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Looking for a low-maintenance houseplant with a truly unique look? With its fun, upward growth habit and bulbous base, the light-loving ponytail palm plant adds a kitschy, funky feel to any space. Best of all, in the right conditions, it's quite easy to grow.
Despite its name, the ponytail palm isn't a palm at all. It's a succulent native to Mexico, which is why it grows so well in sunny, arid conditions.
In the wild, ponytail palms can grow up to 30 feet tall and will bear sprays of creamy white flowers, but they remain much more compact when grown as houseplants.
- Botanical Name: Beaucarnea recurvata
- Common Name: Ponytail palm, elephant foot tree
- Plant Type: Succulent
- Mature Size: Up to 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide at maturity when grown indoors
- Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
- Soil Type: Sandy, well-drained soil like cactus or succulent mix
- Soil pH: 6.5-7.5
- Toxicity: Non-toxic
Ponytail Palm Plant Care
Because the ponytail palm stores water in its bulb-like stem, you'll want to treat this plant like the succulent it is. Allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings, and cut back watering in the winter months when the plant is getting less light. If the plant is exposed to drought conditions for an extended period of time, its stem will shrink, then fill out as it absorbs moisture when the plant is watered again.
In terms of fertilizer, ponytail palms experience a flush of growth each spring, then conserve their energy during the rest of the year. Give them a single dose of standard houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength in early spring, then avoid feeding until the following year.
If your ponytail palm develops pale, floppy leaves, gradually move the plant to an area with more light over a period of a few weeks to avoid shocking the plant.
Best Growing Conditions for Ponytail Palm
Choose a spot for your ponytail palm that gets lots of bright, indirect light—eight hours a day is ideal. However, many growers have luck with this plant in lower-light conditions, especially if it's able to get lots of outdoor time in the sun during the summer. Be careful not to give it too much direct sunlight, though, as this can burn the leaves.
As is typical for desert plants, ponytail palms can withstand a pretty wide range of temperatures. They can handle nights down to the 40-degree range and daytime temperatures in the 90s just fine. Once temperatures warm up in the summer, this is a great plant to gradually acclimate to the outdoors so it can soak up some sun on your deck, patio, or fire escape. Follow guidelines for debugging before bringing the plant back indoors in the fall.
How to Propagate Your Ponytail Palm
Ponytail palms cannot be propagated by stem or leaf cuttings, but mature specimens do occasionally grow offsets, or baby plants, in the right conditions. If your ponytail palm produces an offset, you can remove it in springtime when the plant is actively growing. Wait until offsets are at least four inches tall, when roots should have begun to grow beneath the soil,
What You'll Need
- Mature plant with offset
- Small plant pot
- Fresh succulent mix or a mix of equal parts coarse sand and potting mix
- Clean, sharp blade
- Clear plastic bag
- Rooting hormone powder
- Fill the container with your growing medium, then moisten the mix lightly with water.
- Gently dig around your ponytail palm's offset with your hands to expose its base, then use a sharp, sterilized blade to cut the offset away from the mother plant below the soil line. Make sure to include any roots the new plant may have begun to grow.
- Dip the cut end of the offset in rooting hormone, then plant it in the moistened medium, pushing it down slightly so that the cut end is below the soil line and the offset stands up straight.
- Put the new plant in a warm place with bright, indirect light and keep the soil somewhat moist, but not soggy. The offset will begin to grow roots in as little as a month.
- Once you see new growth, the plant has rooted and can be put in a brighter spot. Care for it as you would an adult ponytail palm.
Common Growing Problems
The biggest pitfall with ponytail palms is overwatering, which can cause the plant's base and stem to rot. Browning leaves and a soft stem are indicators of overwatering, and if this happens, stop watering immediately. With an extended dry period, the plant may be able to recover on its own.
You'll also want to be on the lookout for spider mites, a common houseplant pest. You'll see their telltale spider-like webbing and yellow or brown leaves. The quickest way to remove these insects is to spray the leaves down with a blast of tepid water, such as from a shower or sink sprayer. Cover the pot with a plastic bag to avoid overwatering the plant. You can also use a damp sponge to remove them by wiping down the tops and bottoms of each leaf by hand.
Potting and Repotting Your Ponytail Palm
A clay or terra cotta pot that allows water to evaporate easily makes a great container for your ponytail palm. The pot will also determine how much your ponytail plant grows: to grow a larger plant, size up each time you repot. To keep the pot the same size, simply repot with fresh succulent soil in to the same-size pot.
Is Ponytail Palm Toxic?
According to the ASPCA, ponytail palm is not toxic to cats, dogs, or humans.