Underwatered Ponytail Palm: Key Symptoms & What To Do

An underwatered ponytail palm will show clear symptoms such as brown leaf tips and crispy leaves and will be much more susceptible to sun scorch.

In this guide, we’ll explore the key symptoms of an underwatered ponytail palm plant and what you need to do to get your plant back to health.

Let’s get into it.

Symptoms Of An Underwatered Ponytail Palm

Underwatered ponytail palms are super easy to identify – just look out for the symptoms listed below.

Limp And Droopy Leaves

When your ponytail palm is underwatered, one of the first symptoms you’ll notice is limp and droopy leaves.

This drooping occurs because the plant does not have enough water to maintain the turgor pressure within its cells, causing them to droop and look lifeless.

Brown Leaf Tips

Another sign of underwatering in your ponytail palm is the appearance of brown leaf tips.

When the leaves are not receiving enough moisture, they start to lose it from the tips first.

Brown tips on a ponytail palm up close
Brown tips on one of my ponytail palms

This browning gradually moves inward if the lack of water persists. Make sure to check your plant’s leaves regularly for any signs of browning.

Deflated Bulb-like Base

Your ponytail palm’s bulb-like base, called the caudex, is responsible for storing water.

If the plant is underwatered, the caudex may start to shrivel and look deflated. This is the plant’s way of using up its water reserves in order to survive.

A healthy, well-watered ponytail palm should have a firm and plump caudex, so if you notice any deflation, it’s time to address the watering issue.

Be careful not to mistake this for a soft caudex, which is a common sign of stem rot.

Brown Crispy Leaves

If large areas of the leaves start to turn brown and crispy, then lots of moisture has been lost from the leaves due to underwatering.

Unlike the browning of leaf tips, this symptom indicates an advanced stage of underwatering where the plant struggles to survive.

It’s crucial to act quickly and adjust your watering schedule to prevent further damage to your ponytail palm.

Soil Pulling Away

The soil itself can also give away that your ponytail palm has been underwatered.

If the soil around the edges of the pot is pulling away or if it is starting to crack at the surface, then these are telltale signs that the soil needs water.

Causes Of Underwatering

There are more factors than just not watering your ponytail palm enough that contribute to underwatering.

Poor Watering Schedule

Ponytail palms are succulents, which means they store a whole lot of water in their stem and are pretty drought-tolerant.

This doesn’t mean that you can avoid watering it for long periods of time, however, and a lack of watering is the most common reason for underwatered ponytail palms (unsurprisingly).

Warm And Dry Environments

Warm and dry environments can cause the soil to dry out more quickly, leading to underwatering issues.

Although ponytail palms are quite well-adapted to these conditions, they will still need to be watered more frequently when it gets hot and dry.

Its important to monitor your plant closely during the summer because of this.

Soil Draining Too Quickly

While well-draining soil is crucial for your ponytail palm to prevent overwatering, soil that drains too quickly may cause underwatering problems.

This is an important one to consider because this can happen even if you are watering your ponytail palm regularly.

If your plant’s soil is dry, dusty, and compact, it may be time to consider switching to a more appropriate soil mix, like compost mixed with sand and perlite.

How To Revive An Underwatered Ponytail Palm

Here are the steps you need to follow to revive an underwatered ponytail palm.

It’s quite common to mistake underwatering for another issue, such as sun scorch or even diseases like root rot, so if you want details for reviving a ponytail palm in general, then check out our guide here.

Prune Brown And Crispy Leaves

The first step is to prune any leaves that are brown and crispy.

It’s essential to prune these damaged leaves to help the plant focus its energy on new growth. Remove these leaves carefully with a clean pair of pruning shears as close to the base as possible.

Leaves with brown tips can be left as these won’t die, unlike leaves that are crispy and brown.

Water The Soil Thoroughly

Once pruning is done, water the soil thoroughly.

If the soil is severely dry, it is easier to repot (see steps for this below), but in most cases, you can just water the soil thoroughly until it comes out of the drainage holes.

Dry soil can be quite stubborn with taking up water, so you may need to repeat this a few times over the course of a week or two to get the soil moist evenly.

If the soil is particularly stubborn, try bottom watering in a sink.

Move To A More Shaded Location

After you water the soil, it’s a good idea to move your plant to a more shaded location.

Underwatered ponytail palms are susceptible to sun scorch, and since it will take a while for the moisture to reach the leaves, changing the location will protect the existing leaves.

Repot If Soil Mix Needs To Be Changed

In severe cases of underwatering, you may find that the soil needs to be replaced.

This can happen if the soil is completely dry, dusty, and cracking at the surface. Repotting in fresh soil is a much better option than just watering the soil at this stage.

To do this, gently remove your ponytail palm from its pot and brush away as much soil as possible with your hands (this should be easy).

Afterward, repot the plant in a new pot that is one to two inches wider than the old one. Use a mix of equal parts compost/potting soil, perlite, and sand, and water the soil thoroughly until water comes out of the drainage holes.

How To Prevent Underwatering In The Future

It’s a lot easier to simply avoid underwatering in the first place.

This is obviously easier said than done, but here are some quick tips to make it as straightforward as possible:

Using The Finger Test For Checking Soil Moisture

The finger test is a simple yet effective method to determine when it’s time to water your ponytail palm.

All you have to do is use your finger to test the top one to two inches of soil – if they are dry, your ponytail palm needs to be watered.

I’ve used this for many years now, and it’s my favorite way of figuring out when to water my plants.

Using a schedule is a great idea, but if the weather suddenly changes, you may need to water more or less often.

Keep An Eye On The Weather

Weather conditions play a significant role in your ponytail palm’s watering needs.

During hot or dry seasons, your plant might need more water, while in cool or humid conditions, it can thrive with less frequent watering.

Keep an eye on the weather forecast and get ready to test the soil more often.

Is Overwatering Or Underwatering Better?

While both conditions are not ideal for proper ponytail palm growth, underwatered soil is actually much better than overwatered.

Overwatering leads to problems like root rot which can be very difficult to deal with. Root rot can also spread to the stem, causing stem rot and eventually killing the entire plant.

Underwatered conditions are far from ideal, but ponytail palms do prefer drier soil and are able to store lots of water to cope with these types of conditions.

Luckily, all you need to do is check the soil every so often and water when the top inch to two inches become dry and that’s it.

In Summary

In most cases, underwatered ponytail palms can be restored back to full health with a little bit of effort.

Severely underwatered ponytail palms may take a while to recover, and it’s a good choice to repot in fresh soil as well to help this process.

In the majority of cases overwatering is much worse than underwatering, so if you are ever unsure about watering a ponytail palm, always err on the side of caution.

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

Photo of author

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.

Leave a Comment