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How to Trim and Prune a Ponytail Palm

How to Trim and Prune a Ponytail Palm

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The ponytail palm is not a real palm. But rather is a succulent from Mexico. They are smaller than a regular palm but have rough, thick trunk-like elephant skin.

They are easy to care for houseplant that needs little maintenance. The ponytail palm can grow up to 20 feet outdoors but can also be trimmed into a bonsai version of itself for smaller spaces.

They can be shaped and trimmed to suit your décor with a few easy steps.

Trimming a Ponytail Palm

Trimming refers to cutting back the leaves of the plant and is usually done with shears.

Pruning, on the other hand, usually refers to the removal of base and woody materials for the purpose of rejuvenating or restoring the plant.

A ponytail palm’s leaves are prone to injury and sometimes turn brown or black at the tips.

This is easy enough to trim away to make the plant aesthetically pleasing again. Use sharp shears or yard snips to trim off only the discolored parts of the leaves.

If some of the leaves are green and vibrant, I would discourage trimming those leaves because too much cutting can cause more injury.

Ponytail Plant How To Trim and Prune

Ponytail Plant How To Trim and Prune

Wait until you figure out why some of the leaves are turning brown at the tips and correct that before trimming the green ones.

Usually, brown tips are a sign of too much water or fertilizer. Sunlight can also cause the tips to go brown.

Once you have corrected the issue, trim the brown ends away in long, slightly concave strokes to keep the ends from looking square. Once you have your plant nice and healthy again, you can begin to trim it to shape it.

If you want to manipulate the growth of the plant more into the shape of a ponytail it is easily done.

Before you begin, inspect the plant for any bugs or diseases. You will want to make sure that this gets cleared up before you begin trimming.

Use sharp trimming shears and trim leaves off the top of the plant. This will force the plant to grow downward into the shape of a ponytail.

When I do this, I keep the plant at eye level and check my work regularly to prevent it from snipping away too much of the plant. Snip in a vertical fashion, to keep the leaves pointy at the ends.

You will want to make sure to do this early in the growing season to give the new foliage a chance to grow before it goes dormant for the winter.

Once the new foliage grows from the sides of the plant, you can cut them further to shape the plant.

Use long strokes and keep the edges from looking square or boxy. You will want to retain the pointy look of each leaf.

Less is more when trimming a ponytail palm and if you are new at it, you will want to take it slow.

It’s better to trim too little than too much. It is better to remove the growth in stages instead of all at once.

If your plant does start to look brown or ragged in the cut spots, you can use some pruning paint on the cuts to aid in the recovery. I use a natural one that has collagen and aloe.

This sort of trimming will keep the plant in shape. It should not need more than this to look great all year round.

Ponytail palms are slow growers so trimming should not be needed too often on the plant once it is trained.

If you notice when you trim that the plant is growing towards one side or the other, remember to rotate the pot every couple of months to keep the growth on both sides nice and even.

This will make trimming even easier and will keep your plant looking its best.

Pruning a ponytail palm

Since the plant is a single stalk, pruning it would not be beneficial as it will leave the stalk exposed to mold and infections.

The only time a ponytail palm should be pruned is if you are removing a pup from the mother for propagation.

The leaves at the bottom of the plant will naturally turn yellow and can be gently be removed from the trunk without the need for cutting or pruning.

I have never needed to really prune my plant to get rid of the dying leaves.

Removing a pup for propagation

Pups, also known as suckers, are the baby offspring of the plant. They grow snuggled up to the stalk of the mother plant, right at the base.

They should be separated in the spring and grown as separate, yet cloned plants. You will see that the leaves grow in clumps and are attached at the base to the mother.

Use a very sharp, disinfected knife or pruners to separate the pup. I use a set of pruners designed for Bonsai plants when I do mine.

I got them on Amazon but I’m sure you can find them at gardening stores as well. Once the pup is separated, plant it right away in gritty, well-draining soil.

I always make sure that when I separate the pups, I get some of the root system as well as the small clump of new growth.

I wait till they are at least four inches in height before I remove them. I have also found that using a bit of rooting powder helps the pups root after pruning.

I sometimes use pruning paint on the mother’s stalk after I remove the pups to promote healing.


Ponytail palms are easy to care for and require extraordinarily little in the way of trimming or pruning.

They are a versatile plant that with the right trims can be kept looking attractive and will discourage the plant from growing taller than it is.

The biggest challenge with trimming them is getting the shape of the trimmed end right.

Go slowly and with practice, you will get nice even trims that keep the leaf from looking square or boxy.