Ponytail Palms are splendid little succulents with the tropical aesthetics of a small palm tree.
Native to Eastern Mexico, they have adapted to hot, dry climates. What helps them survive in their native habitat creates problems when these are grown as houseplants.
They will develop brown tips, and you will be tempted to trim those off.
Before you do, read on to discover why it happens so that it doesn’t become a recurring problem.
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Why ponytail palm leaves turn brown?
Ponytail Palm leaves turn brown because the plant is prioritizing water distribution. The leaf tips aren’t important to the survival of the plant. The central tissues are. Brown tips on a Ponytail Palm are a subtle hint that something is stressing the plant. Too much water causes the leaves of Ponytail Palms to yellow then brown. Not enough water results in brown crispy leaf tips. Atmospheric conditions can also contribute to soil moisture problems, including humidity, light, temperature, and feeding it too much fertilizer. Brown fronds can also happen when there are pests sucking the plant dry.
Discover what Causes Brown Fronds on Ponytail Palms
Giving a Ponytail Palm too much water is common. The gigantic bulb at the base of the trunk is oversized because that’s where water is stored.
The rooting system is extremely efficient at distributing just enough water to the central tissues to keep the plant alive.
When there’s too much water on reserve though, that will create problems.
Your primary concern with overwatering is root rot. The Ponytail Palm is highly susceptible to it.
When this gets too much water, the leaves begin yellowing and the tips turn brown. The only corrective treatment is to let the soil dry out.
When Ponytail Palms don’t get enough water, the leaf tips turn brown and take on a crispy texture. You can literally snap them off.
It is advantageous to let the soil dry between watering. But if this plant is left in dry soil for more than a few days, that’s when you’ll get crisp brown tips on the leaves.
If the leaf tips are brown and crispy, water the plant.
If it has brown tips with yellowing leaves, don’t add water. Let the soil dry between watering.
Ponytail Palms are extremely drought-tolerant. It’s why they have such huge bulbs to store all the water they don’t need right away.
Due to their natural growing climate, they’re used to hanging onto plentiful reserves.
They handle drought better than they do excess moisture, which they just can’t ever get used to.
Ponytail Palms don’t need high humidity. The average ideal (around 40%) is the normal range for indoors anyway, even over the winter.
It’s why these make terrific house guests.
What’s important to remember is that humidity affects water distribution. High humidity will cause water to evaporate from the leaves and soil, resulting in it drying out faster.
As humidity fluctuates with the seasons, watering will need to be adjusted. More in the summer, less in the winter.
Failing to account for humidity changes by watering on a set schedule, such as every fortnight, will eventually lead to watering problems.
Ponytail Palms are a far cry from a heavy feeder. They don’t ask for much, especially in the winter.
Only give these plants fertilizer in the spring and summer. In the winter, growth gets even slower so they need their fertilizing reduced.
Without reducing the amount of fertilizer you feed a Ponytail Palm in the winter, it will result in too many nutrients in the potting mix.
The excess salt accumulation contributes to brown leaf tips.
Mealybugs (and other sap-sucking pests)
Any insect that can pierce parts of plants to feed on the water is a risk to Beaucarnea recurvata plants because by its very nature, it has an abundance of water stored at the base of the trunk.
As it stores more water than it uses, it’s extremely susceptible to mealybugs.
Unfortunately, these are minuscule in size and usually look more like a fungus infection. Until you see it moves. That’s a colony of mealybugs.
Eventually, they’ll dehydrate the plant, resulting in your Ponytail Palm fronds turning yellow, eventually brown, then dying.
Two effective products to control pest infestations on Ponytail Palms are Neem Oil and pesticides containing pyrethrin.
Lack of Light
Veteran gardeners know that ponytail palms need high light. They can survive in places that have low-light conditions, but the longer they don’t get bright light, the more reserves they use.
It is possible for Beaucarnea recurvata plants to survive for extended periods in dark rooms, but that’s only because they’re efficient survivalists.
Eventually, the reserves will be depleted.
When that happens, you’ll get an abundance of brown leaves.
The only way it can recover is to relocate it to somewhere with sufficient light that has the warm temperatures it needs to flourish.
Frequently Asked Questions about Brown Leaves on Ponytail Palms
Can I cut off all the brown leaves on my Ponytail Palm?
No. Before you take scissors to the brown leaves of a Ponytail Palm, assess how much is damaged. Taking too much off in the one go will shock it. Aim to cut off no more than 20% of damaged leaves. If more of your plant is affected, trim the brown tips off in stages. Depending on the extent of discoloration, you might want to only snip off the brown tips, or if it’s only a few leaves, you could cut the entire leaf off to maintain the plant’s aesthetics.
What’s the best way to water a ponytail palm?
Ideally, you don’t decide how much water to give a Ponytail Palm. Let the plant decide by bottom watering it. Bottom watering is done by placing the pot (with drainage holes) in a basin of tepid water and leaving it there for up to 45-minutes. Before you do though, the soil needs to be completely dry. To test it, poke your finger into the soil to knuckle depth. If it’s moist, leave it until it’s completely dry. Take the plant out of the water when the top 2 to 3 inches of soil are moist and then leave it to drain before returning the pot to its saucer.
Daniel has been a plant enthusiast for over 20 years. He owns hundreds of houseplants and prepares for the chili growing seasons yearly with great anticipation. His favorite plants are plant species in the Araceae family, such as Monstera, Philodendron, and Anthurium. He also loves gardening and is growing hot peppers, tomatoes, and many more vegetables.