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.

DO PONYTAIL PALMS NEED FULL SUN?

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

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I WATER MY PONYTAIL PALM?

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.

WHY ARE THE LEAVES ON MY PONYTAIL PALM TURNING BROWN?

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.

REPOTTING PONYTAIL PALM

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 repotting guide on how to know when you should repot, and also see the process step by step. Be sure to not miss a critical step in repotting which is to loosen the root ball a bit.

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.

That’s all folks, and thanks for reading! Do you have a ponytail palm?

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3 Comments

  1. Patty Davenport October 24, 2019
    • Raffaele October 25, 2019
  2. Victoria November 12, 2019

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