The Q&A Archives: Bonsai Pony Tail Palm

Question: I bought fom Home Depot what appears to be a Pony Tail Palm Bonsai tree. It only has a sku number but no tag. It did not come up on the site. It is rather large - all in all about 28 inches high starting from the trunk and to the top of the tree. How do I take care of it? Is this a real Bonsai or (like I have read on line) a hybrid? The trunk is not that thick like I have seen in most pony tail Palms-3 inches thick at the most. It does have the pony tail like top. When do I water, feed etc. Do I need a humidity tray? I have it in front of a window that has vertical blinds - the light comes right in but I did not want it to burn in the summer. Thank you for any help.

Answer: Overwatering will cause a quick death of your ponytail palm so yours is probably potted in cactus mix, which is like cement when it dries! When it is thoroughly wet, though, it will be crumbly. The "Ponytail Palm" is really not a palm at all. It is a member of the Lilaceae (lily family), and is known by several names. It has earned the name "elephant's foot" because of its bulbous base. Because of its base and thin trunk have some people call it a bottle palm. It is native to the desert of Mexico and is somewhat of a curious interior landscaping plant. A sturdy plant that can be used as a single specimen usually in containers 14 inches or larger, or planted in groups in 6- to 10-inch pots to appear more bushlike. Single specimens, range in height from 6 to 18 feet tall. What makes the "Ponytail" unique is its large base and head of pendulous, smooth-edged flat leaves, There are NO TWO specimens alike. Ponytail's are native to the dry Mexican climate, this habitat allows it to survive interior winter heat very well, as long the plant doesn't receive too frequent waterings, and water is never allowed to sit in the bottom of the saucer or pot. An interesting fact is that Nolina recurvata stores its water in its base. A sandy-mix or cactus soil minimizes the probability of root rot and is preferred over the peaty mixes normally used in most tropicals. Specifically, allow the soil to dry well between waterings, and if you have any doubt on whether or not to water the plant, skip it until the next week. Dry, brown foliage, a shriveled stem or desiccated roots are usually signs of underwatering. If you are overwatering, you'll see light colored new growth; stem rot or root rot will then appear. Light requirements for ponytails are pretty easy to remember if you think of where it is native to - the Mexico deserts. Provide bright indirect light to full sun. Any window space - particularly one facing south or west will suit the light requirements of this high-light plant. For optimum performance, however, full sun is best. Generally, the ponytail is insect free, but on occasion does attract mealybugs, spider mites and scale. Nolina recurvata ? the "Ponytail Palm" is a plant to enjoy. You just provide plenty of light and water it less frequently than you think necessary, and this plant will add a unique beauty to your interior. Although it is sometimes called bonsai, Ponytail palm is naturally slow growing and if kept in a small pot so the roots are crowded, will maintain its size for many years - hence the reference to "bonsai". Hope this answers all your questions!

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