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How to Grow Ponytail Palm or Beaucarnea Recurvata!

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Ponytail palms are one of my favorite houseplants because of their ease of growth and unique appearance. And despite the common name, this is not a palm at all! Rather, it is a succulent.

Want to know how you can grow a gorgeous ponytail palm in your own home? Keep reading for all the details!

ponytail palm beaucarnea recurvata

Beaucarnea recurvata has a few common names. One is Ponyail Palm which is misleading because it not a palm.

Another common name is Elephant Foot Tree because the swollen base (called a caudex) looks like an elephant’s foot when it ages.

Ponytail palms are native to parts of Mexico and there are known specimens that are over 300 years old! They can grow 10-20ft tall (3-6m) in nature. Of course in the home they will be quite a bit smaller!

Growing up I actually had one that was about 5 feet tall and it was a single trunked, beautiful specimen. Unfortunately it didn’t come with me, but many years later, I purchased another one, and it is the one that I show in this blog post.


Inside the home, in order to have the best growth, the Ponytail Palm will need at least a few hours of sun to really do its best. At a bare minimum I would at least place it in front of an Eastern facing window.

If you have a big sunny Western or Southern window, this will be even better.

These are actually succulent plants that are native to Mexico and grow in full-sun to partial shade in their native habitat.

Keep in mind that inside the home, the light intensity is much less than outdoors, so don’t be afraid to give your Ponytail Palm a good amount of direct sun!

One problem that you will find indoors if your plant is not receiving enough light is that the leaves on the top of the plant will flatten out, instead of having the beautiful upright, and curvy leaves that you see in the photo below.

ponytail palm beaucarnea recurvata


The dreaded “how often should I water” question 🙂 The real answer is…it depends. Sorry, I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it really does depend!

Let me shed some light on this watering issue. First off, you must make sure you are giving your plant at least some direct sunshine. This is what this plant needs to be healthy, and also so that the soil will dry out quicker.

These plants must dry out a bit in between watering. I would recommend letting the top 2-3 inches of the soil, depending on the size of your pot, dry out before watering again.

And when you do water, water thoroughly! So many people make the mistake of not watering their ponytail palm (and many other plants for that matter) properly.

You must water thoroughly all around the pot and ensure all of the soil has been moistened. Let the water drain through the drainage hole and discard any extra.

So ditch the watering schedule and use your finger to judge when you should water again by feeling the soil.

Before we move on for more tips, I’d like to caution you against buying certain ponytail palms that I’ve seen in some stores lately.

I have seen ponytail palms being sold in pots with NO drainage and also with a layer of stones glued to the surface.

Although it may look pretty, this is just ridiculous! These plants NEED drainage and the layer of glued stones is just unnecessary. Just buy a regular potted plant and save yourself headaches from the beginning.


There are a few reasons for this. If you let your Ponytail Palm stay dried out for a long time, what will happen is that the lower leaves will turn yellow, and then a crispy brown.

If this happens, just carefully pull off the leaves like I did below. When I neglected to water my plant for a while, it happened. (Sometimes laziness sets in and my plants take a little hit…hey, I’m human).

ponytail palm beaucarnea recurvata

Another problem that you will see on your Ponytail Palm are the tips of the leaves turning brown.

This is a common issue, and you know what? Even the plants growing in nature will have brown tips. So don’t feel so bad! With proper watering though that I described above, the issue should not be so bad.

If brown tips are coupled with the lower leaves turning yellow and then completely brown and dry, your issue is probably that you have kept your plant TOO dry. Yes, this is possible.

We always read about “overwatering” and you must not overwater succulent plants, but you still need to water properly. The key is to then let the soil dry out. But if you wait TOO long and leave the soil to be bone dry for a long time, you will have issues too.

That being said, keeping these plants wet for a long time will spell disaster and create rot. The soil must dry out a bit in between watering.

So it’s all about a balance when you water. Water thoroughly, but let at least the top 2-3 inches dry out. If you let all of the soil dry out, that is fine too. Just don’t wait too long to water again or you will start to get a lot of brown leaves.

So about those brown tips. Just take a pair of scissors and cut them off. Take a look at the photo below on my plant.

ponytail palm beaucarnea recurvata

Just take a pair of scissors and cut off most of the brown area. I leave just a narrow margin at the tip and don’t actually cut into the green part. That’s all you need to do.


These plants do not need to be repotted often at all. They are pretty slow growing and often times you’ll see that the pot is just a little bit bigger than the swollen base of the plant.

Most times, these are sold as a single trunked specimen. Mine was actually a cluster of plants and has 5 caudex.

ponytail palm beaucarnea recurvata

It has been in this pot for a few years now and probably should be repotted soon! There are roots coming out of the drainage hole and the soil has been drying out pretty quickly lately, so this is a sign that it should be repotted.

