This post shares all about how to care for a ponytail palm, including whether you can have a ponytail palm with cats, repotting, pruning, problems, the best soil, ponytail palm propagation, how to grow multiple trunks on a ponytail palm, and more!
How to Care for a Ponytail Palm
I am a very bad ponytail palm mom. I actually shipped my beloved ponytail palm off to live in the atrium at my work. We are lucky to have a lovely atrium in my building that is filled with plants. So why did I ship my ponytail palm off to live there? Well, my cat was obsessed with trying to get to it and eat it.
And while it isn’t toxic, it was really annoying. When he would get to it, he’d nibble on it and then barf it up. This would leave me with ugly nibbled-on leaves and cat barf to clean up. A lose-lose situation.
This was back when we lived in an apartment, and I was limited on where I could put my plants. When I tried to move it out of reach, the temptation was still too great. He would knock things over, including other plants, trying to get to the ponytail palm’s delicious-looking curly leaves. I couldn’t blame him really.
So I decided to let this little one live in my office’s atrium for a bit. Think of it as a boarding school. I knew it would do well, and I wasn’t ready to give him up yet. Fast forward to a few years later, we now live in a house that has a bit more room—and most importantly, I can hang things from the ceiling! So I decided to bring this now quite large plant home.
What Is This Beautiful Creature?
Wondering what this beautiful creature is and how to care for a ponytail palm plant? Much like elephant ear plants and banana plants, ponytail palm plants are beautiful tropical-looking plants that can help you bring a touch of the jungle to your otherwise boring and lifeless suburban home. However, it’s a palm in name only—it’s not actually a palm (Arecaceae family). It’s more closely related to the yucca plant and is a succulent!
It’s officially named Beaucarnea recurvata, which you will literally never hear it called. However, you might hear it called an elephant’s foot or an elephant’s foot palm. That’s because this plant has a rough trunk with an exterior resembling an elephant’s skin. The trunk has a large bulbous appearance at its base. This bulbous base resembles the elephant’s foot because it tapers up into the plants stem or trunk.
The ponytail palm originates from the Asparagaceae family in eastern Mexico. Its leaves grow from small rosettes that sprout from the stem/trunk. The leaves grow long, green, and curly, giving the plant its “ponytail” appearance. They tend to look like perky ponytails.
Outdoors growing in the wild in Mexico, the ponytail palm plant is an evergreen perennial that can grow over 15 feet tall. Indoors as houseplants, ponytail palms stay smaller—though they can still grow to multiple feet tall, with leaves that can grow to many feet long.
My mom has a huge one, especially for an indoor ponytail palm! It’s in her kitchen next to a door. Here’s a pic, but full disclaimer, she knows it needs a little trimming and tidying up and is getting cramped in this spot:
Want more plant care tips? You’ll also love my guides on how to take care of monstera plants, how to take care of pothos plants, how to take care of rubber plants, caring for peperomia plants, and how to care for philodendron.
How much light does a ponytail palm need?
Like its succulent family members, ponytail palms like a lot of light. Bright, indirect sunlight will help a ponytail palm thrive as a houseplant. Avoid direct sunlight. If you want to move your ponytail palm outside during the summer, definitely avoid direct sunlight outdoors. It’s strong!
If you don’t have the perfect spot indoors with lots of bright indirect light, you can likely coax your ponytail palm to settle in to a moderate light situation. It just won’t grow as quickly, which is just as well considering these plants are adorable when tiny!
Water, Temperature, and Humidity Needs
Water, temperature, and humidity needs are all easy when it comes to how to care for a ponytail palm plant. File this plant under the “avoid overwatering this plant, and you’ll probably be able to keep it alive” category. Overwatering will lead to root rot. Water thoroughly and let the plant dry out between watering sessions. Water again once the top 2 inches of soil are dry (once a week or so).
