Ask a Question forum: Repot Pony Tails

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Name: Joan W.
Myrtle Point, Oregon (20 mi in (Zone 8b)
42north
Jun 9, 2017 2:03 PM CST
I was gifted in January with a very cute 4" pot with 6 small pony tail palms in it. They range in bulb size from 1/4' to 1&1/4". I think I should repot it/them. Reading about them has not revealed how to treat a multi-bulb situation. My inclination is to separate them all into a single pot for each. Or should I do two to a pot? Or just leave them as is and enjoy the multiclump? The foliage parts are doing just fine except for where the cat was able to sneak in a nibble. (I have stopped that.)

I expect this early in the growing season it will be ok to plant...it/they will be indoor plants. We live in SW Oregon in the Coast Range with marauding deer. I have a modestly gray thumb and do enjoy the wide botanical world. I am not, however, an accomplished gardener, thus the deer get most of what I try to grow outdoors. The rest struggle.

Many thanks,

Joan Walsh
Dora, Oregon
SW Coast Range
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Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Baja_Costero
Jun 9, 2017 2:16 PM CST
Those plants have the capacity to become big trees, each one, with time. If you leave more than one in a pot, they will compete with each other and slow down collectively. After many years together such a clump may grow into an interesting group, like an oddity because they end up growing sideways. I have one of these plants flying solo and three more sharing a pot to compare, side by side.

Looks like you've got a clump of 6. I would break it into 2 clumps of 3 if you want to proceed cautiously, with the minimum intervention. Otherwise you can pot each plant up separately, or in pairs, however you like. Do it carefully, with minimum damage to the roots, but this is definitely a good time of year to take action.

Those seedlings will appreciate a bit more space, like a pot that size for each plant, for starters. I don't use pots smaller than 4" because they dry out very fast. Use soil with good drainage (I like 50% pumice) and pots that are wider than deep. Do not water them in after separating them and potting them up -- wait a week or so to water, so the roots have time to heal, to minimize problems with rot. From there on out just remember these plants are adapted to survive arid conditions, and they like the soil to go dry between watering. Provide as much light as possible indoors, for the best health of the plants, also to encourage compact growth... less top-heaviness to deal with later.
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Jun 9, 2017 2:22 PM (+)]
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Name: Philip Becker
Fresno California (Zone 8a)
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Philipwonel
Jun 9, 2017 2:30 PM CST
I'd give them each there own little pot. They, grow slow, and like to be root-bound, in pots, with no water in winter, and very spariling water, rest of year.
If its not to cold, you could try a couple in ground. They grow faster that way.
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Name: Philip Becker
Fresno California (Zone 8a)
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Philipwonel
Jun 9, 2017 2:47 PM CST
Ohh !!! Dora ! Yikes ! I forgot you mentioned deers. They might eat tops, and even whole bulbs off. 😬
I would keep at least a couple inside, in brightess window in house, tell you see if deer are going to chomp-em.
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Name: Tiffany purpleinopp
Opp, AL 🌵🌷⚘🌹🌻 (Zone 8b)
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purpleinopp
Jun 9, 2017 3:30 PM CST
Please let the "likes to be root-/pot- bound myth rest in peace. Should I say "for peat's sake?" ;)
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What is necessary for plants to stay alive is for their roots to not rot, which can happen so easily in a pot with dense soils, like ground dirt, or bagged mixes of predominantly tiny particles of peat, (or to simply shrivel from simply never getting any water.) Having very little soil around the roots would make the soil dry more quickly, and for even the most dedicated plant-overwaterers to not rot the roots of their plants. This is not ideal, since most non-cactus plants are stressed by dry conditions, it's just a way of coping with soil that has little air in it when moist.

Negative experiences in regard to potting-up, where an undisturbed root ball is placed into a bigger pot with more soil around it, vs. doing a repotting, as described below, can give rise to old wives' tales about plants not liking to be repotted/disturbed. Potting-up a root-bound plant that has roots surrounding the outside root ball often lead to this negative experience because those roots had adapted to accessing oxygen around the outside of the root ball and surrounding them with more dense, soggy-but-airless potting soil will likely lead to suffocation.

