Ponytail Palm Care Outdoors: Answering Questions

I’ve grown Ponytail Palms outdoors in 2 very different climates for years now. Both with mild winters but that’s where the similarity ended. Ponytails do great in pots and this is where my experience with growing them lies. Their care outside in containers is a snap. These tips for Ponytail Palm care outdoors, along with other things good to know,  will help you out.

I grew 3 Ponytail Palms in Santa Barbara (where I lived for 10 years) and brought my 3-trunked specimen with me when I moved to Tucson. The coast of Southern California (San Diego right up into the Central Coast) is the ideal climate for growing these succulents outdoors. The fog tends to linger until mid-morning and the temps are mild year round.

Tucson (in the Sonoran Desert) is much hotter in summer, colder in the winter and the sun is more intense than along the California coast. Ponytails do fine here but from what I’ve seen and experienced, they prefer protection from all day summer sun.

a ponytail palm grows outdoors in a terra cotta pot decorated with colored shells

One of my Ponytails in Santa Barbara which I left behind with a friend when I moved to Tucson. I could only fit so many plants in my car, & boy it was packed to the gills!

Ponytail Palms are succulents and you may see them called Beaucarnea recurvata or Elephant Foot Plant. Be sure to check out the post I recently did on growing Ponytail Palms as houseplants. With care posts, I usually list out the points in bullet form but I’m going to do this 1 in question and answer format for a change.

Ponytail Palm care, whether they’re growing outdoors or indoors, is about as easy as it gets. 

How Tall Do Ponytail Palms Get?

They can get 12 -24′ tall when growing outside in the ground. The tallest I’ve seen 1 in a container is 9′. 

The taller they get, the longer the leaves get. If my Ponytail was on the ground & not on a pedestal, the leaves would be touching the patio floor.

a large specimen ponytail palm beaucarnea recurvata grows in a desert garden

Here’s a well established Ponytail Palm at the Huntington Library & Gardens near Pasadena.

How Fast Do Ponytail Palms Grow?

Bad news, good news here. Ponytail Palms grow very slowly. A 12″ tall plant won’t reach 5′ anytime soon.

The good news is that they don’t need repotting very often because of their slow growth rate.

Can Ponytail Palms Take Full Sun?

It depends on the degree of the sun.

Somewhere with a climate like the coast of Central/Southern California, yes they can. I had 1 growing in morning sun & 2 in afternoon sun in Santa Barbara. Both were healthy as can be.

Here in Tucson (the Sonoran Desert in Arizona) I think they look better sheltered from the full sun, especially the strong afternoon sun. Mine grows on the side patio in bright light but with no direct sun. 

I’ve seen a couple of others here in town which are growing in afternoon sun. The leaves are yellowish & the plants look dried out. This could also be from a lack of water. Mine, as you can see below, is much greener & healthier looking.

a large 3 trunked ponytail palm grows outdoors in a pot underplanted with burros tail succulents

My 3-trunked Ponytail Palm right before I repotted it into its current pot. That’s back when the Burro’s Tail Sedums were nice & robust!

How Often Should I Water My Ponytail Palm?

As I said, Ponytail Palms are succulents. The plant stores water in its onion-shaped bulbous base (caudex) as well as the trunk (stem). If you water it too often, then the bulb will rot out as well as the trunk. Even though the bulb is hard on the outside, it’s soft on the inside & is subject to bacterial root rot.

I water my Ponytail in a large pot every 3 weeks in the summer months & every 5-6 weeks in winter. In Santa Barbara I watered mine about the same but they were in smaller pots.

The above is a general guideline for you – adjust it accordingly. Your Ponytail might need watering less often. Basically, the more light, warmth, & the smaller the pot size, the more often yours will need it. 

Larger specimens & those in cooler temps, will need watering less often. Mind the soil mix it’s in too – more on that below.

Are Ponytail Palms Cold Hardy?