Be sure not to miss my ponytail palm repotting guide where I show you step by step with pictures how to repot your plant and learn the 3 critical steps that you shouldn’t miss in the repotting process!

When you do repot this plant, only go up one pot size larger than where you started. As far as soil mix, I like to use whatever cactus/succulent soil blend that you have on hand but I always add additional pumice to the mix.

I love using Bonsai Jack’s 1/4″ pumice that I purchase frequently from Amazon. This is a FANTASTIC soil amendment for Ponytail palms, and also for any succulent or cactus.

I’d recommend one part pumice to 2-3 parts of cactus mix. You can even use a good quality standard houseplant potting soil, but be sure to add pumice.

ponytail palm beaucarnea recurvata

One last tip, these plants are not huge feeders, but I do like to fertilizer a bit during the active growing season. I like to use the Schultz 2-7-7 cactus fertilizer that I buy off of Amazon. Just follow the directions on the label.

Be sure not to miss my detailed YouTube video on Ponytail Palm care, which includes some troubleshooting for common problems.

That’s all folks, and thanks for reading! Do you have a ponytail palm? Comment with any questions below!

Angela Hitchcock

Wednesday 6th of September 2023

Hello, thank you for your article! I have a pony tail palm that was about 5ft tall. Unfortunately, it was so big we had an issue finding it a place inside to stay during the winter. We built a "greenhouse" shed for him but in an unpredictable cold snap lost him...or so we thought. I was so depressed from this loss that I pulled the dead parts off and left it outside. I was hoping that maybe I'd get lucky and something would grow. Well, it did!! So now I have this extremely wide "trunk" with 2 shoots coming out of the side of it. I need to repot it as it's in a huge pot that is not convenient to move or find a place inside for. Do you have any advice for repotting. I'm worried that the leaves are going to hit the dirt very soon with the way they are growing from the trunk. (Sorry for the incorrect terminology.) I read your repotting article but wasn't sure about this case since it has enough roots for a 5ft plant. Can I cut the roots for the new smaller pot? Thank you for any advice you can provide.

Angela Hitchcock

Sunday 10th of September 2023

@Raffaele, yes, it lost all of its leaves. There were 2 new shoots coming off the side which I removed and hopefully can grow separately. When I went to repot it I found that I was too late and the trunk was filled with water and rotted. :( We have had lots of rain this summer and despite my attempts to make sure the container drained properly I didn't realize how tight the roots were inside. So now I'm hoping I can keep the 2 remaining pups alive!! Thank you for letting me know that the roots can be trimmed. I hope to have another one large enough to need that information again!


Thursday 7th of September 2023

Hi Angela! Sorry to hear about your plant, but I'm glad it's coming back! Did it lose most of its leaves and only has a couple new shoots growing? You can definitely trim some of the roots and put it in an appropriately sized pot that is maybe a couple inches wider in diameter than the root ball. I hope this makes sense. Let me know.


Monday 22nd of May 2023

Hello. Ponytails are my favorite plant. I have one that is at least 40-45 years old. It is kept in my house, so over the years I had to cut it back. Of course new growth grew from the stumps. This year I cut the top of of another one and I am wondering if I can propagate the cut off top. Would love to know. If you can help please let me know. Thank you.


Wednesday 24th of May 2023

You can try Kim! After you cut it, let it air dry for a few days, and then dip it in rooting hormone, stick it in a pot of soil and hope for the best!

Rachael Lee

Saturday 28th of January 2023

I’ve had mine for around 12 years and I had to chuckle because it came in the ceramic bowl with the glued stones. I wasn’t able to get it out.. it took years before the foot finally just cracked it 😊 it’s been such an easy plant to have. It just grows and grows !


Saturday 28th of January 2023

Hahaha, I love that it escaped on its own! :-)


Friday 15th of July 2022

I just bought a ponytail from the farmer's market (my first one ever and I do not have a green thumb). I don't really have a sunny window although the front of the house faces east the sun is limited due to trees and porch ceilings. Will my ponytail do OK?


Sunday 17th of July 2022

Hi Chris! I would put it immediately in front of the brightest window you have. It's hard to say without seeing your window, but it should be ok.

Jan Bell

Monday 20th of June 2022

My ponytail palm is about 9-10” tall and came in a ceramic pot 3” deep and 8” wide with rocks glued on top. I’m having trouble determining when it needs water. Should I repot in a clay pot without glued rocks?


Monday 20th of June 2022

Hi Jan! Those glued pebbles make it really difficult to know the state of your potting mix! I would remove it if you can for sure.