Suddenly found your faux palm tree take an ugly turn? Ponytail Palms can be such drama queens.
They can tolerate neglect to an extent, but when they really need your attention, they will play the dying act.
Most times, they’re easily revived.
Despite looking like a palm, it is a succulent. By its nature, it’s also a survivalist.
That huge bulbous trunk at its base – it’s filled with energy reserves.
Only when it starts to run out of reserves, will the Ponytail Palm start to look like it’s dying.
Caught on time, it can recover. But only when you address whatever is slowly killing it.
Why is My Ponytail Palm Dying?
The most common cause of a Ponytail Palm dying is overwatering. It causes root and stem rot, evident when the base feels mushy and the leaves turn yellow. Dehydration results in a limp trunk with brown tipped leaves. The wrong soil mixture and even the wrong pot size can contribute to the early demise of Ponytail Palm, as can an excess of fertilizer.
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 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 store 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 is when 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 for a real palm and choose the best fertilizers for palm trees, you are going to 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 is indicative of drought.
How to Revive a Dying Ponytail Palm by Repotting it
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 pebble can be laid on the lower surface, then enough potting mix 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.
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”. In the case of 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 roots 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.
What To Read Next
Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.