Ponytail Palm Care – The care of an Elephant’s Foot Plant

It is one of the most popular beginner and office plants: the Ponytail palm! In this post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about caring for this exotic plant. In addition, we give you important tips and tricks along the way.

Ponytail Palm Care
© Schlierner – stock.adobe.com

Origin of the bottle tree

The Ponytail palm (lat. Beaucarnea recurvata) originates from Mexico. There it is found in tropical dry forests.

As a succulent tree it can survive longer periods without water and is used to a harsh environment.

It is found as a houseplant in offices and apartments.

The elephant’s foot plant belongs to the asparagus family (Asparagaceae).

Appearance and distinguishing features

Probably the most distinctive feature of the elephant’s foot plant is its thick trunk base.

The older the tree gets, the thicker its trunk becomes. Since the tree grows only a few centimeters per year, it takes a correspondingly long time for a magnificent trunk to develop.

Due to its unique trunk shape, the ponytail palm has received several nicknames. It is also called bottle tree, water palm, elephant tree or nolina. Its botanical name is Beaucarnea recurvata.

The trunk is paired with a shoot with long, thin leaves. It is not uncommon for these to reach the substrate. As the bottle tree grows, the lowest leaves die back and the shoot becomes woody.

In the wild, an elephant’s foot plant grows up to 30 feet tall. In the process, it reaches a trunk diameter of up to 3.6 feet!

In indoor culture, however, it reaches heights of up to 6.5 feet.

Flowers of the Beaucarnea

he bottle tree blooms. However, only under optimal conditions and at a high age. As a houseplant, flowers are very rare to admire.

Its flowers are white to yellowish. They are on panicle, which is located at the top of the tree.

For the tree to develop flowering is necessary warm and sunny place.

The flowers of an old bottle tree. As a houseplant, a flowering elephant tree is a true rarity!

The perfect location for an Ponytail Palm

The exotic loves the sun. A lot of sun. This he is accustomed to from Mexico.

Therefore, if possible, you should place it in the full sun for at least 5 hours. In the apartment, however, you should not place it in the midday sun.

The window glass can burn the leaves. Therefore, try to soften the midday sun with a curtain.

Also try to choose a location without drafts.
In the months from May to September you also have the possibility to put your elephant tree outside.

However, do not place the tree directly in its final location, but accustom it slowly to the new environment.

So start with a location in partial shade and then slowly but surely move it into the sun.

Be sure to pour out the saucer after rain to avoid waterlogging.

The perfect substrate of the Elephant’s Foot Plant

Since elephant’s foot plant is native to Mexico, it is used to sandy soil. Water quickly seeps into the desert and dry forests.

This is what we should try to reproduce. So it is very important that your substrate has good to very good drainage.

By having a pot with a hole in the bottom, you make sure that there is no water in the pot.

In addition, the soil should be loose. We, therefore, recommend No products found.. This is sandy and has a slightly acidic pH value. It is also low in nutrients.

elephant's foot plant care
(Image: © vahekatrjyan – stock.adobe.com)

Watering an Ponytail Palm

Since elephant’s foot plant is a succulent tree, it stores water and nutrients in its thick trunk.

Because of this, it can go a long time without water. It is very sensitive to too much water. Therefore, you should not water it frequently.

When you water it, you should soak the substrate completely. Pour excess water out of the saucer. Waterlogging is the biggest enemy of the exotic.

The next time you should only water again when the substrate has dried out considerably.

Once or twice a year you should spray your tree. This will not only remove dirt and dust, but also uninvited guests such as mites and aphids.

If the ponytail palm is too large or heavy you can also wipe the leaves with a damp cloth.

Many plants enjoy being sprayed with a sprayer from time to time. The bottle tree is not one of these plants.

How to fertilize a Ponytail Palm

As previously mentioned, Beaucarnea recurvata requires very few nutrients.

However, if you do not want to do without fertilizing, you have the opportunity to do so twice a year: 1x in spring and another time in the beginning of summer.

Be careful not to use too much fertilizer!

In the fall and winter you should not fertilize at all.

For fertilizing you should use a liquid fertilizer. Optimal is cacti fertilizer*.

You can then administer this with the water.

Repot a Ponytail Palm

The tree does not need to change pots frequently. Usually it should be enough to repot it every three to five years.

