If you want to learn how to revive a dying ponytail palm, this is the guide for you.
The key to reviving a dying ponytail palm is to identify and deal with the problem quickly. Repotting is also a great idea afterward to encourage recovery and new growth.
In this article, we’ll cover how to tell if your ponytail palm is actually dying, as well as how to identify the cause and the steps you need to take to get your plant back to health.
Let’s get straight into it.
- Classic Signs Of A Dying Ponytail Palm
- Identifying The Causes Of A Dying Ponytail Palm
- Reviving Your Ponytail Palm: Step By Step
- Preventing Future Problems
- In Summary
Classic Signs Of A Dying Ponytail Palm
Here are the signs to look out for to know if your ponytail palm is dying.
One of the first signs of a dying ponytail palm is yellowing leaves.
Ponytail palm leaves can turn yellow for many reasons, but if several leaves suddenly turn yellow, it is a sign that something more serious is at play.
This is typically root rot due to overwatering, and if it isn’t addressed, all of the roots will slowly die, and eventually, the stem and rest of the plant.
Brown And Droopy Leaves
Leaves that turn yellow will eventually turn brown as they die.
If several leaves on your ponytail palm are turning brown and drooping significantly, you must act quickly to figure out what is causing this.
Severe Disease Or Pest Infestation
Aside from root rot and stem rot, other disease problems like sooty mold and botrytis blight can also affect ponytail palms and, in severe cases, cause them to die.
These affect the leaves specifically, so look out for signs of mold growth or irregular spots on the leaves that quickly spread.
Large pest infestations of mealybugs or scale can also kill ponytail palms.
These will secrete honeydew, which encourages the growth of sooty mold, as they feed on the sap in the leaves.
Large infestations should be visible to the eye, and other symptoms include holes in leaves, sooty mold and honeydew residue, and drooping leaves.
The last thing to look out for is a soft trunk.
This one is easy to identify as you can touch and squeeze the truck to feel how soft or firm it is.
A soft trunk means that stem rot is affecting your ponytail palm. Stem rot usually follows root rot, as the rot from the roots spreads into the stem causing it to go soft.
Identifying The Causes Of A Dying Ponytail Palm
You should now be able to know whether your ponytail palm is actually dying or not, but this is only one piece of the puzzle.
The next step is to figure out what is causing it in the first place.
Here are the most common causes to look out for:
Overwatering And Root Rot
Overwatering, which leads to root and stem rot, is the most common cause of a dying ponytail palm.
There are two ways to figure out if overwatering is the problem:
- Check the surface of the soil. If the soil is saturated with water at the surface, it will also be the same below.
- Gently lift your ponytail palm from its container and inspect the soil and roots. If the roots are discolored, mushy, and smell bad, they have started to rot due to overwatered conditions.
Overwatering is common in ponytail palms because many people get carried away with watering them.
Ponytail palms can store a lot of water in their trunks, so they don’t actually need as much water as you would expect.
Other factors like poor draining soil and a lack of drainage holes also play a big role here.
Ponytail palms prefer drier soil, but prolonged periods of underwatering can also lead to symptoms of dying.
Water is essential for nutrient transport and the plant’s overall health, so without enough water, the leaves quickly turn brown and crispy and die. In severe cases, it will lead to death.
If the leaves feel crispy and are turning brown rapidly, underwatering is likely one of the problems causing your ponytail palm to die.
Small pest infestations will not kill ponytail palms, but if they spread and become large, they can cause a lot of damage to your plant and eventually kill it.
The two most common types of pests for ponytail palms are mealybugs and scale, both of which should be visible to the naked eye.
These insects feed on the sap found within the leaves of ponytail palms, causing damage to the leaves in the form of spots and holes and leaving behind honeydew residue, which promotes the growth of sooty mold.
Cold And Freezing Temperatures
Ponytail palms can survive in cold temperatures, but if the temperature drops below freezing (32°F (0°C)), it can cause significant damage.
If your ponytail palm has frozen, it will go soft from the top rather than from the bottom, like with overwatering.
Young plants are much more susceptible to this damage than older, well-established specimens.
Excessive fertilizer use can lead to fertilizer burn, where the roots get scorched and die due to excess salts in the soil.
These excess salts draw moisture from the soil, drying it out and damaging the roots.
Depending on the severity, the majority of the roots may die, which can lead to a quick death.
The symptoms of fertilizer burn are similar to underwatering, with leaves turning brown and crispy before dying.
Lack Of Sunlight
Ponytail palms need enough light to grow properly and maintain their health.
If the plant does not get enough sunlight, it will suffer. It takes a lot of neglect for a ponytail palm to die this way, but it can happen.
Reviving Your Ponytail Palm: Step By Step
It can be hard to know where to start if your ponytail palm shows signs of dying.
