the pot is too small. Even so, they can go on for years without repotting and you can transfer them to a larger pot every 2 years or so.
When moving them to a different pot, pick a bigger size to allow the plant to grow both in height and girth. When repotting, check to see that there’s at least one inch of space between the trunk of the plant and the rim of the pot.
I like to keep my ponytail palm in a clay pot because the porosity of the material, which better absorbs moisture, thus, facilitating the soil to dry out quicker. Clay pots are a good choice for all succulent plants and cacti.
Ponytail Palm Propagation
This plant can be propagated from seed, but an easier method is waiting for the plant to naturally produce an offset or “pup” that you can separate from the mother plant.
You can apply rooting hormone to encourage the pup to root, then place the plantlet in its own pot and keep the soil moist until it develops its own root system.
It may take a while for your ponytail palm to produce an offset, so don’t worry if your plant doesn’t seem to be growing any plantlets.
Ponytail Palm Diseases & Pests
Ponytail palms are generally resistant to diseases and pests. The most common ailment among these plants can be traced back to overwatering or underwatering.
When overwatered, the plant’s leaves will turn yellow and the bulbous trunk of the plant will become squishy. Usually once the trunk is affected there is no way to remedy the issue. If caught on time, you may withhold water to see if the plant can bounce back.
If the tips of the leaves turn brown, the problem may be overfertilization or a lack of enough water. Leaves may also turn brown if the plant is kept in direct sunlight that is too strong and the plant is not getting enough water.
Other than watering related issues, the plant can be attacked by spider mites, which you’ll notice appearing as spider-like webbing on the plant. The solution to this problem is to clean the leaves with dish soap and water.
Ponytail Palm FAQs
Now that you know the basics of caring for ponytail palms, here are some more interesting facts about these popular plants:
Can You Trim a Ponytail Palm?
If left to grow, ponytail palms can grow too big, so trimming the leaves can help keep the plant at a desirable shape and size.
Never cut the trunk of the plant because it will rot sooner than it will produce new leaves. Therefore, any plant maintenance carried out on the ponytail palm should be limited to the leaves of the plant.
Can You Grow Ponytail Palm From Seed?
Yes, growing from seed is a good alternative to waiting for the plant to produce offsets. You can buy seeds, but you can also harvest them from your own ponytail plant if it has flowered.
Since ponytail palms that are kept indoors don’t usually flower, you’ll need to harvest seeds from ponytails grown outdoors. Wait for the flowers to fall and capsules to begin to dry before you harvest.
Only the seeds of female flowers are thought to be viable for propagation. The color of the flowers indicates whether the plant is male or female. Female ponytail plants produce pink flowers, while male plants produce ivory flowers.
Seeds must be germinated in water to allow the seed to sprout. Create a seed soil mixture of sand, soil, perlite and peat, sow the seed in 3-inch containers and keep the soil slightly moist by misting it. Keep the container covered and in warm temperature and in bright indirect light.
Opening the container daily will allow moisture to escape. Sprouting takes place in 1-3 months, depending on the conditions you’re providing for sprouting.
Is the Ponytail Palm Toxic to Pets?
Good news for pet owners – according to the ASPCA website, ponytail palms are not toxic to cats or dogs, so keeping these plants around a house with pets won’t cause problems.
And because the leaves of these plants can be quite the attraction for cats, you may want to protect the plant from the damage curious kittens make produce.
How Fast do Ponytail Plants Grow?
Ponytail plants are slow growers, only adding to their length about 12 inches per year. While repotting is desirable, it’s not something you’ll need to do too often, especially that these plants don’t have an issue with becoming rootbound.
Ponytail palms are easy-going plants that aren’t fussy about their growing requirements if you know how to meet their watering needs.
Once you get their watering needs right, you won’t encounter problems with growing this plant. They’re not prone to diseases, they don’t mind if you skip a few waterings, and they do okay even in partial shade, but they tend to develop much slower.
Ponytail plants are also called ‘Elephant Foot Palm’ because of their peculiar trunks that do indeed resemble the foot of an elephant.
If you want to add a bit of a tropical feel to a room or office, this plant can certainly bring that vibe into any room. Just make sure to get their watering and light requirements right if you want them to thrive.