Not totally – they won’t survive a period of prolonged freeze. They’ll be damaged if the temps. dip below 20-22F.

In Santa Barbara the winter temps rarely dipped below 40F so no worries. The lowest the winter temps have gotten here in Tucson are 27F so it hasn’t been an issue for my well established Ponytail Palm.

a ponytail palm beaucarnea recurvata with multiple heads grows in a greenhouse

Ponytail Palms come in many forms. This has 1 trunk & multiple heads.

Can I Grow my Ponytail Outdoors in Summer?

If your Ponytail Palm grows inside in the colder months, it would appreciate being outside in the summer. Just make sure it doesn’t stay too wet or get too much scorching sun. So, if you’re in a climate with a lot of summer rain, you’ll want to grow it under overhead protection (but in a bright location). 

What Kind of Soil is Best for a Ponytail Palm?

One that drains well & is aerated. This way there’s less chance for over watering & root rot.

As for a soil mix, I would recommend planting yours in succulent & cactus mix.

I now make my own succulent & cactus mix  but I recommend any of the mixes listed right below if you can’t find 1 locally or don’t want to make your own. 

A few online options for buying succulent & cactus mix: Bonsai Jack (this 1 is very gritty; great for those prone to overwatering!), Hoffman’s (this is more cost effective if you have a lot of succulents but you might have to add pumice or perlite), or Superfly Bonsai (another fast draining 1 like Bonsai Jack which is great for indoor succulents).

You can plant a Ponytail Palm in potting soil (with a good amount of pumice or perlite added in) but you have to be very mindful not to over water it. Remember, that bulbous base rots out easily. As an alternative, you could use 1/2 potting soil & 1/2 succulent & cactus mix.

More details on how I transplanted my large Ponytail Palm & the mix I used here in Tucson.

a 3 trunked ponytail palm grows outdoors in a glossy blue pot sitting on a grey pedestal

My 3-trunked Ponytail Palm when it was a lot smaller. Oh how you’ve grown into a fine specimen!

When Should I Repot my Ponytail Palm?

Spring & summer are the best times for repotting/planting.

I’ve repotted my 3-headed Ponytail Palm, which I bought at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market 11 years ago, 3 times now. It’s currently growing in a 22″ pot & I won’t repot it again for a very long time if ever.

The bulb grows as the plant grows so you may have to repot it into a bigger pot at some point just to keep everything in scale. Other reasons for repotting: a plant too tight in its pot has a hard time taking up water & receiving enough oxygen to the roots. And, sometimes the soil just gets old, looses its nourishments & needs to be replaced.

Do Ponytails Need Pruning?

I’ve never pruned my Ponytail Palms because they haven’t needed it. The lowest leaves gradually turn yellow & die off  (this happens very slowly) as the plant grows. I pull them off the trunk; I don’t prune them because they come off easily.

Can You Cut the Top Off of a Ponytail Palm?

You can prune the head & trunk (stem) off of a Ponytail Palm & propagate it. If enough of the trunk is left on the bulb, new growth in the form of multiple sprouts will appear off the trunk. Otherwise, they’ll come off the bulb. Sometimes you’ll get new growth appearing on both the bulb & trunk.

My neighbor in Santa Barbara planted a few Ponytail Palms in his sidewalk strip.   2 of them got decapitated  & the heads were cut off.  The result is: 3 or 4 sprouts appeared & all turned into healthy-sized heads.

 Straight cuts usually bring multiple sprouts where cut & sometimes a few at the base.  

Be warned: it can take a few months for any signs of new growth to appear so be patient.

How Do I Grow Multiple Trunks on a Ponytail Palm?

My Ponytail has multiple trunks because 3 small plants were planted together. If you cut the single head & trunk of yours off, then multiple sprouts will appear. 

The sprouts will form heads & trunks will eventually form as they grow. This is a very slow process so don’t expect a specimen plant to develop any time soon. And, in this case, there will always be 1 bulb.