These plants are very drought tolerant because they can store water. Like other houseplants, you can water less during the winter (once every month or so). They tolerate the normal range of household temperatures well.
Ponytail palms make great houseplants for many reasons, not the least of which is their ability to thrive in low humidity. It can be difficult to keep houseplant that prefer high humidity happy indoors. Not this plant.
What is the best soil?
Ponytail palms are fabulously unpicky when it comes to soil and potting. They enjoy a well-draining soil like a succulent soil. You can pick up a bag at any garden store, or you can cut some costs and make your own in bulk using a DIY succulent soil recipe.
Since ponytail palms don’t like their roots sitting in water, pairing well-draining soil with a pot that has adequate drainage is best. If you’re planting in a pot that doesn’t make a drainage hole, make sure you build a layer of drainage into the bottom of the pot. And don’t overwater!
Growth Rate and Repotting a Ponytail Palm
Ponytail palms rarely need repotted. They grow pretty slowly, and you can keep them in one pot for quite a few years if you’d like. That’s because ponytail palms, like snake plants, are happy when they are snug in their pots. Their growth is also constricted by their pot size.
Choosing a pot that is about 2 inches wider that then bulbous base of the plant is best. To repot, loosen the root ball and plant in fresh soil shallow enough so that the top of the root ball is at the soil level. Burying even a small part of the stem can lead to rot.
Ponytail Palm Problems: Brown Tips on the leaves
While the ponytail palm is a very easy plant to take care of, it’s not without its problems. If the tips of your otherwise beautiful curly leaves are browning, it could be a number of things. Sorry—no easy answer here! Start ruling things out one by one.
First, check if your plant is getting too much sun; direct sun can “burn” the tips. Second, check your watering habits. If you’re underwatering, brown tips on a ponytail palm could be a sign that the plant is too dry.
Finally, if you fertilize your plants, make sure you’re not giving your ponytail palm too much fertilizer. Fertilize only according to your succulent fertilizer’s instructions, and don’t approach it with the mentality that “more is better.”
As mentioned before, overwatering can lead to root rot. Leaves that are turning yellow or a trunk/stem that is beginning to look mushy or rotted is a sign of root rot induced by overwatering. I can’t emphasize it enough—as with all succulents, do not overwater!
If the leaves on the bottom start to brown and die off as in the photo below, you can just trim them. I did this while repotting the plan. I had it upside down and it was very easy to trim off all of the dead foliage.
Pruning and How to Grow Multiple Trunks on a Ponytail Palm
Ponytail palms typically are very low maintenance and do not require pruning. Don’t clip the ends of the leaves—they are the best part! However, if you want to grow multiple trunks on a ponytail palm, you can take the drastic action of cutting off the plant’s growing tip.
Doing so will force your plant to grow multiple trunks that will begin to emerge at the soil level all around the original base of the plant. I don’t think I’d ever have the guts to do this!
How to Propagate Ponytail Palm Plants
Speaking of pruning and growing, if you’re wondering how to propagate ponytail palm plants, it’s apparently easy! These plants sprout “babies” around the base of the original trunk/stem. These babies become plants of their own, but remember, this plant is a slow grower. So this doesn’t happen overnight.
You can cut these babies off, let them heal over for a few days, dip in rooting hormone, and then replant in their own pot. I have never personally propagated a ponytail palm plant, but I am planning to work on it and update this post when I can.
Want to read more about plant propagation? Check out my guides on propagating pothos plants, snake plants, peperomia, string of pearls, succulents, monstera deliciosa, and prickly pear cactus pads. Also check out my DIY test tube propagation station—and a version with glass jars.
Are Ponytail Palm Plants Safe for Cats?
Yes! Well, they are very tempting for many kitties, as I outlined. The biggest side effect I experienced was Henry nibbling the leaves and barfing because they aren’t meant to be eaten. The ASPCA says they are not toxic to pets. As with all houseplants, I do not recommend adults, children, or pets ingest them. 🙂