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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 is an excellent option. Along with bringing a kitschy, funky feel to any space, these plants are also quite easy to grow. Bonus: They're the perfect choice for pet owners, as ponytail palms are non-toxic to dogs and cats.
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 bear sprays of creamy white flowers, but they remain much more compact when grown as houseplants. These slow-growing plants can take several years to reach 2 feet tall. Learn how to grow these lush, tropical plants in your space with our easy guide.
- Botanical Name: Beaucarnea recurvata
- Common Name: Ponytail palm, elephant foot tree
- Plant Type: Succulent
- Mature Size: 6 feet high, 3 feet wide indoors
- Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
- Soil Type: Sandy, well-drained soil like cactus or succulent mix
- Soil pH: 6.5-7.5
Because the ponytail palm stores water in its bulb-like stem, it's important 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 your plant is receiving less light. If your ponytail palm is exposed to drought conditions for an extended period of time, its stem will shrink, then fill out as it absorbs moisture when 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 your plant a single dose of standard houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength in early spring, then wait until the following year to feed it again.
Best Growing Conditions for Ponytail Palms
It's best to 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 your ponytail palm too much direct sunlight, though, as this can burn the leaves.
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.
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: If this happens, cut back on your regular watering schedule until the leaves return to their original condition. With an extended dry period, the plant may be able to recover on its own.
If your palm's leaves feel crispy to the touch, it's a sign that it's underwatered—but this is not as common as overwatering, as this species can survive for several weeks without a drink. A soft stem and browning leaves indicate that it's time to take a break from water.
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.
How to Propagate Ponytail Palms
Ponytail palms cannot be propagated by stem or leaf cuttings, but mature specimens do occasionally grow offsets (baby plants) in the right conditions. If your ponytail palm produces an offset, you can remove it during the spring growing season. Wait until offsets are at least four inches tall, meaning that roots should already be growing beneath the soil. Here's how to propagate this succulent:
Step 1: Gather a small plant pot, fresh succulent mix (or equal parts coarse sand and potting soil), a clear plastic bag, powdered rooting hormone, and a pair of clean, sharp gardening shears.
Step 2: Prepare the pot with your growing medium and moisten the mix lightly with water.
Step 3: Gently dig around your ponytail palm's offset with your hands to expose its base, then use a sharp, sterilized blade to cut it from the mother plant below the soil. Be sure to include any roots the offset has grown.
Step 4: Dip the offset's cut end in rooting hormone, then plant it standing up straight in the pot below the soil line.
Step 5: Place the new plant in a warm area with bright, indirect light and keep the soil moist (but not soggy). The offset will begin to grow new roots within a month.
Step 6: Once you see new growth, the plant has rooted and can be placed in a brighter spot. Care for it as usual.
Common Problems With Ponytail Palms
Ponytail palms are generally very low-maintenance plants that require simple care steps to thrive. However, it's possible that you'll run into a few common growing issues. Here's how to treat your plant:
If your ponytail palm lives outside during the summer, be sure to follow guidelines for debugging before bringing the plant indoors in the fall. Be on the lookout for spider mites—a common pest—with telltale signs including spider-like webbing and yellow or brown leaves. The quickest way to remove these insects is to spray the leaves down water, then apply a treatment solution. Cover the pot with a plastic bag to avoid overwatering, then mix equal parts water and rubbing alcohol to wipe down the entire plant.
Potting and Repotting Ponytail Palms
Repot your ponytail palm in the spring or early summer during the growing season. A clay or terracotta pot that allows water to evaporate easily makes a great container for this species. 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 into the same size pot.
Are Ponytail Palms Easy to Care For?
Thanks to their succulent nature, ponytail palms are generally very easy to care for. They require simple water and light needs to thrive.
Can Ponytail Palms Take Full Sun?
Bright, indirect light is best for your ponytail palm, as direct sunlight can burn its leaves.
How Fast Do Ponytail Palms Grow?
Ponytail palms typically grow less than 12 inches per year, but more commonly, it can take several years for a 1-foot plant to reach 2 feet.
How Long Can Ponytail Palms Live?
Your ponytail palm will likely live for several decades, and it's possible that it can even outlive you—these plants have been known to live past 100 years.
Can Ponytail Palms Grow Indoors?
This species is an excellent candidate for a houseplant, as its tolerance for low humidity and indirect light is suitable for most homes.