Ponytail Palm Turning White: 5 Reasons & Solutions

Is your ponytail palm turning white?

White spots on ponytail palm leaves are commonly caused by mealybugs, which are small pests with a white and waxy appearance. White spots can also appear due to other factors like sun scorch or overwatering.

In this article, we’ll address the five reasons why ponytail palms can turn white and what you can do in each case to ensure your plant stays healthy.

Let’s get straight into it.

5 Main Causes For Ponytail Palm Turning White (With Solutions)

Here are the five main reasons why your ponytail palm is turning white.

1. Pest Infestations

Pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects can attack your ponytail palm by feeding on the sap found in the leaves.

After feeding, they secrete honeydew residue, which promotes the growth of sooty mold. Sooty mold is usually grey with shades of white and spreads quickly between leaves.

Mealybugs specifically have a white and waxy appearance, so you can sometimes mistake these pests for white spots on the leaves.

A mealybug on the end of a plant stem
Look out for mealybugs on your ponytail palm

These pests can also cause a weakening of the plant, leading to pale leaves and a decline in overall health.

To deal with pests, inspect your plant regularly, and use an appropriate insecticidal soap or neem oil treatment to control infestations.

Small infestations can be dealt with by rinsing with water if you spot them early enough.

2. Overwatering And Root Rot

Overwatering your ponytail palm can lead to root rot, as the roots suffocate in the water and slowly die and rot.

Rotten roots are obviously unable to transport nutrients to the leaves, so there will be a host of symptoms, like yellowing leaves or leaves turning white.

To avoid this issue, you should allow the top inch or two of soil to dry completely before re-watering.

Use a potting mix with good drainage, such as a sandy and loamy soil mixture, and consider adding perlite to improve drainage further.

During winter, only water your plant occasionally as it requires less moisture during this time.

I’ll typically only water my indoor ponytail palm once every 3 to 4 weeks during the winter, and that seems to be sufficient.

3. Disease

Aside from sooty mold caused by honeydew residue left behind by pests, ponytail palms can also develop leaf spots.

Fungi, as well as bacteria, can cause these, and there is a range of symptoms, including white spots on the leaves.

Most of these diseases are treated by pruning affected leaves and treating the other leaves with fungicide where applicable.

4. Nutrient Deficiencies

Nutrients are essential for ponytail palm growth.

Nitrogen specifically is responsible for coloring and chlorophyll development, which plays a big role in leaf growth and color.

A lack of nitrogen and other essential nutrients can cause leaf yellowing and even cause them to turn white and pale.

This is a common issue relating to ponytail palm leaves turning pale green as well (learn more about that here).

To combat this, it’s important to use a soil mix that contains lots of nutrients – adding compost is helpful for this – and to fertilize your ponytail palm as well.

I like to fertilize once per month during the growing season with a complete fertilizer, as these contain a balanced nutrient profile for proper growth.

5. Sunburn

Prolonged exposure to full sun, especially during hot summer days or in droughts, can cause sunburn on your ponytail palm’s leaves, resulting in white, yellow, and brown spots on the leaves.

Ponytail palms that are underwatered are particularly prone to sunburn.

This may sound surprising, given how ponytail palms are native to desert environments in southeastern Mexico, but it’s more common than you would think.

To prevent sunburn, you can move your plant to a location that receives bright but indirect sunlight, such as near a south-facing window.

Alternatively, you can gradually acclimate your ponytail palm to the full sun by increasing its exposure to sunlight over time.

This works best with mature outdoor specimens, as these tend to be able to withstand much more sunlight.

Other Symptoms

If your ponytail palm is turning white, there will almost always be other symptoms as well.

This is because white spots or leaves are quite a severe symptom and are often caused by other problems like pests or diseases.

Here are some other things to look out for if your ponytail palm is turning white.

Wilting Leaves

Wilting leaves are very common to see alongside white spots on the leaves.

If the leaves become severely damaged either by pests or diseases or if the roots have started to rot, it’s very common for the leaves to wilt.

Yellowing Leaves

Yellow leaves are also super common to see alongside white spots, as leaves will usually turn yellow in the first part of the dying process.

It’s very common to see large parts of the leaves turn yellow as a result of overwatering.

Sun-scorched spots will have a yellow outline, and leaves may also turn yellow initially due to a lack of nutrients.

Preventative Measures

Preventing white spots or leaves is a much better idea than having to deal with the consequences.

Here are some easy tips you can implement to achieve this:

Proper Water And Soil Management

Ponytail palms are succulents and should be treated as such when it comes to the soil and watering schedule to prevent issues like overwatering, which can lead to root rot in severe cases.

I only water my ponytail palm when the top inch of soil dries out – remember that they can store a lot of water in their trunk, so they won’t need to be watered as often as other plants.

In terms of soil, sandy soil rich in organic nutrients works best as it drains well – drainage holes should always be used as well. Succulent soil is a good alternative that can also do the job.

Light Conditions

Larger outdoor specimens are much less likely to be scorched by the sun, but if your ponytail palm is small or kept indoors, you should opt for bright, indirect sunlight to avoid sun scorch.

Also, bear in mind that underwatered ponytail palms are at greater risk of sun scorch, so if there is a period of hot weather, you need to monitor your plant closely.

Avoid Excess Moisture

Excess moisture creates an environment where disease thrives.

Avoid misting your ponytail palm – it is ineffective at raising the humidity, and ponytail palms prefer humidity around 40-50% anyway.

Make sure there is good air circulation around your palm as well.

Will Your Ponytail Palm Die?

If multiple leaves of your ponytail palm have started to turn white, then your plant may die if you don’t act quickly.

Multiple white spots are usually a result of a major pest infestation or a disease like leaf spot spreading between the leaves.

All affected leaves will need to be pruned and the rest treated properly to stop the pests or disease from spreading.

If root rot is to blame, you will need to repot and treat the roots with a fungicide.

In Summary

Ponytail palm leaves turning white is not something that you should ignore.

Pests or diseases are usually to blame, as other issues like yellow leaves or brown leaves are much more common and usually the result of minor issues like underwatering.

Want to learn more about ponytail palms? Check out some of our other articles below:

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About Me

Hi, I'm Joe! I'm the head of SEO and content management at Bloom and Bumble. I'm a huge plant lover and over the years my home has become more like an indoor rainforest. It has taken a lot of trial and error to keep my plants healthy and so I'm here to share my knowledge to the rest of the world.

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