Houseplants forum→Ponytail Palm. Questions and concerns

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Name: Chenny
Queens, New York (Zone 7a)
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zhengcl86
Jun 14, 2020 6:37 PM CST
I got this ponytail about 6-7 months ago at IKEA. It was a sale item for like $7 if I remember. It was healthy looking and lush.

It sits at a East window about 3 feet away. Gets morning sun and gets about 1 hour of afternoon sun.

Have watered once a week or so since I got it. Sometimes twice depending on soil moisture.

Slowly the leaves have been dying and browning, I just got back from a 4 day weekend getaway. The plant seems to have died.

There's yellow spots everywhere on the soil. On the bottom of the pot.

I also notice these white-ish like small pebbles, I squeeze them and it pops. Moisture comes out. Is it a egg from a insect?? Could it be contaminating surrounding plants???

Fyi this is the 2nd ponytail palm I've killed. First one was a small plant.




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@willc
Name: TK
Ontario, Canada (Zone 6b)
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Macrocentra
Jun 14, 2020 8:05 PM CST
Was the soil allowed to dry all the way through before you watered again? This looks like a fungus or something took over, likely due to too much moisture.

@Baja_Costero
Any thoughts?
Name: cheapskate gardener
South Florida (Zone 10a)
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hlutzow
Jun 14, 2020 10:22 PM CST
Macrocentra said:Was the soil allowed to dry all the way through before you watered again? This looks like a fungus or something took over, likely due to too much moisture.


I second the 'overwatering' conclusion.
Keep calm... and plant something.
Name: Sally
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sallyg
Jun 15, 2020 5:11 AM CST
that would be my guess. I think the fungus came later, not as a primary cause.
I am sorry about your plant, I have a sentimental spot for ponytail palms.
The light situation sound like very low light- 3 feet from a window would greatly decrease the light intensity.
i'm pretty OK today, how are you? ;^)
Name: Di
Ontario, Canada (Zone 5a)
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rosebuddy2
Jun 15, 2020 5:42 AM CST
I water mine only once a month. (actually have it on the calendar). Not sure about the white balls, maybe perlite or another filler in the soil for drainage?
"There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." Leonard Cohen
Name: Chenny
Queens, New York (Zone 7a)
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zhengcl86
Jun 15, 2020 10:47 AM CST
rosebuddy2 said:I water mine only once a month. (actually have it on the calendar). Not sure about the white balls, maybe perlite or another filler in the soil for drainage?


even if its perlite. when i squeeze and pop it. There is water coming out.

guess i have watered it to much, oddly enough everytime i touch the soil it always seems dry.
Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
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tarev
Jun 15, 2020 12:29 PM CST
Hello Chenny, you said you acquired the plant 6 to 7 months ago..so that would be around winter time.

Typically, Beaucarnea recurvata, does not need watering during the winter/colder months. It is so drought tolerant. But it would still need as much warmth and light access you can provide. In its preferred habitat, it can easily survive 100F under direct sun, whether dry heat or humid heat, as long as the media is as well draining and gritty as it can.

Looking at the media it was grown in, I would guess it was made that way so it can endure being left dry in stores for longer periods of time while waiting to be sold/purchased. But it is not the best soil for it. Watering it in winter did not help, since the moisture retentiveness of the soil may have easily rotted the roots. It is such a slow growing plant, so in colder environments it is not doing much growing at all, so got to scale back watering. It really likes to get faster drain time and go bone dry before next watering. In most cases, I just water these types of caudex formers/fat stemmed plants thoroughly once a month in winter.

As a reminder for this type of plants, cooler temps and insufficient light in winter while indoors, means less to no watering. It just depends how dry it goes in ones indoor set-up. Of the plants I have, Ponytail palm is one of my favorites, it ably stores water in its fat trunk, so I can always afford not to water it often.

On my side, I can leave this plant outdoors year round since we get milder winters. It endures our light rains in winter. I have repotted it years ago in a shallow but wide mouth container, using cacti mix and adding a lot of pumice and insoluble crushed granite. That way it will take the rains, but still drain out very fast. The coldest it has gotten here often is 30F, but if we do get freeze warnings, I store it indoors to wait out those dangerous freezing temps.On your side, your cold weather is way longer, so indoors it must go in winter to spring but near your sunniest window, ideally a south facing window.