How Do I Make my Ponytail Palm Grow Taller?

Patience. The best thing is to have it in optimum growing conditions.

small ponytail palms beaucarnea recurvata in orange grow pots

A tray of Ponytail Palms propagated from seed.

How Are Ponytail Palms Propagated?

The growers propagate them by seed. Or, in the case of my 3-headed Ponytail Palm, i could propagate it by division.

They can also be propagated by removing the pups (the babies or new growth via sprouts) at the base. I’ve only done this once & am admittedly not very experienced at it. You can pull the pups away from or cut them off the bulb using clean & sharp pruners or a knife.

When I made the cut, I was sure to get some roots along with the baby plant. I planted it in a 4″ pot filled with succulent & cactus mix & kept it relatively moist until the roots grew to be more established. 

Are Ponytail Palms Safe for Pets?

They are considered to be non-toxic to both cats & dogs. I always consult the ASPCA website for this info. 

I’m not sure about dogs, but some kitties love to chew on the crunchy leaves. It might make them sick so just be warned of that.

Why Are the Tips of my Ponytail Palm Turning Brown?

Ponytail Palms develop brown tips in reaction to dry air. Mine has many more of them here in the desert than it did in Santa Barbara,

If it’s more than just the tips, it’s most likely a watering issue (too much or too little) or over fertilizing.

a tall ponytail palm beaucarnea recurvata with yellowish leaves grows  in a garden

My, my – the ends of this Ponytail Palm have been hacked!

Do I Need to Fertilize my Ponytail?

Once or twice a year max would be fine.

I feed mine with worm compost & compost every spring. For a large pot like mine, I apply a 1″ layer of the worm compost & a 2″ layer of the compost.

I don’t fertilize my Ponytail Palm & never have. If you choose to fertilize yours, don’t over do it because salts build-up & can burn the roots of the plant. This will show up as brown spots or large brown tips on the leaves. 

Avoid fertilizing a plant which is stressed, ie. bone dry or soaking wet.

You don’t want to fertilize your plants in late fall or winter because that’s their time for rest.

Why is the Caudex (Bulbous Base) of my Ponytail Palm Soft?

The bulb stores water along with the stem & roots. In most cases, a soft bulb is due to over watering.

Do Ponytails Get Any Pests?

I have never seen a Ponytail Palm growing outdoors with any pests. Indoors is a different story – they can be more prone to them.

Do Ponytail Palms Flower?

I’ve seen quite a few in flower outdoors. The older plants are the ones which bloom in spring/early summer. You can see the flowers here.

a very large double trunked ponytail palm beaucarnea recurvata grows in a greenhouse

If you want a tall Ponytail Palm like this from the get go, then buy it this way. Because they grow so slowly, a specimen like this will cost a good chunk of change.

I love Ponytail Palms because they’re so easy to maintain in containers yet so very interesting.  They handle the dry air like champions and loved to be ignored. If you don’t have 1 already, why not give 1 a try? You’ll be hooked too!

Happy gardening,

Signed by Nell Foster

You might find these helpful: Ponytail Palm Care

15 Easy To Grow Houseplants

How to Transplant A Large Ponytail Palm

Rubber Plant: Growing Tips for this Easy Care Indoor Tree

You can find more houseplant info in my simple and easy to digest houseplant care guide: Keep Your Houseplants Alive

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  1. Connie – The dark substance is most likely a sealing wax. The growers do that when a branch or stem that’s being pruned is sizable to prevent infection. I’ve never used it. Nell

  2. if i plant my ponytail plant outdoors should i keep it away from structures like the house, driveway and underground pipes

  3. Hi – Although Ponytail Palms have a relatively shallow root system, it could depend on the size of the plant. Those large ones need an anchor for those big bulbs. I’ve never heard of it being a problem but then again, I’ve always grown them outdoors in pots. Nell

  4. I live in Phoenix and would like to know if these plants can stay outside during the winter if they are under a patio cover. Thank you.

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