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Why is My Ponytail Palm Dying? How to Recover!

Why is My Ponytail Palm Dying? How to Recover!

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Suddenly found your faux palm tree take an ugly turn?

Ponytail Palms can be such drama queens. 

Caught on time, they can recover, though.

But only when you address whatever is slowly killing it. 

So let’s get right into it.

Why is My Ponytail Palm Dying?

Your Ponytail Palm is likely dying because of overwatering, which leads to root and stem rot. This is evident when the base feels mushy and the leaves turn yellow. Other contributing factors include dehydration, excessive fertilizer, incorrect soil mixture, and improper pot size.

The Leading Causes of Premature Death in Ponytail Palms

Root Rot and Stem Rot

Giving your Ponytail Palm too much water will cause root and stem rot. 

Stem rot happens first when it’s left in standing water, resulting in yellowing leaves. Then eventually, root rot takes hold, and the base feels mushy. 

Eventually, you’re left with a dying Ponytail Palm with a squishy base. 

You don’t need to drown your plant for this to happen.

Drainage problems in either the plant pot or the soil mix can have the same deadly effects. 

Repotting a healthy Beaucarnea recurvata (this is the Latin name of the Ponytail palm!) into a pot that’s too big has the same results. Overly moist soil that the plant can’t cope with. 

When repotting a Ponytail Palm to encourage root growth, only go up one size at a time. Staged growth is essential to maintain proper drainage. 

The soil type needs to be consistently draining too. The best soil for palm trees is sandy loam, a fast-draining soil, but remember, this isn’t a palm at all.

As Beaucarnea recurvata are not true palms, these do far better with a cactus potting mix.

A cacti or succulent potting mix is closer to the natural habitat a Ponytail Palm thrives in. 

A mix that’s nutrient-poor and drains extremely fast. 

The dense bulb at the base of Ponytail Palms stores water, so they don’t need to be sitting in moist soil for long. 

When they do get exposed to prolonged moisture in the soil, stem rot and root rot will set in. 

Ponytail Palms are highly susceptible to root rot, and it is this problem that mostly sees it off before its time. 

Cared for properly, these can live for decades. 

Depending on the severity of the rot, it might be possible to salvage it by letting the soil dry out or repotting if necessary (scroll down to see how).

Drooping and Curling Leaves with Brown Tips

Ponytail Palm leaves brown and curl inward because of dehydration. It’s a sign of stress, not a symptom of sickness.

When left for weeks in dry soil (extreme neglect), the browning can look like your Ponytail Palm’s dying. 

A thorough bottom watering is likely all it’ll take to perk it up. 

To ensure the caudex soaks up sufficient water, leave it in a basin of tepid water about 4 inches deep. 

Leave it soaking for up to 45 minutes. After that time, the soil should feel moist to a depth of 3 inches. 

Leave it to drain excess water, then return it to its saucer and watch as it begins to perk up. 

A Fertilizer Overdose

It’s easily done! You want growth, and feeding plants with fertilizer usually helps promote that. 

Ratios differ, though. 

As this is a succulent, you need to feed it with a cactus or succulent fertilizer only from spring to fall when it’s most actively growing. 

Even at that, the fertilizers used for succulents should be diluted to half their usual strength. 

The name of this plant doesn’t help because if you mistake it for a real palm and choose the best fertilizers for palm trees, you will see leaf burn if not root burn. 

A Ponytail Palm suffering from a fertilizer overdose will have brown tips.

Unlike with dehydration, though, the leaves won’t curl. 

Straight leaves with brown tips are a fertilizer problem. Curled, crispy leaves are indicative of drought.

How to Revive a Dying Ponytail Palm by Repotting it

Container Selection

Start with a pot slightly larger than the caudex. That’s the part at the base of the trunk where all the water is stored. 

Depending on the maturity of the plant, you may want to choose a pot that’s tall with a narrow diameter, preventing leaves from straggling along the ground.

Ponytail Palms have more going on up top than they do beneath the surface. The root balls are small and don’t need much depth. 

In tall containers, gravel or pebbles can be laid on the lower surface, and then enough potting mix is used to cover the roots. 

Potting Mix to Use

The potting mixture you use must be fast draining. 

You’ll have better success with a succulent mix and adding a small amount of pumice or perlite to increase drainage further. 

Root Preparation

The roots of Ponytail Palms grow compact. They prefer to be slightly root-bound, but that makes it harder for the roots to grow into their new soil. 

It’s the old saying, “you gotta break some eggs to make an omelet”. When repotting a Ponytail Palm, you have to break some roots. 

Lightly water the soil before taking the plant out of its old pot, so the roots aren’t so dry and brittle. 

Breaking some roots will be inevitable, but do your best to minimize damage.

Pry the side and base roots away from the old soil, then give it a new home in its new potting mix. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Dying Ponytail Palms

How long can it take for a dying Ponytail Palm to recover?

Up to 8-weeks, possibly longer. Reviving a sickly Ponytail Palm is all about correcting its growing conditions. They are slow-growers. Expect it to take at least two months for new foliage to emerge. 

Do Ponytail Palms need to be repotted?

Despite growth being slow, the roots do become pot bound, and that does restrict growth. These do well being slightly pot bound, but when they’re extremely constricted, signs of drought become regular because water drains faster than the plant can use it. Generally, Ponytail Palms need to be repotted every few years to continue healthy growth and prevent watering problems from emerging.