How to Care for a Ponytail Palm Plant
All plants need the correct care to grow properly. Plants in the wild will grow according to their environment. Even slight changes in said environment can affect growth and reproduction. We need to be able to replicate the ideal conditions for each plant, whether in the garden or indoors. The ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata), also known as the elephant's foot plant, is a tropical plant native to Mexico. While this plant can grow over 33 feet tall in the wild, it shouldn't exceed 5 foot indoors.
At oneHOWTO, we show you how to care for a ponytail palm plant by explaining all you need to know about its needs. This includes how much to water, how much light they need, how to feed it and much more.
Watering a ponytail palm plant
The ponytail palm plant is a misleading name. It is actually not technically part of the palm family, but is a succulent. This means it retains water in various parts of the plant, in this case the roots and caudex (its thick stem). Since it has such high water retention, the ponytail palm should not be over-watered.
Ponytail palms should be watered twice a week during hot temperatures and when they are in full growth. In winter or during cold spells, you will need to reduce this amount of watering, otherwise you will harm its health. To know when to water it, check its substrate (the soil in the planter) and water it when it feels dry at 4-3 cm below the surface.
Additionally, after you water the elephant's foot plant, wait 10-20 minutes. Indoor plants should have a tray underneath to catch excess water. Remove this tray and get rid of the excess accumulated water. This way you will prevent the plant from receiving more moisture than it requires. You can learn more by checking out our article on how to plant succulents in containers.
How much light does a ponytail palm need?
Some people may be worried about looking after certain plants, but the ponytail palm can fare well if we ensure we meet all of its care needs. This includes how much light it should or should not receive. This will depend on whether the plant is kept outdoors or indoors:
- Outdoor ponytail palm: best when placed in the sun for most of the day, but it needs to be granted some shade in very hot and sunny weather.
- Indoor ponytail palm: with a roof and walls, it is impossible to not have an indoor plant in shade for at least some of the day. This is why we need to keep the ponytail in the most illuminated area of the home to absorbe as much sun as possible.
If you have an indoor ponytail palm and want to place it outdoors, you cannot immediately place it in direct sunlight. Put the ponytail in a place with semi-shade so that it does not get too much direct sunlight. When the next spring comes along, you can place it in more sunlight, but do observe to ensure it is not being damaged.
If you are fortunate enough to have a garden, why not check out some options with our list of the best outdoor plants for partial sun.
Compost for ponytail palms
The amount of compost for the elephant foot plant should be low because its growth is slow. Therefore, if you compost it once a month in the warmer months it will be sufficient. During the cold months it is best not to put any compost in it all. Exceptions would include if the plant needs a health boost or if you decide to repot it since the compost will improve its substrate.
While there are many types of commercial compost, which one you use will depend on what you have available. You can also choose to make your own using the best food scraps for composting.
Temperature for ponytail palms
Among the main reasons for growing Beaucarnea recurvata indoors is the cold. Excess cold is one fo the greatest threats to this plant, since it has a tropical origin and needs to be kept in warm or high temperatures.
The elephant foot plant does not withstand temperatures below 10º C(50º F). In fact, its most optimal environmental range is between 18º C and 26º C/64º F/78.8º F. Try to always keep it at these temperatures so that its condition is not affected adversely by the weather.
Pruning a ponytail palm
You don't usually need to prune the ponytail palm as its natural growth should limit it. Pruning ponytail palms generally consists of basic maintenance. If there are any leaves which have been damaged or have dried out, you will need to snip them off. This is especially the case if parts of the plant have been affected by disease, rot or infestation. Here are some maintenance tips for pruning a ponytail palm:
- Disinfect your pruning shears before and after using them.
- Remove dead leaves and cut off the tips of those that have turned brown. Also eliminate those that you see with rot or with pests that are difficult to remove.
Fertilizer for the ponytail palm
The best fertilizer for this plant is the granulated and slow release type. You should fertilize it twice a year: once in early spring and once when summer begins. Also, nitrogen levels have to be very low for the ponytail palm to survive well. You can use a quality commercial brand or even make your own organic fertilizer at home.
As discussed above, the ponytail palm is a slow growing plant. Do not try to accelerate its development by applying more fertilizer than it needs. Otherwise, you run the risk of burning the tips of the leaves. Also, remember that fertilizer is applied to give the plant more strength during growth or to help it recover from disease.
Pests and diseases of the elephant foot plant
To know everything about how to care for a ponytail or elephant's foot plant, it is essential to delve into the most common pests and diseases that it might affect this type of succulent. We also look at some of the most effective treatments:
Pests of the ponytail palm
The main pest that threatens ponytail palm are mealybugs, particularly the cotton mealybug (Phenacoccus solenopsis). They are insects that are located on the stem and the tender and new areas of the plant. Their cottony coating makes it look like the plant has fungus or mildew, but it is actually these tiny insects.
To get rid of mealybugs, use a household sprayer in which you have mixed water with laundry detergent, potassium soap or hydrogen peroxide. Apply every 3 days with an approximate dose of 2 ml per liter of water on the plant. Here you can read more about how to eliminate mealybugs on outdoor plants.
An excess of humidity on the plant can cause the appearance of fungi and, consequently, it may develop a more serious disease or plague when it has been weakened by something else. In addition, an abuse of irrigation causes rotting of the stem and the roots of the plant, mainly, by fungi such as Phytophthora.
To treat these conditions, apply a fungicide to the plant and reduce watering until the problem subsides. You can also avoid fungi by ensuring good irrigation control.
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