Ponytail palms are a popular houseplant, which is, in fact, not palms at all. They are large succulents which house water in the bulbous base of their trunks, from which long luscious curled foliage grows in the style of a ponytail, giving this plant its common name.
This is an incredibly easy to care for plant that thrives on neglect and is forgiving of most care conditions. As long as it has access to sunlight and is not watered too frequently, then it will remain happy. It grows slowly and can live for over 100 years, to a maximum height of 30 feet in its native habitat, though more typically topping out at 10 feet when kept in captivity.
Ponytail palm Overview
|Scientific Name||Beaucarnea recurvata|
|Common Names||Ponytail palm, elephant foot tree, bottle palm|
|Height||Up to 30 feet|
|Light||Full sun to partial shade|
|Watering||Low watering needs|
Caring for Your Ponytail Palm Tree
Ponytail palms do not like to sit in moist soil, so as well as working out a watering schedule that suits the plants low watering needs, you should also select an appropriate soil to grow the plant in. The soil should be well-draining, as this will go a long way to ensuring the plant doesn't get subjected to overwatering.
A cactus or succulent soil mix will work well, or you can make your own desert plant soil mix by combining equal parts of perlite, sand, and potting soil. Grow your ponytail palm in a pot with drainage holes to allow water to drain out, and prevent the roots of the plants sitting in soggy conditions. A clay pot would be ideal for this plant as it will absorb some water from the soil, allowing the soil to dry out more quickly in between waterings, though this is not essential.
The ponytail palm is actually considered a succulent, as it stores water around the base of its swollen trunk. Like most succulents, the ponytail palm prefers dry soil conditions and therefore does not need to be watered very often. In fact, overwatering is the primary reason why these plants fail to thrive.
To water ponytail palms correctly, you should allow their soil to dry out between waterings. Check for moisture by inserting your finger deep into the soil, and only proceed with watering if it is dry to the touch. This plant is able to go for fairly long periods without water, so it is an ideal houseplant to own if you are someone who travels frequently and is away from home.
When you water the ponytail palm, give it a generous drink. Water the plant until it seeps out of the pots drainage holes on the underside, and then discard any excess water. This will ensure the plant's roots are adequately moistened, and it also helps to flush any salts out of the soil. You can expect to water a mature ponytail palm kept indoors about once every month, but this is an estimate and should not be used as a strict schedule.
The size of the plant, the amount of light it gets, and even the pot it is kept in will all influence how often the ponytail palm needs to be watered, so the best thing you can do is pay attention to the soil. However, if you are watering much more frequently than once every 3 or 4 weeks, you may need to consider that you are overwatering your plant.
This plant in its native habitat would live in a position of full sun. As a houseplant, it grows best in bright direct light, ideally with at least 5 hours a day. However, this is an incredibly forgiving plant when it comes to lighting needs, and it will survive in bright indirect light and partial shade, though you may see a decrease in the number of new leaves it sprouts.
The ponytail palm is said to be happy so long as it receives bright light for half of the year, so if you are able to put this plant outside in your garden in a full sun position during spring and summer, then you can house it indoors for the remainder of the year in almost any lighting position you like, even relatively low light.
When grown outdoors, this plant is hardy through USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11. As a houseplant, it can be kept in any home with average room temperature; as the old saying goes, if you are comfortable with the temperature of your home, then so is your plant.
In the winter, ponytail palms do like a slightly cooler environment, ideally somewhere between 50-55° F, so you may want to consider moving it to a cooler room of your house, though don't let it get too cold. This plant should be kept away from cold draughts in the winter and avoid positioning it near a window, which may cause the plant to freeze overnight ( The Old Farmer's Almanac ).
Ponytail palms do well in average or even low levels of humidity, which is good news for indoor gardeners, as our homes tend to have quite dry air. Indoor heating systems used in the winter, and air conditioning systems used in the summer, dry out the air in our homes.
This can be a problem for humidity loving plants, which need misting frequently, but it is not an issue for the ponytail palm. The fact that humidity is not a concern for this plant adds to its easy-care qualities, making it an ideal house plant for beginners.
The easiest way to propagate this plant is from pups, or side shoots, which grow around the base of a mature mother plant. If your ponytail palm develops pups, wait until they are a good size, ideally around 4 inches in length, before you remove them from the parent plant. This will ensure their best chance of survival as a separate plant. To remove them, wait until spring and then excavate enough soil around the base of the plant's trunk so that you can see where the pup joins the mother.
Using a sharp and sterilized knife, cut the pup away. You will then need to plant the pup in a moist potting mix, ideally one that is intended for succulents or is sand-based. The pup will root more effectively in high humidity, so recreate greenhouse-like conditions by placing a clear plastic bag over the top of the pup, and set it in a bright and warm room. Every few days, you can lift the bag to spray the surface of the potting mix with water to keep it very lightly moist. Once it has developed a strong root system, it can be repotted and cared for as normal.
Alternatively, ponytail palms can be propagated from seed in the spring. You can gather seeds from a ponytail palm after it flowers, harvesting it in early fall, though most of these plants will not bloom while they are kept indoors. Instead, you could buy seeds to propagate ponytail palms. However you have gotten your hands on the seeds of this plant, you will need to follow the same steps.
First, set the seeds between a few layers of damp paper towels, then leave them in a cool, dry, and dark area for several weeks. Check on the seeds occasionally to make sure they aren't drying out and moisten the paper towels if necessary. Once the seeds germinate, you will notice sprouts appearing. Take these seedlings and plant them in a succulent potting mix, with only the green shoots poking out. Sit them in a position that gets 2 or 3 hours of sun a day; any more than this will cause the seeds to dry out and die.
Water the seedlings twice a day, aiming for slightly moist soil. Once they reach a manageable size, they can be planted up in larger pots or planted directly in the ground outside if you live in a warm climate.
Ponytail palms have a slow growth rate, and at the most will only need repotting every 2 or 3 years. They do well when rootbound; however, you should repot this plant when it has outgrown its current pot to give it more space to grow in both height and girth.
The pot you select for your ponytail palm should allow for around an inch of space between the plant's trunk and the rim of the pot. Always ensure the soil level remains at the same height on the trunk, and that the bulbous part of the trunk is not buried under the soil.
As this plant gets bigger, it may become too difficult to repot. In their native habitat, ponytail palms can reach heights of 30 feet, though when kept as a houseplant, they rarely get taller than 10 feet. Once this size is reached, you will no longer need to repot the plant, but instead, refresh the soil with topdressing.