Ponytail Palms: How to Care for a Ponytail Palm | The Old Farmer's Almanac

How to Care for Ponytail Palms

Poneytail palm indoors by a window. The Beaucarnea Recurvata, also known as Ponytail Palm, or Nolina is a houseplant with a swollen thick brown stem and the long narrow curly, green leaves flow up from this base.
Photo Credit
Botanical Name
Beaucarnea recurvata
Plant Type
Sun Exposure
Soil pH
Flower Color
Hardiness Zone

Sign up for our daily newsletter to get gardening tips and advice.

No content available.

Growing Ponytail Palm Houseplants: Watering, Lighting, Repotting, and Pests

Print Friendly and PDF

Ponytail palms are unique-looking, long-lived indoor plants that thrive on benign neglect. They are straightforward to grow, provided that you don’t overwater them! Here’s how to grow and care for a ponytail palm in your home.

About Ponytail Palms

Despite its name and palm-like appearance, the ponytail palm is not a true “palm.” In fact, it is more closely related to desert plants in the Agave and Yucca genera (such as Joshua trees).

The typical ponytail palm consists of a large, domed “stump,” which tapers off into a thinner stem. One or more rosettes of long, green, leathery leaves develop from the top of the stem as the plant ages. Indoors, the leaves can get up to 3 feet long, but outdoors, they may be double that length.

In its native environment (eastern Mexico), the entire plant has been known to reach up to 30 feet in height! However, ponytail palms grown in gardens as landscape plants don’t usually reach more than 10 feet tall. Kept indoors, they are rarely taller than 4 feet.

Care of this plant is generally simple; the most common difficulty is adapting your watering habits to its needs!


Choosing Soil and a Pot

  • Use a fast-draining soil, such as a cacti and succulent potting mix. If you already have potting soil, sand, and perlite on hand, you can create your own desert soil mixture: Mix 1 part potting soil, 1 part perlite, and 1 part sand. 
  • Select a pot with a hole in the bottom so that excess water can be drained off. Ponytail palms do not like to sit in moist soil for very long.
  • Use a clay pot if possible; the porous material will absorb some of the water, drying out the soil more quickly (a good thing for cacti and succulents).

How to Care for Ponytail Palms

  • Ponytail palms prefer to have as much light as possible, so place the plant in a bright location. Bright, indirect sunlight is best.
  • Keep soil fairly dry. Water from spring through fall, allowing the top inch or two of soil to dry completely before re-watering. During the winter, only water occasionally.
  • To water, soak the soil and allow the excess water to drain through the bottom of the pot into a dish. Let the pot sit in the dish for several minutes, then dump out any remaining water in the dish. 
  • Fertilize in the spring with a cacti/succulent fertilizer and bring into a brighter room for the summer months. 
  • Average room temperature is acceptable for most of the year, but keep the plant slightly cooler in the winter (50-55°F / 10-13°C) to replicate the natural dormancy cycle.
  • Don’t let the plant sit too close to cold windows at night during winter, as freezing temperatures can severely damage it.

Repotting a Ponytail Palm

  • Ponytail palms will remain small if kept in a small pot. They can go for many years before needing to be repotted. Repotting every other year at the most is all a ponytail palm needs.
  • Moving the plant to a larger pot will allow it to grow in height and girth. However, older plants may become challenging to manage due to their sheer size and weight if not kept on the smaller size.
  • When selecting a new pot, pick one large enough to leave about an inch or so of space between the ponytail palm’s trunk and the pot’s rim. 
  • Note: Use caution when handling a ponytail palm, as its leaves have tiny serrated edges.


  • Rarely, a ponytail palm may produce an offset—a tiny baby plant that stems from the base of the adult plant. These can be cut off at the base when they reach at least 4 inches in height and planted in a succulent potting mix. Before planting, allow the cut wound to heal, then apply some rooting hormone (available online and in nurseries) to encourage the offset to root. 
Gardening Products
Wit and Wisdom
  • The plant’s unusual shape and coloration have granted it another strange nickname: the Elephant’s Foot Palm.
  • Are ponytail palms poisonous to cats? While the leaves of a ponytail palm are not toxic to feline (or canine) companions, their foliage does have abrasive edges that could irritate a pet’s mouth, so we suggest keeping the plant out of reach. 
  • Overwatering can result in stem rot. If you withhold watering, the plant may be able to internally remedy the problem. Signs of stem rot include yellowing leaves and a caudex (the plant’s base and stem) that is soft or squishy. 
  • Spider mites and scale insects may find their way to the leaves, but can be dealt with by rubbing a cloth of dish soap and water on the stems. Spider mites are evidenced by the presence of spider-like webbing on the plant.
  • Brown tips on leaves can be a sign of overfertilizing or underwatering, so adjust your husbandry practices appropriately. They can also indicate that the plant is getting too much direct sunlight and too little water.
About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

2023 Gardening Club