How To Care for A Ponytail Palm

The Ponytail Palm, is also referred to as the “bottle palm” or “elephant foot tree” because of the bulbous base the plant develops. This unique houseplant however isn’t a palm at all. In fact, contrary to it’s appearance it is actually a succulent. It’s an excellent choice for anyone that wants to add the beauty of houseplants to their home without needing to spend a lot of time caring for them. It’s also a very popular choice for growing as a Bonsai. ( Growing and Caring for the Bonsai )

How To Care for A Ponytail Palm

Ponytail Palm

The plants base has a bulging appearance with a more narrow trunk topped with a fountain of long slender leaves resembling blades of grass. The foliage generally curves downward and can be as much as two feet long and just an inch wide. Because the foliage does reach fairly long lengths, it does require a generous amount of space. Although this houseplant can become fairly tall and wide, pruning isn’t an option. Restrict any trimming to removing side shoots that will form as the plant begins to develop new branches.

As a young plant, the Ponytail Palm barely has a noticeable trunk at all. Instead, it resembles a onion plant. As the plant matures, the trunk begins to widen and thicken and becomes more pronounced. Eventually, the trunk will develop a brownish gray colored bark with a texture that very closely resembles an elephants foot. The base will continue to grow in size giving the plant a bottle shape.

While the Ponytail Palm is extremely slow growing, when grown outside in warm climates it can reach heights of 20 feet or more. Although, when grown as a houseplant, it will generally only reach around three feet in height. And, while it rarely flowers indoors, when grown outdoors it will also produce flower stalks that can reach 16 feet or more in height. The stalks produce clusters of small yellowish or beige colored flowers that open during the summer months.

How To Care for A Ponytail Palm

Ponytail Palm

Because the Ponytail Palm originates from desert areas, their root system is very similar to that of a cactus. The plants roots push deep into the soil to store water through dry spells and water is also stored in its wide base. These plants only need to be watered every one to two weeks, but can go as long as four weeks before watering. Before watering make sure that the soil is dry at least one inch into the soil. The soil should be thoroughly soaked and any excess water should be allowed to drain.

Native to sunny desert regions, this houseplant flourishes with lots of bright light. However, it can tolerate some periods of shade. A good quality potting soil will work fine, but you can help prevent root rot by using a mixture of half sand and half soil. The plant should be fertilized at least once each month year round. But, increase fertilization to twice monthly when you start to see new growth appearing during the spring.

Although pest infestations are rare on the Ponytail Palm they can occur. The plant should be inspected for mites or bugs several times each week. If you do notice any problems you can spray the plant with soapy water or an insecticide. Never spray the plant when the soil is dry and rinse the plant well the next day.

Ponytail Palm Growing Tips

If the plants lower leaves become yellow or start to turn brown, it’s a good sign that the plant isn’t receiving enough water.

The Ponytail Palm prefers to be slightly root bound and only needs repotting about every 3 or 4 years.

While this plant definitely loves warm sunny locations, it prefers cooler temperatures of around 50 degrees during the winter months.

When you repot the plant water the soil thoroughly but don’t apply any fertilizer for at least four weeks. The loose soil in a newly repotted plant allows too much fertilizer to reach the roots causing them to burn.

Written by Connie Corder, Copyright 2010 HousePlantsForYou.com

25 Comments

  1. Peter METCALFE
    Dec 11, 2011

    We have a Ponytail on our front porch – it is now about 1,2 meters tall. It has now for the first time in 20 years sprung a seed like cluster or flower. What do I do with this ‘flower’ or ‘seed’? –

  2. Rhonda Slaughter
    Mar 30, 2012

    I have a beautiful 4′ ponytail, I live close to Houston, TX. Would it be ok to plant it in the ground in my back yard, and cover it during cooler tempertures?

    • lex
      May 13, 2013

      It really depends on how good your soil is and how much sun it is getting .If you think it is in a good spot than I say yes.

  3. Sparks
    Jul 27, 2012

    I have a pony tail plant that is 16 feet tall with root ball about 21/2 feet across. I have been offered a lot of money for it, have been told I should insure it. It has never been indoors, and I have run out of pots that are big enough for it. It is beautiful and has never flowered. But this year it made a side shoot, that I call baby pony.ok I like my plants.

    • Carol Balkcom
      Oct 21, 2012

      I have a ponytail plant that is 31 years old. It has reached the ceiling once and I cut it back to about 2 feet about 8 years ago . The root ball is approx. 22 or 23 inches around. It has broke every pot that it has been in.I would like to know if the root ball can be cut down smaller or will it kill it? I can”t find a pot big enough to transplant in.

  4. mary dolin
    Oct 8, 2012

    I’m just a beginner with ponytails. I bought one at Walmart with 4 bulbs need info on taking care of them. I have repotted them. Should I water them often since I just separated them?

    • lex
      May 13, 2013

      You should water it when it is dry or they are not growing

    • Cheryl
      Nov 24, 2013

      How do I divide a pony tail without damaging it?

  5. P. Sandidge
    Dec 27, 2012

    My Pony Tail plant is dieing, how can I bring it back, what type of soil and pot do I need. Does it sit on top of the soil or down in the soil. Please help, It was doing so well.

  6. Diana Kight
    Feb 8, 2013

    P. Sandidge… You can soak your plant in water for about 2 hours and use a miracle grow soil, sand and perlite equal amount and use a well drain pot , don’t bury the swollen trunk , you need to expose it , after repotting your plant ,you can water it every 2-4 weeks , feel the dirt before watering again.. Good luck !! If your plant is root bound you can root prune 1/3 of the roots only, water and soak your plant first before you root prune it

  7. lex
    May 13, 2013

    I have a ponytail i just got it about 3months ago it is the prettiest plant . It does good in warm temperatures. If you have cats be ware mine love it they will eat it. In 3 months it has grown 3in taller and 5in wider. Water it about 1 time every week. They are pretty strong . They are not weak plants.

