There are quite a few different ponytail palm overwatering signs, and in this article, I’ll break down the 6 most common and what you need to do about them.
These signs range from the leaves changing color to the trunk itself becoming soft, and if they are left unaddressed your plant will be at risk of dying.
Let’s waste no time and get straight into it.
6 Signs Of An Overwatered Ponytail Palm
1. Leaves Change Color From The Tip
When a ponytail palm is overwatered the leaves will start to change color from the tip to a yellow/brown color. This slowly makes its way up the leaf until it dies and falls off.
The leaves will not be crispy as they would with underwatering.
2. Wilting Leaves
Wilting leaves are another key sign of an overwatered ponytail palm. Unlike underwatering, which will cause the leaves to turn brown and crispy, overwatering will make the leaves wilt and droop.
3. Saturated Soil
If you notice water on the surface of the soil then this is an easy way to know that the plant has been overwatered.
This is quite common if you don’t have sufficient drainage in place via drainage holes or if you are using a type of soil that doesn’t drain well.
4. Soft Trunk
Ponytail palms are susceptible to crown rot, which is a disease caused by soil-borne fungus. This fungus thrives in wet and heavy soil, which is why it is often associated with overwatering.
5. Rot Rot
Root rot is very similar to crown rot but affects the roots specifically.
It is caused by a type of fungus that can be traced either to the soil itself or due to roots decaying in overwatered conditions. Root rot is tricky to notice without inspecting the soil and roots closely, but it can cause a lot of damage if it is left alone.
6. Slower Growth Rate
Overwatered conditions are not ideal for ponytail palm growth – they much prefer dry conditions similar to those from where they originate.
While a healthy ponytail palm can grow up to 12 inches per year, it will be much less if it is overwatered.
Is It More Common To Overwater Or Underwater A Ponytail Palm?
Overwatering is much more common for ponytail palms.
This is because they require very little water – much less than you would expect. When I first purchased a ponytail palm, I decided to water it once every couple of weeks over winter.
This soon turned out to be far too much, and it wasn’t long before signs of overwatering began to appear. In my case, the leaves started to change color from the tip of the leaves and wilted as they did so.
Lesson learned – water about once per month at most during the winter, and once every two weeks at most during the summer (adjust for your climate and plant size, of course).
How Fast Do These Signs Of Overwatering Appear?
The signs of overwatering will appear very quickly, especially those that affect the leaves. These can show up as quickly as a day, which is why it’s important to keep an eye on your plant and avoid watering if you plan to take some time away from home.
This is beneficial to us plant owners as it gives us plenty of time to reverse the effects of overwatering before long-term problems occur like root rot or trunk rot – but how is this achieved?
How To Treat An Overwatered Ponytail Palm
Knowing the signs of overwatered ponytail palms is only one half of the equation – the other is knowing what to do to get your plant back to health.
This probably goes without saying, but if you suspect that your ponytail palm has been overwatered then stop watering entirely until you can confirm the problem.
Make Sure It Has Been Overwatered (Not Underwatered)
Before you go ahead and treat your ponytail plant for overwatering, double-check that it has indeed suffered from overwatering and not underwatering.
Look out for the signs listed above, and also check for common signs of underwatering that can sometimes be mistaken for overwatering. These include brown and shrivelled leaves and brown leaf edges. Remember that symptoms like the leaves turning light green can be associated with both overwatering and underwatering.
Assess The Damage
If the leaves have started to change color and wilt overnight then don’t worry, most of the time all you need to do is stop watering for up to a month and the plant will bounce back to full health.
If the trunk is soft to the touch, or if any of the signs below apply, you will need to inspect the roots to see if they are damaged:
- Visible water on the soil – As I mentioned earlier this is a key sign that the soil is struggling to drain water, and it will create a breeding ground for bacteria that can damage the roots.
- Multiple leaves have started to fall off – Remember that overwatering causes the leaves to change color from the tip of the leaves. If multiple leaves have displayed this pattern and fallen off, your plant has likely been in an overwatered state for a long period of time.
Identifying Root Damage
To check the roots, remove the plant from its pot. Most of the time you should be able to remove the plant easily, especially if you have a smooth pot made from ceramic, but in other cases, you might need to loosen the soil around the edge gently using your hands or a garden tool.
At this stage, we’re looking for healthy, white roots. If the roots look soft, discolored (brown/black) or mushy then they have started to rot.
Trim The Roots (If Necessary) And Treat With Fungicide
Wearing gloves, take a pruning tool and remove any roots that are rotten. You’ll likely need to gently remove any excess soil using your hands to reveal the roots, but this depends on how root-bound the plant is.
As long as the majority of the roots are still healthy, you should be able to get rid of all of the rotten roots without affecting the health of your plant. If most of the roots are rotten there is a smaller chance of your ponytail palm returning to full health.
Once the roots are trimmed you can treat the remaining healthy roots with a fungicide. Follow the instructions on the label and choose a suitable fungicide for ponytail palms.
What About Crown Rot?
If the trunk is showing signs of crown rot, you will need to treat it with fungicide – Captan or Aliette diluted with water make good choices here.
This is applied directly to the affected area generously to prevent future outbreaks.
Now it’s time to repot. I opt for a well-draining desert soil mix for my ponytail palm to help prevent overwatering, but you can use anything that has worked well for you in the past.
When repotting I usually give an extra inch or two of space for the roots to grow into, just make sure you don’t go over this range as it can have negative effects (this is known as overpotting). I would also recommend loosening the root ball if the roots are tightly bound.
Ponytail palm roots are very hardy, so you can usually do this by hand before you repot. Once repotted, I would usually recommend watering generously, but in this case, you should only water a small amount at first and monitor the plant over the next few weeks to see how its health progresses.