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How to Care for a Ponytail Palm

This article shares all about my experience caring for the ponytail palm.

How to care for a ponytail palm plant!

My ponytail palm was one of my oldest plants…until I rehomed it. Many years ago, I shipped my beloved ponytail palm off to live in an atrium at my work because my cat Henry was obsessed with it. He’d chew on it and then barf it up, leaving me with ugly nibbled-on leaves.

This was when we lived in an apartment, and I was limited on space. By putting in my work’s atrium, I could still care for it and enjoy it. It was still my plant, but it was out of Henry’s reach.

When we moved to a townhouse with more room, I decided to bring my plant home. It lasted all of a few days before Henry unleashed his wrath again. I tried different spots around the house, but destruction became his life’s mission. I came home one day to the plant unpotted on the floor with a mess of dirt and chewed up leaves trailing down the carpet.

It was at this point that I decided my home had to be a ponytail-palm-free zone. I once again decided to remove the plant from my home. Instead, it went back to the atrium where it could live an unbothered life. And it thrived.

Ponytail Palm plant on open shelving

Ponytail palm care overview

  • Not a true palm but is related to the yucca plant and is a succulent.
  • Unique appearance with a bulbous trunk and long, curly leaves.
  • Native to eastern Mexico and can grow over 15 feet tall in the wild but remain smaller indoors.
  • Thrives in bright, indirect sunlight; avoid direct sunlight, which can cause leaf burn.
  • Drought tolerant; water only when the top half of the soil is dry.
  • Use a well-draining or succulent soil; rarely needs repotting due to its slow growth rate and preference for snug pots.
  • Does well in typical household temperature and humidity levels.
  • Brown tips on leaves may indicate too much sun, under-watering, or over-fertilization.
  • Yellow leaves or a mushy stem can be signs of overwatering and root rot.
  • To propagate, cut off and plant offsets (“babies”) that sprout around the base.
  • Non-toxic to pets, but are ornamental; should not be ingested.

What is a ponytail palm?

So let’s talk more about ponytail palms. Much like elephant ear plants and banana plants, ponytail palms are beautiful tropical-looking plants that can help you bring a touch of the jungle to your otherwise 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. You might also 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.

Ponytail Palm trunk
ponytail palm trunk

Where is this plant from?

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. She knows it needs a little trimming and tidying up and is getting cramped in this spot:

huge ponytail palm
Ponytail Palm plant

Want more plant care tips? Check out my guides on how to take care of monstera deliciosahow to take care of pothos plants, and caring for peperomia plants.

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.

baby Ponytail Palm plant

Water, temperature, & 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). In the fall and winter, you’ll need to water this plant much less as temperatures drop and days are shorter.

Ponytail palm plants are very drought tolerant because they can store water in their big, bulbous trunks. This is a characteristic they have developed so that they can go long periods of time without water in their natural habitat.

They tolerate the normal range of household temperatures well. And ponytail palms also make great houseplants for their ability to thrive in low humidity. It can be difficult to keep houseplant that prefer high humidity happy indoors. Not this plant.

Ponytail Palm 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. See my article about How to Plant in Pots Without Drainage Holes for more on this topic.

Growth rate & repotting

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 root system

Troubleshooting brown tips leaf tips

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.

brown tips on a ponytail palm
Ponytail Palm root system

Pruning & 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!

trunk and root system

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. 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.

Ponytail Palm plant

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. 🙂

In conclusion…

The ponytail palm is a unique, low-maintenance houseplant, and its distinctive appearance makes it a striking addition to any room. Its care is straightforward, requiring bright, indirect light; minimal watering; and well-draining soil.

With proper care, this resilient and attractive plant can thrive indoors! If you’re already growing one, I’d love to hear about your experience! How have you integrated it into your home? Do you also have cats that can’t leave yours alone? And for those considering adding a ponytail palm to their collection, are there any specific concerns or questions you have? Share your thoughts in the comments, and happy planting!

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Here is a link to the Dropbox folder with the guide!

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Brittany Goldwyn
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