Hailing from its natural habitat of eastern Mexico, the ponytail palm tree is a hearty specimen and a beautiful addition to any house plant collection. Fun fact: though its name suggests so, the ponytail palm tree is not a palm, nor a tree. As a member of the Agave family, it is actually a succulent. The plant consists of a “stump” that is large and domed, which tapers off into a thinner stem. Its green leaves are long and leathery and develop as the plant matures. The typical full grown height for the houseplant variety is usually less than four feet at its highest, and its leaves can reach lengths of around three feet.
Watering is very important for the ponytail. It enjoys its soil to be kept fairly dry. For watering from spring through fall, allow the top inch or two of soil to dry completely before re-watering. During the winter months, only water occasionally. Be careful- overwatering can cause stem rot. Signs of stem rot include yellowing leaves and a soft or squishy caudex (a plant’s base and stem). If you see signs of this, try withholding watering, as the plant may be able to internally remedy the problem.
To water your ponytail, soak its soil, allowing extra water to drain through the bottom of its container into a dish. Allow the pot to sit in the dish for several minutes before dumping out any extra water that remains.
Light and humidity
Ponytail palms enjoy a lot of light, so choose a location that provides a lot of bright, indirect sunlight. Standard room temperature is fine for most of the year, but take care that it does not sit near cold windows at night- it is sensitive to freezing temperatures and could be severely damaged. It is recommended to keep ponytails in temperatures between 50-55F/10-13C during winter time to mimic its natural dormancy cycle.
Soil and fertilizer
Use a succulent or cacti potting mix that is fast draining for ponytails. As an alternative, you could mix 1 part standard potting soil with 1 part sand and 1 part perlite to create your own desert soil mix. Use a cacti/succulent fertilizer in the spring, and move to a brighter room in the summer months. Choose a pot that has drainage holes in the bottom. Clay pots make an excellent choice due to their absorbent nature which keeps the soil dryer.
Cleaning and Repotting
If kept in a small pot, ponytail palms will remain small in size. In fact, they can go many years before needing to be repotted. Repotting every other year is just fine. Keep in mind that while a larger pot will give the ponytail room to grow, it can become difficult to manage because of its size and weight if allowed to grow too much. See our guide for pot selection and repotting here.
While an offset is not common, a small baby plant can sometimes stem from the base of the adult ponytail palm. These can be cut off at the base when they reach 4 inches in height. Allow the cut wound to heal, apply some rooting hormone (found online or at plant nurseries) and then replant in a succulent potting mix.
If your ponytail palm develops brown tipped leaves, this could be a sign of over-fertilizing or underwatering. It could also indicate too much direct sunlight. Take these into account and adjust appropriately. If you see spider-like webbing on your plant, it is likely spider mites. They occur on the leaves, but can easily be dealt with by rubbing a cloth of dish soap and water on the plant’s stems.