6 Common Ponytail Palm Problems (And Solutions)

Ponytail palms or the Beaucarnea recurvata are a go-to beginner plant. They are known for being drought tolerant and even low maintenance.

They thrive in bright, indirect light and are not too receptive to being in shady or low-light areas.

The ponytail palm or the bottle palm, however, is quite forgiving if you make mistakes when caring for it.

Common Ponytail Palm Problems
Photo by Chieh, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, via Flickr

Suppose your indoor palm does run into some trouble. In that case, it may be due to an issue with fertilizer, watering, light, or even a pest.

Each issue you may run into is easy to solve and can bring life back into your ponytail palm.

1. Light Yellow Leaves on a Ponytail Palm

Light yellow leaves on a ponytail palm can be caused for several reasons. This may be from overwatering and insufficient sunlight.

The ponytail palm prefers bright, indirect light. So, ensuring it is in your home’s brightest place is essential. However, if it is not, the leaves start yellowing or lacking color.

Browning and burnt leaves could even be a product of overwatering. If it is overwatering, you will notice that the soil is damp, with yellowing and drooping leaves.

Move Your Ponytail Palm to a Brighter Area 

To make sure all the healthy leaves and parts of the plant grow bright green and healthy, you will need to move your ponytail palm to a brighter spot.

It is important to find a place with the most sun throughout the day.

If there are large amounts of yellow or dead leaves, you should prune these leaves to encourage new growth.

Any new growth will be bright and rich green. When you see this foliage, you will know that your palm tree is in the perfect spot and is healthy again.

Yellowing from Overwatering

If your bottle palm is turning yellow from overwatering, you will notice that the soil is very damp or wet. You will also see that the leaves are not only yellow but also drooping and limp.

Ponytail palms prefer their soil to dry out before you water them thoroughly. If you are watering your palm tree and the soil is still wet, hold off watering it and wait until it is dry.

How to Reverse Damage from Overwatering

If your ponytail palm faces root rot, you must cut off the infected roots and leave only healthy ones. When you transplant your palm, you must make sure the soil is new and fresh.

To ensure it is growing right, place it in water before putting it in the soil to ensure the roots are thriving.

However, if you do not notice any root rot, you will repot your plant in fresh soil and wait until the soil is completely dry before watering your palm.

2. Burnt or Brown Leaves on a Ponytail Palm

While ponytail palms love bright indirect light, the leaves will burn and turn brown if they get too much direct sunlight.

Browning and burnt leaves could even be a product of overwatering. If it is overwatering, you will notice that the soil is damp, along with yellowing and drooping leaves. 

Move Your Ponytail Palm

If your ponytail palm gets direct sunlight, move it to a different area of your home.

This will be through a bright window that gets a great amount of light throughout the day. 

3. Black Spots on Foliage of a Ponytail Palm

Black spots on a ponytail palm are usually due to sunburning as the palm tree is getting too much sun.

High exposure to direct and bright sunlight can cause a great amount of burning, similar to browning leaves.

Prune the Burnt Leaves

It is important for you to move your palm tree to a bright place in your home, but ensure that it is bright indirect light and not direct.

You will have to prune the leaves that are brown or have black spots. Pruning will allow your palm to create new and bright green, healthy leaves.

4. Curling Leaves

If your ponytail leaves curl in odd directions, you could be underwatering or overfertilizing your palm tree.

Curling could even be caused because the humidity is too low, and it is placed under an air vent.

Underwatering

If you are underwatering your ponytail palm, you will notice that the soil is bone dry and even browning leaves. If this is the case, you are underwatering your ponytail palm.

You should water your palm and remove any standing water. It is important to prune any curling or discolored leaves.

Overfertilization

If you have just recently fertilized your ponytail palm and now the leaves are curling, you have either fertilized the plant too much or have not diluted the fertilizer enough. 

It is important to only use fertilizer once or twice in the growing season as the ponytail palm does not require too much of it. When you overfeed your palm, the leaves will be dehydrated, leading to curling and browning.

To fix this, repot your plant in fresh soil with no fertilizer. You should wait until the following growing season to fertilize the palm tree.

Low Humidity 

Since the ponytail palm is native to a humid and wet environment, you will have to make sure to replicate that environment in your home.

If it is not humid enough, the leaves will become dehydrated. This may happen from your palm being under an air vent or just in a dry environment.

To stop this from happening, you should move your ponytail palm away from any air vent and midst the leaves every so often.

You can even add a humidifier to the room that the plant is in. When you do this, the leaves will uncurl and look healthier.

5. Freckles and Fungal Bacteria

If your ponytail palm has fungal bacteria, you will notice freckles and brown spots on the plant.

While it is not life-threatening to your palm, you still may want to remove the fungus for cosmetic purposes.

How to Get Rid of Fungus on a Ponytail Palm

To remove any fungal-infected leaves on your palm tree, spray the plant with an anti-fungal.

After this, you should increase the air circulation of the area where the plant is. This will stop any new fungal growth.

6. Signs of Pests on a Ponytail Palm

Pests can cause your ponytail palm to rot and eventually die.

The pests are taking away the nutrients from the plant and the soil, causing issues with the palm.

Whenever you water your palm, you should inspect the leaves for scales, spider mites, or even mealybugs.

  • Scales. You will notice that scales are black dots that sit on the stem of your plant. They will be in large clumps around the tree.
  • Mealybugs. Mealybugs are fast breeders and can easily become a long-haul problem. They are strong and look white, like cotton.
  • Spider mites. Spider mites are tiny red and brown spiders. You will notice their webbing under the leaves and anywhere on the plant.

You should wipe your plant with insecticide or neem oil to remove any insects or signs of them.

After thoroughly washing your plant and removing all the bugs, you should continue to treat the plant so the issue does not come back.

Repotting your plant in new soil is essential to eradicate the problem completely.

How to Prevent Future Issues

To keep your ponytail palm in pristine condition, you should follow these steps to ensure it is always healthy. 

  1. Place your palm tree in bright, indirect light and avoid direct sunlight. 
  2. Make sure your soil is completely dry before watering it. 
  3. Be sure to mist your palm tree to ensure it is humid enough and is not getting dehydrated. 
  4. Do not overfertilize the palm tree; only do so in the growing season. 
  5. Every time you water your palm tree, check for any pests so it does not lead to an infestation or even kill your palm tree. 

To always keep your ponytail palm healthy, you should always inspect the palm tree for any issues.

Maintaining the plant will always keep it in excellent condition, allowing it to grow prosperously.