Ponytail palm care: how to avoid brown leaves


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True, an elephant’s foot can linger as a houseplant for decades. But the long-lasting plant should not lack proper care. Find out all about ponytail palm care.

Pony tail palm in a pot
Only with the right care will your pony tail stay healthy [Photo: Olla Yakovleva/ Shutterstock.com]

The ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata), also known as elephant’s foot, has a thick, succulent stem that stores water and nutrients. That is how it gets through bad times in its native Mexico. This self-sufficiency makes it the ideal beginner plant. Unfortunately, this self-sufficiency is not taken very seriously by many an overprotective plant guardian. Because with a little sip of water here and a little more fertiliser there, you are not supporting your protégé, but can even harm it. To ensure the houseplant shines in rich green, here is everything about the right care and tips to avoid brown leaves.

Ponytail palm care: the most important basics

The small indoor tree grows very slowly, can store water as well as nutrients, so it does not need much attention if placed in the right place:

  • Location: Warm and bright; no midday sun or draughts
  • Window seat: occasionally turn the pot a quarter

The twists make the trunk grow nice and straight. In summer, the ponytail palm is happy to have a nice place outside, protected from rain, because it is no couch potato. However, at the beginning you need to acclimatise the plant slowly over two weeks. To allow it to become accustomed to unfiltered sunlight, the sapling is gradually moved to a brighter and brighter location.

Watering ponytail palm

When caring for a ponytail palm, it is rarely necessary to reach for the watering can. The general rule is:

  • Water as soon as the soil dries out completely
  • Water thoroughly

In winter, watering is necessary only if the sapling is in a heated room. Watering more frequently in smaller amounts increases the risk of waterlogging and therefore rot. By the way, hard water is no problem for the elephant’s foot plant.

Pony tail palm plant
Water infrequently but thoroughly


Less is more when it comes to fertilisation, too, because elephant’s foot needs only moderate amounts of nutrients due to its internal storage. Fertilise the ponytail palm as follows:

  • Growth phase: Every four weeks
  • Fertiliser: cactus fertiliser or green plant fertiliser (half dose)
  • Fertilise no sooner than eight weeks after repotting
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Ponytail palm winter care

In winter, elephant’s foot needs constant cool temperatures between 5 and 15 °C. When choosing a location, remember that the warmer this Mexican native is, the more light it needs. In addition, excessive heating air during overwintering quickly leads to pest infestation. Therefore, you should regularly look for pests in the winter. For more on the most common diseases, see our overview article on the ponytail palm. To prevent your plant from getting cold feet in the winter, lay out wooden, cork or Styrofoam boards under pots that stand on tile or stone.

Black spots on the pony tail palm leaves
In winter, the pony tail palm is particularly susceptible to diseases and pests [Photo: DSGNSR1/ Shutterstock.com]

Repotting ponytail palms

Like its grey namesake, the elephant’s foot is rather sedate. But even if feet grow slowly, at some point they become too big for their shoes. Every three to five years, it is time to repot. This time is signalled as follows:

  • Stem has the same circumference as the pot
  • Root ball is pressed out of the pot

The ponytail palm then moves to a pot about 2 inches larger.

Potted pony tail palm indoors
Due to its slow growth, pony tail palm does not need to be repotted often [Photo: k7m7v7/ Shutterstock.com]

Avoiding brown leaves on ponytail palms

The ponytail palm belongs to the Dracaenaceae family. In many members of this family, including elephant’s foot, the lower leaves of the shoots die off with age. Thus, only the tip of the shoot bears green leaves. So you should not worry about a few brown leaves. It only becomes critical when not as many leaves grow back as turn brown. Then you have to look for the cause and fight it.

Ponytail palm with brown leaves: possible causes

Unfortunately, there is not just one cause of brown leaves. A variety of aspects influence whether the leaves of your ponytail palm develop brown tips. However, most are related to improper care:

  • Leaves bumping against the ground/walls
  • Sunburn due to too much sunlight
  • Cutting back the leaves
  • Waterlogging due to too frequent watering
  • Winter: Too little humidity due to heating air; too warm; lack of light; too little watering
  • Temperatures too cold
  • Too few nutrients due to a pot that is too small

What can be done about brown leaves?

Once brown, the leaves will not turn green again even with the greatest effort. You can only remove affected leaves or cut off the brown leaf tips. When removing brown tips, leave a small part. Otherwise more of the leaf will turn brown. The only effective countermeasure is therefore prevention. Do not allow brown leaves to develop in the first place. If it does come to this, the following will help prevent the damage from spreading:

  • Place the plant on a plant stool or table
  • Do not place the plant in the blazing midday sun
  • Leave the small brown part standing; carry out a radical pruning of the elephant tree
  • Repot in dry soil and remove damaged roots; water less
  • Spray with lukewarm, low-lime water; lower room temperature
  • Increase room temperature; keep out of draughts
  • Repot in a larger pot
  • The measures listed are in order of the causes mentioned above

If you are interested in further care measures or tips for propagating your ponytail palm, we recommend this article.