Ponytail Palm Plant Care

Ponytail Palm Plant Care

Ponytail Palm Plant Care

Ponytail Palm Plant Profile

The ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) makes a surprisingly interesting desktop plant, considering that when grown outdoors it can be a full-size tree that towers over homes. When planted outside in full sun, ponytail palms can reach 30 feet tall, but they typically stay closer to 6 feet tall at maturity when grown indoors. Despite the common name and the appearance of the foliage, this plant is not a true palm, but rather a member of the Asparagaceae family that includes edible asparagus.

Indoors, these novel little trees are often grown in shallow pots, with a tuft of strappy green leaves emerging from a bulbous stem that seems to erupt from the soil. (The bulbous trunk is the source of one of its common names, “elephant’s foot.”) Given time and the right conditions, a small desktop plant will grow into respectable specimen plants, up to 6 feet in height or more. Ponytail palm is native to arid regions in Central America and is among the easiest of small trees to grow indoors.

When planted outdoors, spring is the traditional planting time, though a ponytail palm can be planted at almost any time. This is a very slow-growing, long-lived species. It may take five years or more for a 1-foot-tall plant to double in size.

Botanical Name Beaucarnea recurvata
Common Name Ponytail palm, elephant’s foot
Plant Type Broadleaf evergreen shrub/ tree
Mature Size 6 to 8 feet tall; 3- to 5-foot spread (up to 30 feet tall when planted outdoors)
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Sandy, well-draining soil
Soil pH 6.5 to 7.5 (neutral)
Bloom Time Seasonal bloomer
Flower Color Creamy white
Hardiness Zones 10 to 11 (USDA); usually grown as a houseplant
Native Area Semi-desert areas of Central America

How to Grow a Ponytail Palm

Ponytail palm can be grown as an outdoor plant only in USDA Zones 10 and 11, where it prefers a sandy soil in a full-sun location. When grown outdoors, it is best planted in a cactus/succulent potting mix and placed in the sunniest spot you can find; in the right location, it is largely trouble-free, provided it gets a modest amount of water at regular intervals.

As an indoor plant, the ponytail is basically a “plant it and forget it” kind of plant, providing it has enough light to thrive and somewhat steady water throughout the growing season. Keep in mind, though, that the ponytail palm is an extremely slow-growing plant, so don’t expect your desktop plant to transform into a corner specimen in one or two growing seasons.


Ponytail palms like full sun or bright indirect light. When grown as an indoor plant, situate it in the brightest location you can find—a window that gets direct sun or plenty of indirect light.


This plant is native to semi-desert areas of Central America, and when planted outdoors it does best in relatively sandy but organically rich soil. As in indoor plant, it does well in a cactus/succulent potting mix augmented with peat to improve its richness.


For potted indoor plants, water a ponytail palm during the growing season every seven to 14 days. The bulbous stem stores water, so be careful not to overwater it. During the winter season, cut back watering to monthly.
A ponytail palm planted in the garden rarely needs to be watered if you get any kind of regular rain. In dry climates or during periods of drought, a modest watering every two weeks is sufficient.

Temperature and Humidity

Ponytail palms prefer warm, arid temperatures, above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they will survive down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, providing these temps are not prolonged.


Feed weekly with liquid fertilizer during the growing season, or use a slow-release pellet fertilizer in the spring. Reduce feeding during the winter.

Potting and Repotting

For growing indoors, pot a ponytail palm in a smallish container filled with a cactus/ succulent potting mix that is blended with some peat. Repot in the spring as needed. If your goal is to grow a large palm tree, repot it every year, but if you want to keep it smaller, repot every two or three years. Ponytail palms will thrive when slightly underpotted in a container that confines the roots.

Propagating Ponytail Palms

Ponytail palms sometimes develop offsets (“pups”) from the base, which can be removed and potted up individually. Generally, however, this is a difficult task to master because of a lack of roots on the offsets. If you want to try, use a rooting hormone to stimulate new root growth on the offset. A ponytail palm rarely (if ever) flowers indoors to produce viable seeds.

Pruning a Ponytail Palm

Damaged leaves should have the tips trimmed off back to healthy tissue. If the offsets (“pups”) send up secondary shoots, you can prune these away to maintain a central trunk and classic tree-like appearance. However, a multi-stemmed tree is often desirable, and many people welcome these secondary shoots.