In principle, repot only when the current pot becomes too small. The optimal time to repot is spring and early summer.

Since the bottle tree is a shallow rooter, it can also be planted in shallow pots and bowls. This really accentuates the unique trunk shape!

Pruning an elephant tree

Pruning is possible throughout the year. However, in normal cases, pruning is not necessary. The trunk can be topped at any height.

This is often done to plants from the stationary trade so that they will resprout under the cut. If you do cut the trunk, be sure to protect the cut from drying out and pest infestation.

This works best with No products found..

Ponytail Palm Flowers
A rare sight: The flowers of ponytail palm. (Image: © Kit Leong – stock.adobe.com)

Propagating an elephant’s foot plant

Propagating Beaucarnea recurvata requires two things: the right time and the right conditions.

The best time to propagate is in the summer.

There are two methods for propagation: propagation by cuttings and offshoots and propagation by seeds. Below we will explain the two methods.

Propagate elephant’s foot plant by cuttings and offshoots

In this method, fresh cuttings and offshoots are used.

Once removed from the mother plant, you should quickly plant them in a sand and peat mixture or in growing soil.

Make sure you use sharp and clean tools when pruning to prevent infection and maximize your chances of success.

It is important to keep the soil warm and protected from moisture loss when using this method.

For this, it is highly recommended to use an indoor greenhouse*.

Propagate elephant’s foot plant by seed

This is where you germinate the seeds of elephant’s foot plant. The seedlings will then slowly but surely grow into your bottle tree.

You can buy seeds on various online marketplaces. As a rule, instructions for germinating the seeds will be sent to you.

The advantage of this method is that the tree develops its typical shape more quickly.

Diseases, care defects and pests of the elephant’s foot plant

Beaucarnea recurvata is not susceptible to diseases. These often appear only at the beginning of winter and quickly disappear.

It is not for nothing that the elephant’s foot plant is considered an optimal beginner plant: it forgives many care mistakes.

If your plant is not doing well, there are often two reasons for this: either it is too wet or it is too cold.

Especially in winter, cold quickly moves through the soil into the root ball. Therefore, place the pot on a base made of wood, straw or styrofoam.

Fluctuating temperatures can also cause stress to your houseplant.

If, on the other hand, your plant is too wet, you should not water it for the time being and allow the substrate to dry out well.

Pour water out of the saucer if it has collected there.

If your substrate has poor drainage and silts up, you should consider changing the substrate.

If the elephant’s foot plant stands moist for too long, root rot will begin. If this goes undetected and untreated for too long, stem rot will follow. From this point on, the plant is almost impossible to save.

You can recognize a wrong location and too much moisture by the reaction of your plant. As soon as the leaves turn yellow, brown and/or soft you should find out what is wrong with your plant.

Pests are also a rarity with elephant’s foot plant. When they do appear it is usually in the fall or winter. The most common pests are mealybugs, scale insects and spider mites.

Smear and mealybugs are easy to recognize. They often nest at the leaf bases or branch axils.

Scale insects, on the other hand, often remain undetected for a long time. They sit well camouflaged under the leaves and the leaf edges.

You can recognize spider mites by their spider webs. These are often found in the leaf axils or between individual leaves of Beaucarnea recurvata.

If you discover pests, you should try to read as many as possible from the leaves. It is also possible to spray the plant.

Depending on the amount of infestation, you should also remove the leaves in question entirely.

The pests have one thing in common: they do not tolerate moisture.

As a preventive measure, you should therefore regularly spray the top and bottom of the leaves with rainwater.

If you have no success with the above methods, you should resort to No products found..

I’ll answer your questions!

Is the ponytail palm poisonous?

The ponytail palm is considered mildly poisonous. Therefore, you should position it out of reach of children and pets. The saponins contained in all parts of the plant irritate mucous membranes.

Nicht verpassen!

Letzte Aktualisierung am 2023-03-20 / Affiliate Links / Bilder von der Amazon Product Advertising API

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About the author
Richard Schmidt
Hey, my name is Richard! In my spare time, I write about the care of indoor plants on this website. Indoor plants have long fascinated me. That's why there are many plants in my little urban jungle - from the mainstream Syngonium to true rarities. Besides my passion for houseplants, I'm a real sneakerhead.

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