The reason bonsai masters are able to keep potted entities alive for hundreds of years is because they care for the roots by trimming them and changing the soil. A plant grows from the roots-up, so if the roots are not healthy, gorgeous foliage will decline &/or no flowers can form. When you unpot a plant and find a pancake of roots at the bottom, chopping that off will give roots a chance to grow normally again for a while and will make removing the old soil easier.

Roots need oxygen & moisture at the same time to function. Just air = shriveling. Just moisture = suffocation & rotting. Either will cause root death and dessicated foliage because the roots have been unable to deliver moisture. Having to let soil dry, as if ones' tropical jungle plant was a cactus, is an unnecessarily stressful coping mechanism for non-desert dwelling plants in soil without enough oxygen for the roots to stay healthy when it is moist and can lead to premature loss of older leaves and in extreme cases, dry shriveled roots/dead plant.

The ability of roots to be able to function properly depends greatly on the soil structure/texture, which can change over time. Potting soil tends to be very dense, mostly peat, with very little air in it. Any kind of organic ingredients decompose into smaller bits over time, and roots fill air spaces over time as they grow through soil. Replacing soil periodically is usually necessary to keep plants healthy because of these reasons. A more porous, chunky, airy soil (like cactus/palm, if one is buying bagged,) can have more air in it even when it is moist because there is space between the particles. When there are tiny particles of any kind in a pot, such as peat, sand, silt, clay, they filter into all of the tiny spaces in a pot, eliminating the air. "Overwatering" is the label and manifestation when roots have suffocated and/or rotted, combo of both. Over time, organic bits decompose into smaller bits, so even the "best" soil, if it has organic components, will need to be replaced when this happens. The speed at which this happens depends on many variables, but on average, about 1-3 years.
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Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
Cactus and Succulents Seed Starter Foliage Fan Xeriscape Container Gardener Hummingbirder
Native Plants and Wildflowers Garden Photography Region: Mexico Plant Identifier Forum moderator Plant Database Moderator
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Baja_Costero
Jun 9, 2017 5:17 PM CST
Thank you for that helpful explanation, Tiffany. Yes, I don't think there are too many plants that actually prefer to be rootbound. To the extent the situation is not better described as their roots not needing a lot of space. There is a difference. This is a tree. It does not need a lot of space, small steps are probably better, but intentionally leaving the roots gnarled up in too small a container only slows the plant to a crawl. Given space limitations indoors, that may be practical, but the longer you leave a plant like this untouched in a small container, the slower it's going to be.

I would encourage the curious to do the actual experiment. Which is to say try growing two plants side by side, one seriously root bound and the other with an extra half inch of soil around the root ball. Watch how they grow differently. See how one responds to the extra space. See how the difference becomes greater over time. When you have 5 or 6 plants to start with, these kinds of experiments are probably a good way to get to know the plants better.

Also, not watering one of these plants in winter just forces it into a sort of dormancy. That is neither necessary nor helpful, given mild conditions. The important thing to keep an eye on as the days grow shorter and the light gets dimmer (like in an Oregon winter) is the exposure of your plant. If it's getting less sun, or the temperatures are getting lower, water less often. But given a reasonably climate-controlled interior and strong light, you'd want to water your ponytail palm year round.
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Jun 9, 2017 5:22 PM (+)]
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Name: Tiffany purpleinopp
Opp, AL 🌵🌷⚘🌹🌻 (Zone 8b)
Houseplants Organic Gardener Composter Region: Gulf Coast Miniature Gardening Native Plants and Wildflowers
Tropicals Butterflies Garden Sages Cactus and Succulents Plant Identifier Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
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purpleinopp
Jun 10, 2017 5:06 AM CST
I have repotted the little one I have had for about 6 yrs 3 times already. For the size of trunk and mass of foliage, it has humongous roots that needed to be trimmed significantly to fit back into a 10" hanging pot. It needs repotting again, it's drying too quickly for my schedule.

👀😁😂 - SMILE! -☺😎☻☮👌✌∞☯🐣🐦🐔🐝🍯🐾
The less I interfere, the more balance mother nature provides.
👒🎄👣🏡🍃🍂🌾🌿🍁❦❧ 🍃🍁🍂🌾🌻🌸🌼🌹🌽❀☀🌺
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