Common Pests/Diseases

Like most houseplants, a ponytail palm can be susceptible to spider mites, mealybugs, and scale. Horticultural soaps or oils are good non-toxic methods for controlling these pests.

Potential but rare disease problems include leaf spots, stem rots, and bacterial leaf streak. Watering too much is the most common cause of fungal problems and stem rot.

Ponytail palms are unique-looking, long-lived indoor plants that thrive on benign neglect. They are very easy to grow, provided that you don’t overwater them! Here’s how to grow and care for a ponytail palm in your home.

About Ponytail Palms

Despite its name and palm-like appearance, the ponytail palm is not a true “palm.” In fact, it is more closely related to desert plants in the Agave and Yucca genera (such as Joshua trees).

The typical ponytail palm consists of a large, domed “stump,” which tapers off into a thinner stem. From the top of the stem, one or more rosettes of long, green, leathery leaves develop as the plant ages. Indoors, the leaves can get up to 3 feet long, but outdoors, they may be double that length.

In its native environment (eastern Mexico), the entire plant has been known to reach up to 30 feet in height! However, ponytail palms that are grown in gardens as landscape plants don’t usually get to be more than 10 feet tall. Kept indoors, they are rarely taller than 4 feet.

Care of this plant is generally simple; the most common difficulty is having to adapt your watering habits to its watering needs!


Choosing Soil and a Pot
Use a fast draining soil, such as a cacti and succulent potting mix. If you have potting soil, sand, and perlite already on hand, you can create your own desert soil mixture: Simply mix 1 part potting soil, 1 part perlite, and 1 part sand.
Select a pot that has a hole in the bottom, so that excess water can be drained off. Ponytail palms do not like to sit in moist soil for very long.

Use a clay pot if possible; the porous material will absorb some of the water, drying out the soil more quickly (a good thing for cacti and succulents).


How to Care for Ponytail Palms
Ponytail palms prefer to have as much light as possible, so place the plant in a bright location. Bright, indirect sunlight is best.
Keep soil fairly dry. Water from spring through fall, allowing the top inch or two of soil to dry completely before re-watering. During the winter, only water occasionally.

To water, soak the soil and allow the excess water to drain through the bottom of the pot into a dish. Let the pot sit in the dish for several minutes, then dump out any remaining water in the dish.

Fertilize in the spring with a cacti/succulent fertilizer and bring into a brighter room for the summer months.

Normal room temperature is fine for most of the year, but keep the plant slightly cooler in the winter (50-55°F / 10-13°C) to replicate the natural dormancy cycle.

During winter, don’t let the plant sit too close to cold windows at night, as it can be severely damaged by freezing temperatures.

Repotting a Ponytail Palm

Ponytail palms will remain small if kept in a small pot. They can go for many years before needing to be repotted. Repotting every other year at the most is all a ponytail palm needs.

Moving the plant to a larger pot will give it room to grow in both height and girth. However, older plants may become difficult to manage due to their sheer size and weight if not kept on the smaller size.
When selecting a new pot, pick one large enough to leave about an inch or so of space between the ponytail palm’s trunk and the rim of the pot.

Note: Use caution when handling a ponytail palm, as its leaves have tiny serrated edges.



Rarely, a ponytail palm may produce an offset—a small baby plant that stems from the base of the adult plant. These can be cut off at the base when they reach at least 4 inches in height and planted in a succulent potting mix. Before planting, allow the cut wound to heal, then apply a bit of rooting hormone (available online and in nurseries) to encourage the offset to root.


The plant’s unusual shape and coloration has granted it another strange nickname: the Elephant’s Foot Palm.
Are ponytail palms poisonous to cats? While the leaves of a ponytail palm are not toxic to feline (or canine) companions, their foliage does have abrasive edges that could irritate a pet’s mouth, so we suggest keeping the plant out of reach.


Overwatering can result in stem rot. If you withhold watering, the plant may be able to internally remedy the problem. Signs of stem rot include yellowing leaves and a caudex (the plant’s base and stem) that is soft or squishy.

Spider mites and scale insects may find their way to the leaves, but can be dealt with by rubbing a cloth of dish soap and water on the stems. Spider mites are evidenced by the presence of spider-like webbing on the plant.

Brown tips on leaves can be a sign of over fertilizing or under watering, so adjust your husbandry practices appropriately. They can also be a sign that the plant is getting too much direct sunlight and too little water.

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