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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.

Looking to purchase a Ponytail Palm? One of my favorite and most convenient one-stop-shops to buy practically any plant is Etsy. Check out the Ponytail Palm selection (link to Etsy) today!

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!

Please do me a favor and share this post to social media because it will help me spread the Ohio Tropics houseplant care tips to the masses! Also, check out my shop on Amazon for all your houseplant care needs:


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.


Sunday 15th of May 2022

When I repotted my palm, there was a huge whitish coiled rope-like root around the bottom of the pot. I wondered if I should cut that off, since it keeps pushing the whole plant up and now it seems to need repotting again after only a couple of years. Would you recommend cutting off the rope? It's almost an inch thick.

Also, how far out of the soil should the bulbs protrude? About half of the bulb? (The palm started out as 3 in the pot and one 'gave birth' so there are 4 now. It is at least 18 years old, if not older. The top of the pot is about 12" across.) Thank you!


Monday 16th of May 2022

If you already repotted it into a bigger pot, I would leave it alone. Your plant will be fine! And yes, I would say at least half of the bulb, if not more, should be above the soil. As long as you didn't bury it more than it was before you repotted it, it'll be fine. Good luck!

Marie Dailey

Saturday 17th of July 2021

What could the white stuff on top of the soil be? Just found out my husband has been watering every few days! Help! What do I need to do? Repot?


Saturday 17th of July 2021

I'd have to see a photo to help. It could be salt buildup from tap water and fertilizers, and it could also be fungus/mold of some sort. I wouldn't repot just because of that. If you'd like to send me a photo, use the contact form on my website, and when I reply, you can attach some photos and I can try and help you! As far as your husband watering every few the soil completely dry when he waters? Or is he just doing it on a schedule and waters regardless of how dry the soil has gotten? I don't water on a schedule, but I water when the potting mix is appropriately dry.