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Identifying Ponytail Palm Problems

The Ponytail Palm is considered a great beginner plant for those just starting out in the world of houseplant care. This plant looks like a miniature Palm tree but is actually a succulent. As a result, Ponytail Palm problems typically arise from not recognizing the plant’s ability to store water and giving improper care.

 Ponytail Palm Problems

Ponytail Palm Turning Brown

There are a multitude of reasons why your Ponytail Palm is turning brown. Thankfully, these resilient plants will often bounce back from periods of poor health when the cause is identified and corrected.

Ponytail Palm Sunlight Exposure

The primary reason for your Ponytail Palm’s leaves turning brown is scorching due to overexposure to sunlight. This plant prefers bright, indirect sunlight for optimal health. To correct browning leaves from too much sunlight, move the plant to sit near a bright window, but not directly in the path of the sunlight it lets in. Alternately, cover the window with a sheer curtain to diffuse the sunlight that the window lets in. 

Ponytail Palm Underwatering

While the Ponytail Palm is considered a drought tolerant plant, it will begin to suffer physically if the plant is forced to go too long without sufficient moisture. The trunk of the plant stores water from previous waterings, which is why these plants can remain healthy even when a week or more has passed since its last watering. Yet, if the plant is forced to use up all its reserves, it will begin to show wilted, yellowing, and eventually brown leaves. 

Correct the issue by creating a watering schedule that suits your plants needs, then sticking to it. Regularly insert your finger into your plant’s soil. Only once the soil feels dry up to your second knuckle do you water your Ponytail Palm. Water until the soil is moist and the water begins to drain out through your pot’s drainage holes. Then, continue to periodically perform the finger check on the plant’s soil until the soil has dried out to the second knuckle once again. Use this as your guide for your new watering schedule, but alway check the soil before watering to ensure the plant really does need water.

Ponytail Palm Overwatering

Overwatering is the most common reason behind Ponytail Palm problems. It’s easy to give the plant too much water when you forget the plant is a succulent and stores water for longer than you realize. 

Ponytail Palms that are overwatered will often start out with leaves that turn yellow first, then turn brown as the plant’s health continues to suffer and the leaves begin to die off. Correct overwatering by stopping watering immediately and assess the damage to your plant. First, assess the damage to your plant’s foliage. Remove any brown leaves or parts of leaves so that only healthy leaves remain. 

Allow the soil to dry out properly using the second knuckle rule. Water until the soil is moist, but not soggy. Create a watering schedule based on the second knuckle rule and stick with it to avoid overwatering your plant. 

If changing the plant’s watering schedule does not fix the issue, and your plant’s health continues to decline, there may be deeper issues at play and you will need to take a more aggressive approach to rehabilitation. 

Ponytail Palm Root Rot

The danger of overwatering your Ponytail Palm for an extended period of time is that all that excess moisture will cause your plant to rot. When your plant’s soil is consistently soggy, the roots become saturated with water. This saturation inhibits the plant from absorbing any more water or nutrients, this starving your plant even though moisture is plentiful. As these roots sit in excess moisture harmful bacteria begin to grow and attack the roots. If the rot is caught early, it can often be reversed. Unfortunately, if allowed to progress for too long, it may mean your plant is beyond saving.

To assess the presence of rot, and the extent of the damage, gently remove the plant from its pot and inspect the roots. If any of the roots appear dark and mushy, remove them using a pair of sharp and sterile garden shears. Next, create a mixture of two parts water and one part hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle. Generously spritz all the remaining roots to kill any remaining bacteria. Finally, remove all the soil from your pot and throw it away. Clean out the pot with soap and water, and repot your Ponytail Palm with fresh soil. 

Ponytail Palm Crown Rot

Crown rot is caused by overwatering, just as root rot is. If your plant is suffering from crown rot, but the roots are still healthy, improper watering technique may be the cause. Overhead watering is a common watering method but leaves the plant vulnerable to rot and fungal issues. When water is allowed to sit on the leaves or around the crown for extended periods of time it often results in health issues. To avoid these issues, water your Ponytail Palm using the soaking method. Fill a sink with two inches of water and sit the pot in the sink. Allow the plant to soak up water through the pot’s drainage holes until the soil’s surface is moist. 

Once the soil is consistently moist from the bottom up, drain the sink and let the plant continue to sit in the sink for an additional 10 minutes to drain any excess water it absorbed then return the plant to its growing spot. 

Other Reasons for Your Ponytail Palm Dying

While watering issues are often the root cause of Ponytail Palm problems, there are other factors that negatively affect the health of your plant. The following are common issues that may result in poor plant health.

Ponytail Palm Soil Needs

Plants that are susceptible to rot issues always require a well-draining soil to provide the fastest drainage possible. Grow your Ponytail Palm in either a cacti or succulent soil mix. A good soil mix should allow water to absorb quickly and not pool on the soil’s surface. Instead, these lighter soil mixtures retain just enough moisture to sustain your plant, but quickly shed excess water to avoid rot. This soil type also promotes healthy root growth by dispersing water evenly and quickly and allowing roots to grow uninhibited with its light, airy texture. 

Ponytail Palm Pot Recommendations

The type of pot you grow your plant in can have a big impact on the plant’s health. Growing your plant in the wrong type of pot can lead to Ponytail Palm root rot or other Ponytail Palm problems. Choose a pot that is made out of clay or unglazed terra cotta. These two materials allow excess moisture in the soil to be wicked up by the pot, which decreases the chance of rot issues. 

Also, your pot needs to have drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. These drainage holes are the final step in the filtering system your plant and soil perform to discard excess water. The water should drain into a saucer-like bottom that will then be drained 10 to 15 minutes after you’ve watered your plant. 

Ponytail Palm Lost All Leaves

If your Ponytail Palm’s health has declined to the point that it’s losing leaves, it is definitely time to change how you are caring for your plant. Rule out issues with sunlight, watering, and soil first as these are the most common causes. If you are following the recommended care of each of these but your Ponytail Palm is still struggling, a lack of fertilizer may be the issue. 

Use a balanced 10-10-10 slow release fertilizer at a rate of 1 tbsp. Per square foot of soil. Follow the application instructions, keeping the fertilizer 6 inches away from the base of the plant to avoid fertilizer burn. 

Ponytail Palm Problems FAQ

How Long Do Ponytail Palms Live?

If properly cared for, a Ponytail Palm will live for decades with some living closer to 100 years in the right conditions.

Are Ponytail Palms Considered Toxic?

No, the Ponytail Palm is not considered toxic to pets or humans. 

How Often Should I Repot My Ponytail Palm?

The Ponytail Palm is slow growing and prefers to remain somewhat root bound. Only repot your plant when the roots have become too crowded to support the plant’s health.

How Tall Does a Ponytail Palm Grow?

When grown indoors, a Ponytail Palm will grow up to six feet tall. Outdoors, the plant will grow up to 30 feet tall

Should I Mist My Ponytail Palm?

The Ponytail Palm prefers a humidity level of around 40%, which is close to the household average for humidity. Additional misting is not necessary, though misting and wiping the leaves periodically will help keep the foliage clean and healthy.