Just to show you how my Ponytail palm media looks like, so you can understand what it means when I say keep it gritty and well draining:

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Good luck, hope you can try again. Crossing Fingers!

[Last edited by tarev - Jun 16, 2020 10:37 AM (+)]
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Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Baja_Costero
Jun 15, 2020 12:35 PM CST
Maybe the white blobs are some kind of moisture control (moisture retentive) product added to the soil. They do not look like insects to me.

It's important to remember that the soil dries out much faster at the surface than it does at depth. You need to poke your finger into the soil to get a sense of the latter. If you judge by the surface layer only, you are pretty much guaranteed to overwater your plant.

I agree that 3 feet away from an east facing window is 3 feet too far. Dial up the light all the way if you can when you try again. The more light the better indoors. That will also speed up evaporation and simplify the watering. The plant should "see" the sun for hours a day year round.

These plants like a lot of light and they don't like it when the soil does not dry out most or all of the way at depth in between watering. If you can adjust those two variables, you can have a long-lived plant to enjoy for many years.
Name: Lin Vosbury
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)

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plantladylin
Jun 15, 2020 1:56 PM CST
Perhaps it's just my old eyes but the roots and soil of your Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) look extremely dry and I wonder if your plant may have succumbed to lack of sufficient moisture at root level.

If you squeeze the caudex, is it soft and pliable, or does it feel firm, without any give? When you watered your plant once a week, how did you water; did you pour water onto the soil until it exited the drainage holes or did you add just a bit of water to the top of the soil and let it seep in? Although the caudex acts as a water storage unit, the water has to sufficiently reach the roots so that they can take it up into the caudex and I wonder if the roots were taking up enough water for storage.

I find Ponytail Palms to be very easy care plants and very drought tolerant. Mine go a long while between watering but when I do water, I soak them thoroughly until water runs out the drainage holes.

The yellow stuff in the soil and on the bottom of the pot looks like some type of slime mold and I agree, the white things that leak liquid when squeezed are likely slow release fertilizer pellets. There are some brands and types that look just like perlite.



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Name: Chenny
Queens, New York (Zone 7a)
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zhengcl86
Jun 16, 2020 8:26 AM CST
@tarev
i did not know they can be put outdoors in direct sun. I will try to give it another try with ponytail palms since this is the 2nd one i've killed lol...luckily they are fairly inexpensive. Maybe ill try and different location if i happen to get another ponytail.

@Baja_Costero
everytime i have watered, ive always run my fingers thru the soil and move it around and poke deep. It always seems to feel dry. I can say that the lighting is a little dark since it sits next to my bedroom TV, that area gets about 1 hour of morning sun and 1 hour of afternoon sun. I only have East and West lighting due to my house being attached to by 2 neighbors. a Townhouse.

@plantladylin
When the leaf stems started falling off 1 by 1 i knew something was wrong and before i tossed it, the caudex did feel soft and squishy. When i watered it would just a little bit and waited for it to seep into the soil.

thanks for the input guys!
Name: TK
Ontario, Canada (Zone 6b)
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Macrocentra
Jun 16, 2020 8:45 AM CST
They love bright sun. Smiling
I have two ponytail palms, and they're hanging out on my patio right now. They come in for the winter, but otherwise live outside in the sun for the summer (and spring if it's reasonable weather).
Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
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tarev
Jun 16, 2020 10:49 AM CST
Hi Chenny, ponytail palms are one of the drought tolerant and heat tolerant plants that I have tested nicely in my area, especially here where we go 6 to 7 months very dry season, zero rain mostly and around summer temps peak often 100F and higher.

It is during the colder seasons as it comes around that you must be very mindful of watering. The moment you feel sogginess in its trunk, it is already in such distress due to rotting and oftentimes, recovery becomes futile. Better to keep it drier than overwater during the winter months. During the dry months, it will appreciate a bit more watering, but still with intervals, after all, it has good drought tolerant capacity.

When I do hide some succulents indoors, they are all positioned by my south facing window, or any window other than a north facing window, so they can get as much light they can get. Then by the time they need to enjoy outdoor growing again, I have to patiently wait that overnight temps are at least 50F and higher. When being brought out, got to do it gradually too, so it can slowly acclimate to ones outdoor temps and light levels, so I often position them first in part sun, just getting morning sun for the most part..then into more sun maybe after a week or so.

Our growing areas are quite different, so you have to also observe your outdoor conditions, since it varies a lot as seasons change and our respective locations.

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