Ponytail palms are popular houseplants with misleading names. While they may resemble palm trees, they are actually succulents. This mislabeling tends to lead people to treat them more like a palm and less like a succulent, often leading to overwatering and a soft trunk.
If you have found yourself wondering why your ponytail palm’s trunk is soft, or why it isn’t thriving in general, you have come to the right place! Check out our easy-care guide and learn how to make your ponytail palm love you!
Ponytail Palm Care Guide
Ponytail palms, also known as the elephant’s foot plant, are actually members of the agave family. They are native to eastern Mexico and can reach up to 20 feet tall when given the proper care.
They are very slow-growing though, so if you see a 20-foot tall specimen it’s likely very old. The average max size for an indoor plant is around 6-8ft.
Temperature and Humidity
Ponytail palms are from very arid regions of Mexico. This means that they prefer very little humidity. The drier the better, as far as they are concerned. They thrive in temperatures between 65-80, but they can tolerate warmer temperatures in the summer.
If you’re keeping your palm inside, it’s unlikely that you will have any trouble keeping your plant in the ideal range. Try to keep it away from air conditioning or heating vents though, as exposure to widely fluctuating temperatures can cause them to stress.
The most common cause for an unhealthy ponytail palm is overwatering. This can lead to a soft or soggy trunk, root rot, yellowing leaves, and even plant death.
The ideal watering schedule for your ponytail palm is once every 1-2 weeks. Before watering, make sure the soil is completely dry by pressing it with your finger. Water until you see liquid running from the bottom of the pot, then wait until the soil is completely dry before watering again.
It is unlikely that you will underwater your ponytail palm, but if you do the signs are wilting leaves and brown leaf tips.
Choosing the right soil is very important for your ponytail palm plant. The ideal soil is a mixture of 2 parts potting soil, 1 part perlite, and 1 part coarse sand. If you don’t want to make your own blend, you can also buy a commercial soil that is marketed for cactus and succulents. Either will work well.
For optimum growth in your plant, you will want to fertilize twice per year with liquid fertilizer. Once in the spring and once in the summer. Use a 10-10-10 liquid fertilizer at half strength and always add it when the soil is moist so it doesn’t just run out of the bottom of the pot.
While it can be tempting to fertilize more often, it can cause a lot of problems for plants, especially slow growers like ponytail palms. Overdoing your fertilizers can cause roots to burn and your plant to die, so less is always more.
Ponytail palms prefer to live in a spectrum from bright indirect light to full sun. You will know if your plant is getting too much light if the tips of its leaves are turning brown.
Ponytail palms are unique because they can tolerate poor lighting conditions in the winter as long as they receive optimal lighting the rest of the year. This makes them great candidates for your low-light areas in the winter, as long as you can place them outside or in the perfect window in the summer.
Since ponytail palms are slow-growing, you will only need to repot them every 2-3 years or when they have become root-bound.
If your plant is rootbound, pick out a planter that is roughly 1-2 inches larger than your previous planter.
To replant, start by making note of your plant’s natural soil line or where the soil meets your plant. Remove your plant from the pot and gently shake off any old soil. Place it into the new soil and fill to the soil line.
Repotting these plants is fairly simple, but it is a good time to check root health. While your plant is out of the pot give the roots a thorough check. Remove any soggy brown or black roots that look dead and leave healthy white or yellowish roots.
If the trunk of your ponytail palm is soft or mushy it is likely due to overwatering. Pull your plant out of its current soil and check its roots. If there are any healthy roots, you can likely save your plant, but if they are all black and mushy, it is likely too far gone.
Black Leaf Tips
If the tips of your plant are turning black or brown, it’s likely due to either not enough water or too much light. Start by checking the soil. If it is completely dry water, if it is damp, try moving it away from the light source.
Spider Mites, Scale, and Mealybugs
While these plants are rather hardy, they can become infected with pests like spider mites, scale, and mealybugs. To treat these pests, you can place your ponytail palm outside (weather permitting) where ladybugs and other insect predators can take care of the problem for you.
Or you can use an insecticidal spray. Spray once per week until the problem is gone. Be sure you isolate your plant as soon as you notice the bugs to make sure they don’t spread to your other houseplants. It’s also a good idea to repot your plant after you stop seeing the bugs in case some are still living in the soil.
Ponytail palms are hardy and easy to care for plants in the succulent family. With the right amount of light, water, and soil these plants can live a long and healthy life as an indoor plant. The key to these fun plants is less is more for watering.
If your plant has a mushy or soft trunk it is likely that it is too far gone to save, but now that you know how to properly care for a ponytail palm, you can start over and avoid overwatering your new plant.