Loved for being a low-maintenance way to bring a tropical feel to your home, Ponytail Palms are great for all types of plant parents. However, just because they aren’t as sensitive as a lot of other plant types out there, this doesn’t mean they are immune to the usual problems.
There can be quite a few different reasons why your Ponytail Palm is dying so it’s best to go through each of them below and eliminate them one by one. We will also go through ways to diagnose the issue, treat it and how to adjust your care or environment to stop it from causing havoc with your Ponytail Palm in future.
Overwatering can cause a Ponytail Palm to start drooping
One of the most common causes of drooping Ponytail Palm leaves is consistent overwatering. It can be pretty easy to do as problems within the potting mix are hidden for a long time before they start to show up on your plant. Alongside this, Ponytail Palms don’t need that much water so waterlogged soil can cause quite severe problems for your Ponytail Palm fairly quickly.
If drooping leaves are the only thing that seems to be wrong with your Ponytail Palm, then this is good news. Often this means you have caught the problem before it’s progressed very far and is often easier to fix. Other signs of overwatering include soft leaves, brown or yellow leaves and potting mix that smells damp so look out for these to help diagnose the issue as well.
The reason that overwatering is so harmful to your Ponytail Palm is that it causes waterlogged soil which then causes the root system to rot which starves your Ponytail Palm of oxygen and nutrients. It also means that the roots can’t physically support the rest of the plant anymore. The combination of these two factors is why consistent overwatering will often cause your Ponytail Palm to droop its leaves and stems.
You want to be sure that overwatering is the cause of your drooping Ponytail Palm before you adjust your watering habits. The last thing you want to do is cut back water when that isn’t the issue. The first thing to do is to take your Ponytail Palm out of its pot and inspect the potting mix and root system. If the soil feels soggy and clumpy, then this means your plant has been overwatered. If the roots are soft and mushy it suggests that this issue has been going on for a while.
How to fix an overwatered Ponytail Palm
The first thing to do is replace the potting mix immediately if it’s still waterlogged. Don’t wait for the soil to dry out on its own as this risks causing even more damage to an already rotting root system and drooping plant.
At the same time as replacing the soil, trim off any soft and mushy roots/ leaves. If your Ponytail Palm is trying to keep rotting leaves and roots alive, it will be wasting valuable energy that could be used to stop drooping and produce new growth.
How to prevent overwatering (and more drooping leaves)
Now that you’ve fixed the issue for the time being and your Ponytail Palm should be on the road to recovery, let’s flip the attention to ensuring that the issue doesn’t happen again and cause your Ponytail Palm to start drooping in future.
Only water when the potting mix is dry.
This ensures that there is enough time between waterings to avoid waterlogged soil and root rot. There are several ways to determine the soil moisture levels but the most reliable is using a a moisture meter.
Ensure good drainage.
This means your plant won’t begin to droop or die if you accidentally overwater once or twice. Having good drainage holes in your pot, using a well-draining potting mix that includes perlite and switching to terracotta pots are all ways you can increase the drainage for your Ponytail Palm and avoid drooping leaves.
Downsize your pot if necessary.
One major factor when it comes to overwatering is the pot size and soil-to-root system ratio. The more soil there is in the pot, the longer it takes for it to dry out which increases the risk of root issues.
Adjust your watering schedule depending on the environment.
We never recommend a rigid plant watering calendar as although it can be useful to help forgetful waterers, they aren’t good for our plants. This is because there are so many factors that impact how much water your Ponytail Palm needs, from maturity, sunlight levels, pot size, temperature and time of year.
A drooping Ponytail Palm can also indicate underwatering
The strange (and often frustrating) thing about drooping leaves on an Ponytail Palm and many other houseplants is that as well as too much water, the issue can also be caused by a lack of water.
Whilst Ponytail Palms are actually a type of succulent (meaning they don’t need frequent watering), this doesn’t mean that they can go weeks and months without a single drop. This will start to cause issues such as drooping leaves and stems and brown leaf tips and edges and entire leaves.
However, before you start pouring buckets of water over your plant, you need to make sure that this is really the cause of the drooping leaves on your Ponytail Palm. As with overwatering, we recommend checking the moisture in the soil, either using the finger method to test how moist the potting mix is or by removing the plant from the pot. If the soil is dry and feels sandy, and the roots look a little crispy and shrivelled, then underwatering is likely the cause.
How to fix an underwatered Ponytail Palm
The first thing to do is give your Ponytail Palm a soak so that it can start to take in some moisture. You want to keep this brief, about 10 minutes or so in a bucket of water before letting it drip dry. The reason soaking is better than top watering, in this case, is that often when watering really dry soil, it flows right through and out the bottom of the pot which doesn’t help the issue at all.
Then over the next week, you want to water a little bit once a day so that you avoid sudden changes in the environment. Moving forward, adjust your watering habits so that you are keeping an eye on when the potting mix is dry so you know when it’s time to water your Ponytail Palm. Using a moisture meter is a great way to avoid any more drooping leaves in future. As a guide, you want to either be watering more frequently than you did before, or giving your Palm more water each time you do.
So those are the most common reasons why your Ponytail Palm is dying. Watering and soil moisture are tricky ones to get right for any plant, but Ponytail Palms are just a little bit more sensitive to it sometimes.
It’s also all about adjusting your watering habits to account for individual factors such as plant age, maturity, size, pot size, temperature, sunlight and drainage levels. All these things (and more) can dictate how much water your Ponytail Palm needs so it can be overwhelming at first. But with the methods we outlined above, you can make sure you prevent your Ponytail Palm from dying and get it back to tip-top health.
To learn more about how to keep your plant happy outside of watering habits, check out our Ponytail Palm care guide.
Written by Billy Dawson