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With their bottle-shaped trunks and cascading curly leaves, ponytail palms make dazzling indoor and outdoor plants. Also known as “bottle palms” and “elephant foot trees”, they’re valued for their easy and low-demanding growth requirements. If you’re someone who lives a busy life with little to no time to spare for gardening, these are the perfect plants for you.
About Ponytail Palms
Despite their name, ponytail palms aren’t actually palms. They’re a type of succulent that belong to the agave plant family. Botanically named ‘Beaucarnea recurvata’, ponytail palms are native to several Eastern Mexican regions.
While they’re best grown as indoor houseplants, they also grow well outdoors in USDA zones 10-11 where the climate is sunny and warm. When grown outdoors, they can reach up to a height of 20-30 feet whereas in indoor environments they only grow as tall as 6-8 feet.
Planting and Propagation
Ponytail palms are best propagated by dividing the side shoots or “pups”. Once the parent plant has matured enough, these shoots begin to sprout from the base of its base. Once this happens, divide the side pups in the spring when the new growth has started. Here’s what to do:
- First, dig the surrounding soil carefully to reveal the bottom of the plant to expose the side shoots.
- Cut away the pups that are about 4 inches (10 cm) long using a sterile, sharp knife.
- Choose a container with holes for drainage and fill it with a sand based potting media or a cactus mix.
- Make sure the growing medium is well moist before planting.
- Place the shoot cuttings with about 1/3 of the rooted ends in the potting media.
- Cover the pot with a transparent plastic or polythene bag.
- Place the container somewhere warm with moderate lighting.
- Take off the cover once every two or three days and mist the surface of potting mix to maintain the moisture constantly.
- It’ll take about a month for the shoots to get well-established. Then, you can re-pot them or move them into their new homes.
Ideal Growing Conditions for Ponytail Palms
Ponytail palms grow best in fast draining, sandy types of soil with a neutral pH level from 6.5 to 7.5. If the soil you have needs any amendments, mix some perlite or pumice at a ratio of ¼ to improve the quality of the soil.
These plants can tolerate a wide range of lighting conditions varying from full sun to bright, indirect light. Although they can also survive in moderate to lower lighting, this can cause them to have a stunted and much slower growth.
Temperature and Humidity
Ponytail palms perform best in an average daytime temperature of 60-80 degrees of Fahrenheit (15-27 Celsius). In the night, the preferable temperature would be around 45 degrees of Fahrenheit (7 Celsius) or above. A standard humidity level around 40% or less creates the ideal environment for these plants.
Caring for Ponytail Palms
Similar to other succulents, ponytail palms don’t need frequent watering. When watering, remember to do so in the morning and avoid wetting the foliage by providing water directly to the bottom of the plant. These plants need to be watered thoroughly and deeply while letting the 2 or 3 top inches of the soil dry out completely between each watering.
To maintain the gorgeous appearance of their foliage, ponytail palms need to be pruned once in a while. Pruning can be done at any time throughout the year, but the ideal time is during the growing season (spring to early fall). To prune them, crop the top part of the plant foliage using a clean, sharp pair of spears. Cut away all the dried and wilted leaves as well.
Feed your ponytail palms with a liquid succulent fertilizer at least twice a month in the growing season and reduce it to once a month in the winter. In their natural habitats, ponytail palms thrive in mineral enriched soils that are low in humus.
Therefore, choose a fertilizer with more phosphorus and potassium but less nitrogen. For additional nutrition, you can feed these plants with some organic supplements, but be careful again to add cow dung and compost that are high in nitrogen.
Pest and Disease Control
The common garden pests that pose a threat to ponytail palms include the following:
- Spider mites
- Fungus gnats
To control an infestation, wash off the pests using a stream of water and then spray the plants with a soap pesticide or horticultural oil. If the infestation is based on the soil, re-potting the plants in fresh growing media is also an option.
Some of the most common diseases that can affect ponytail palms are:
- Stem rot
- Botrytis blight
- Sooty mold
- Root rot
- Powdery mildew
To treat these diseases, use a suitable fungicide on the plants and separate the sick plants from the good ones immediately. This will help control the spread of the disease and prevent relapse.
Ponytail palms typically need to be repotted every 1 to 2 years, but this can differ based on the growing rate of each plant. Therefore, check for any roots that are protruding out of the drainage holes of the container. If there are any then it’s time to repot your ponytail palms.
The best time for repotting is in the early spring or summer so that the plants will have enough time to get established before the winter frost.
- First, soak the base of the plant well to make it easier to take it out without damaging the roots.
- After loosening the soil, use a flat tool to dig up the plant.
- Ponytail palms grow well in a somewhat compact environment, so choose a container that’s only 1-2 inches bigger in size than the root ball of the plant. Pots made of porous material such as terra cotta are great for these plants as they help in keeping a continuous and better air-circulation. Make sure that the container has enough drainage holes as well.
- Fill the pot with some pre-prepared potting mix and then place the plant inside carefully.
- Cover the root ball of the plant with rest of the potting mix and press down the soil firmly with your hands.
- Finally, water thoroughly until the excessive water drains out through the drainage holes.
Ponytail palms are valued by gardeners and plant lovers because of their elegant appearance and the fact that they’re low maintenance. With just a little care and the tiniest bit of your time and attention; these long living slow-growers will continue to beautify your surroundings for many decades to come.