  8. Meg Johnson
    May 29, 2013

    I bought one Pony tail palm at Sam’s warehouse club 26th of this month, in a ceramic pot and tiny pebbles clustered (pasted) and show no soil at all and noticeably the pot has no holes at the bottom, my main concern is, how much water and how often can I do these… HELP!!! thank you

    • Lynn
      Jul 26, 2013

      Hi Meg, I bought a similar ponnytail at costco about 10 years ago. It’s still in the same pot (glued pebbles and all) and is thriving. I give it about a cup of water every week or so…sometimes I forget, but it doesn’t seem to mind. I wouldn’t worry too much about your ponnytail in it’s current pot.

      • Ellen
        Jan 17, 2014

        I got a pony tail palm (3 inches tall) when I was 10 years old and now it lives in my court yard in San Diego and it is 20n feet tall(because I could not buy bigger pots) …I aged with it and am now 53 years old. Put your little one in some cactus dirt in a bigger pot and water once a week, but don’t drowned it and it will do great. Now if anyone can tell me how t0o separate a baby from the momma plant I would appreciate it. I am possibly retiring to a different location and can’t bear to not have a small grandchild plant!

  9. Brenda
    Jun 3, 2013

    We have just brought 2 pony tail plants we have never had one be for, so un sure how to care for them, we live in spain so they will be out side, when we transported the plants they are quite large, one of the plants lost all it’s leaves will they grow back again, and the other plant the leves are turing yellow where they grow out from the top, we did water them when we got them back.
    hope you can help
    Brenda

  10. joe moehrle
    Jun 9, 2013

    recently broke top of plant off, had this plant for many years, breaks my heart
    what do I DO, help thank you plant is 18 inches high

  11. jo richardson
    Jul 4, 2013

    what causes the bulbs to rot? should you not get them wet when watering?

  12. Jerry R. Jones
    Jul 14, 2013

    I have two large Pony Tails that I sat in the ground in their plastic pot when they began to break the pot open. They have actually thrived and one is 10 feet tall. Suddenly a few weeks ago the tall palm began to look like itstop growing fronds were turning yellow. Then with in a matter of four days a spike grew to about 24 inches before I notived small flowerets wer budding out of this new growth. It now after 1 week has a 3 foot tall growth of what I asume is the flower. My question is, will this growth damage the plant? Should I do anything to this growth?

  13. Debbie Sweet
    Jul 21, 2013

    My husband has had this Elaphants Foot Plant for 38 years. This last year it has been through a lot. It seemed to be in a bad apot. Something got dropped on it and put a small gash in the trunk. It was not growing at all so I made sure it had water. Apparently too much. Now the top of the plant is loose and moves some. I wondered if cutting the loose top off would be a good idea. We live in a cold climate, so putting it outside is not an option. Any advice to keep this plant alive would be appreciated.

    • Ellen
      Jan 17, 2014

      Stop watering it and see what happens. I have had one for 40 years and it is now 20 feet tall. I live in California, but it’s first 8 years it lived in my bathroom in Oklahoma. I was forgetful sometime about the watering, so I figure yours must not be use to water either. Mine lives in my frontyard now in east county San Diego. Very good drainage! (South African climate) Stop watering and good luck.

  14. Ruth Ann Sargent
    Aug 8, 2013

    I got A ponytail plant for my birthday and had no instructions ,It’s in a little 8 in pot with the bulb really showing, can I replant this now and how big should the pot be to start out and how deep I have the soil instructions you just gave someone ,I have a sunroom so the temperature will be the same at all time. I was concerned about exposing the bulb to much or not enough it’s really healthy looking and what kind of fertilizer do I use, when I do fertilize it. It’s approximately 16 inch from the bottom of the pot to the top not counting the limbs ..Any help will be appreciated

  15. Tennille
    Aug 13, 2013

    My mom bought us a ponytail palm for Christmas and it was doing great until our cat munched half the leaves off. I had to hang it from the ceiling in its pot and now the leaves keep turning brown and dropping and the green parts are really saggy and droopy. How can I save it? Any help is greatly appreciated.

  16. gloria
    Oct 14, 2013

    Hello, I have the same problem as Tennille. My cat loved to munch on the leaves. I have moved the plant out of her reach, but not much change in its appearance. Its foliage is droopy, turning brown then falling off. What should I do to help my plant be healthy?

  17. plantlover
    Nov 19, 2013

    I will share my experience with the ponytail and other plants, hope it helps.
    I’ve owned my ponytail less than a year but it has grown from a small tabletop sized plant to one in the extra large clay pot and over three feet tall. It has towering curved leaves and a huge base. It wont fit into the car it came home in. I have repotted it three times andd during the summer I watered her every day.
    I start with store soil and amend it with perlite, tree bark, and a soil perfector until it no longer clumps. I’ve experimented with equal parts soil and additives before, but it required to much watering and I didn’t have the time. So now the ratio is 2 parts soil and two parts of all of the other stuff. Beware: if you don’t have time to water your plant daily or every other day, it will die quickly. Also, my plant sat outside from the outset, I only now have it inside.

  18. Holly
    Feb 1, 2014

    I have a plant that is at least 60 years old. Without asking, my gardener (or his workers) cut the leaves back. I’m in a panic that it may have been harmed. It has never been cut like this. Will it regrow?

    Thanks

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