This is why I created a quick step-by-step guide to help you get your plant back to health.
By following the steps below, you’ll cover every problem causing your ponytail palm to die and give your plant the best chance to survive.
Treating Pests & Leaf Disease
First, deal with pest infestations or diseases affecting the leaves (sooty mold/botrytis blight).
For large pest infestations, you’ll need to remove any visible pests using a cotton ball dipped in alcohol. From there, you will need to use an insecticide to kill the remaining pests and eggs.
This treatment is repeated weekly until the pests are dealt with.
For leaf diseases, trim any affected leaves using a sterile pruning tool and apply fungicide to the rest.
Repotting is essential for a dying ponytail palm.
Repotting will allow you to inspect the roots and provide fresh soil that is suitable for the plant (well-draining) and packed full of nutrients. It will also reduce the effect of fertilizer burn as well.
Choose a pot with proper drainage holes slightly larger than its current container.
Gently remove your ponytail palm from its container and brush the soil away from the roots – prune any rotten roots with a sterile pruning tool.
The rest of the roots can then be treated with a fungicide, and the plant repotted into its new container.
In terms of soil, you can use a succulent or cactus pre-made mix or a homemade recipe of equal parts potting soil, perlite, and sand.
Prune Unhealthy Leaves
After repotting, prune any leaves that look unhealthy or struggling. For example, yellow or brown leaves or those that have turned crispy.
This is beneficial during recovery because it allows the energy to be focused on remaining healthy leaves and new growth.
Providing Proper Lighting & Other Care Conditions
At this stage, your ponytail palm should be free from disease (or on its way) and repotted into new soil with plenty of drainage.
The next step is to meet all care requirements to support new growth and ensure your plant can recover quickly. Here’s a quick summary of these:
- Temperature – The temperature should ideally be above 60°F (15°C) most of the time, with nighttime temperatures no lower than 45°F (7°C).
- Humidity – Keep the humidity around 40 to 50%.
- Sunlight – Ponytail palms will thrive in bright, indirect sunlight. Some can tolerate more direct sunlight, but keeping them in indirect sunlight is better to protect the leaves from sun scorch during recovery.
Adjusting Watering Techniques
The last thing to remember is how to water your ponytail palm properly to avoid overwatering and underwatering in the future.
This is fortunately very easy – just water when the top inch of soil becomes dry.
You can also experiment with fertilizer once your plant has recovered; I prefer to fertilize roughly once monthly in the growing season with a dilute liquid complete fertilizer.
Preventing Future Problems
It’s a lot easier to prevent these problems from affecting your ponytail palm in the first place.
Here are some quick and easy tips you can use to keep your plant healthy over the long term.
Choosing The Right Pot Size And Potting Mix
To keep your ponytail palm healthy, pick a pot that provides enough room for it to grow.
You should also ensure the pot has drainage holes to prevent water from sitting in the soil and causing root rot.
When it comes to potting mix, use a cactus or succulent potting mix for optimal results.
You can also use equal parts potting soil, perlite, and sand. If planting your ponytail palm outside, opt for sandy soil that drains well.
Monitoring Water And Moisture
Ponytail palms prefer humidity on the lower end, so don’t mist your plant or increase the humidity around it, or it will attract pests and potentially promote fungus growth.
Allow the soil to dry out to roughly one inch between waterings to keep the moisture content in the soil to an acceptable level.
Caring for Your Ponytail Palm During Growing Season
During the growing season, you can provide a boost to your ponytail palm with fertilizer.
I like to fertilize once per month, but you can increase the frequency slowly and see how your plant reacts.
I recommend using a dilute complete fertilizer to provide a full nutrient profile and boost the overall health of your plant.
Keeping An Eye Out For Pests & Diseases
Pests and disease are some of the worst problems that can affect ponytail palms, so it’s important to constantly look out for signs of these so you can deal with them as soon as possible before they spread.
Most pests should be visible to the eye, and diseases that affect the leaves will also be relatively easy to spot.
If you notice anything unusual, trim the affected leaves quickly and try to get rid of any remaining pests or diseases as soon as possible using the steps laid out earlier.
The best piece of advice I can give is always to be prepared.
Sometimes pests or diseases can come out of the blue, and there isn’t much you can do to prevent this from happening.
There will also be times when the weather changes suddenly, and problems like sun scorching or overwatering become a major issue.
You can stop these things from happening, but if you are prepared to deal with them, your ponytail palm will be at a very low risk of dying.
If you follow the advice in this article, you should be able to quickly identify what is causing your ponytail palm to die and how to nurse it back to health.
The secret is to act quickly and always monitor the health of your palm so you can act quickly before problems become too difficult to deal with.
For example, dealing with a small infestation of mealybugs is much easier than a large infestation that leads to other issues like sooty mold.
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