The ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) is a rather intriguing houseplant, considering that it can grow to be a full-size tree that towers over home when it’s grown outdoors.
Despite being called a palm, it’s not actually a ‘true palm’ but is in fact a member of the Asparagaceae family, which also includes edible asparagus.
Interestingly, ponytail palms can grow to a height of 30 feet when grown outside in full sun, but when grown indoors, they normally reach maturity at a height of 6 feet or less.
These unique little trees are typically grown indoors in shallow pots, with a tuft of strappy green leaves erupting from a bulbous stem that appears to protrude from the soil. This bulbous trunk is the reason why one of its common names is ‘elephant’s foot.’
Given enough time and the correct conditions, a little desktop plant can grow into a respectable specimen plant that can reach 6 feet or more in height. Ponytail palm is native to Central America’s arid areas and is one of the simplest little trees you can grow indoors.
Although a ponytail palm can be planted at virtually any time of the year, spring is traditionally the best time to plant it outdoors. It’s important to note that this species is long-lived and very slow growing. A 1-foot-tall plant can require five years or more to double in growth.
Ponytail palms are generally easy to grow, don’t need much care, and need little water. They are also safe and non-toxic to cats, dogs, and horses, so you can grow them near your pets.
Botanical Name: Beaucarnea recurvata
Common Name: Ponytail palm, elephant’s foot tree
Plant Type: Broadleaf evergreen shrub/ tree
Hardiness Zones:10 – 11 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Full sun, bright light
Soil Type: Sandy, well-draining soil
Soil pH: 6.0 to 7.5 (neutral)
Height: 6 to 8 feet tall indoors (Up to 30 feet outdoors)
Bloom Time: Seasonal bloomer
Flower Color: Creamy white
Native Area: Central America and Eastern Mexico
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Caring for Ponytail Palm
- Ponytail palm is a low-maintenance plant that thrives in sandy soil and full sun.
- When growing them indoors, place your ponytail palm in the brightest spot you can find which is typically a window with direct sunlight or plenty of indirect light.
- Ponytail palms in containers need to be watered every seven to 14 days during their growing season. Be careful not to overwater them because their bulbous stem stores water.
- They occasionally produce offsets known as ‘pups’ from the base that can be plucked and individually potted.
Ponytail Palm Care
When growing ponytail palms outdoors, you can do so if you live in USDA zones 10 and 11 since it loves sandy soil in a full sun location. It’s best planted in a cactus or succulent potting mix and placed in the sunniest site you can locate.
When given these conditions, it is quite trouble-free, as long as it receives a decent amount of water at regular intervals.
Ponytail palms can be easily grown indoors since they’re one of those houseplants that you can plant and forget about without accidentally killing them. All it needs is enough light and regular watering throughout the growing season to thrive.
However, keep in mind that the ponytail palm is a very slow-growing plant, so don’t expect that your desktop plant will grow into a corner specimen in just one or two growing seasons.
Full sun or strong indirect light is ideal for ponytail palms. When growing an indoor plant, place it in the brightest spot you can find. The best place for them is a window with direct sunlight or plenty of indirect light.
This plant is indigenous to semi-desert regions of Central America, and it thrives in relatively sandy but organically rich soil when grown outdoors.
As an indoor plant, it thrives in a cactus or succulent potting mix that has been enriched with peat. You can make your own desert soil mix if you already have potting soil, sand, and perlite on hand by simply combining 1 part perlite, 1 part sand, and 1 part potting soil.
During the growing season, ponytail palms in pots need to be watered every seven to 14 days. Be careful not to overwater it because the bulbous stem stores water. Reduce watering to once a month in the winter.
If you receive any form of regular rain, a ponytail palm planted in the garden hardly ever needs to be watered. A light watering every two weeks is adequate in dry locations or during droughts.
Temperature and Humidity
Ponytail hands like it when it is warm and dry, above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. They can, however, tolerate temperatures as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit for short periods of time.
During the growing season, fertilize once a week with liquid fertilizer, or in the spring, use slow-release pellet fertilizer. Feeding should be reduced during the winter.
Ponytail palms are usually quite low maintenance and don’t need pruning. But if you notice damaged tips, clip down the tips back to healthy tissue.
If the offsets or ‘pups’ send up secondary shoots, trim them away to keep the primary trunk and classic tree-like appearance. A multi-stemmed tree, on the other hand, is often attractive, and many people appreciate these additional shoots.
How to Plant and Grow Ponytail Palm
How to Propagate Ponytail Palm
Ponytail palms occasionally produce offsets known as ‘pups’ from the base that can be plucked and individually potted. However, because of the lack of roots on the offsets, this is a difficult process to perfect.
Use a rooting hormone to encourage fresh root growth on the offset if you want to give it a shot. Ponytail palms rarely, if ever, blossom inside and develop seeds that are viable.
How to Pot or Repot Ponytail Palm
To grow a ponytail palm indoors, place it in a smaller container filled with a cactus or succulent potting mix that has been combined with some peat. Repot as needed in the spring.
Repot palm trees annually if you want them to get big. Alternatively, repot every two to three years if you want them to stay small. Ponytail palms thrive when slightly underpotted in a container that keeps the roots contained.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases for Ponytail Palm
A ponytail palm, like the majority of houseplants, is subject to scale, mealybugs, and spider mites. Horticultural soaps or oils are effective non-toxic pest control options.
Leaf spots, stem rot, and bacterial leaf streak are potential but uncommon disease issues. The most frequent cause of fungal issues and stem rot is overwatering.
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Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa’s work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.