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Repotting & Top Dressing My Ponytail Palm

Repotting & Top Dressing My Ponytail Palm

Ponytail Palms and lizards go hand in hand – both love sunshine and warm temps. I bought it years ago as a little young’un in a 4″ pot.

To the left you see the second pot my little Ponytail Palm was growing in. I repotted it once more a few of years ago and now it was time for its fourth repotting adventure.

I decided to make it a little fancy pants and top dress it with turquoise rock to go the whole shell theme thang going on.

There’s a seafest on my front patio now!

Ponytail Palms are as tough as can be and very easy to repot if they’re not too big.

I have a larger, 3-headed specimen on my office patio and it’s quite heavy. Here are a few pointers if you ever need to repot your Ponytail Palm:

They grow slowly but need a pot large enough to hold its bulbous base.

That bulb stores water so as the plant grows, so does the bulb.  You need to be a muscle man to lift a large, specimen Ponytail. 

They are not palms.

They’re in the Asparagus family but act more like succulents as they are drought tolerant.  They store water in that round base.

Plant them in an organic succulent and cactus mix.

They need to stay on the dry side.  Also, make sure the drainage is excellent.

Ponytails don’t need fertilizer.

I amend at planting time with organic compost and worm castings. Twice a year I water in some manure tea. Read about my worm compost/compost feeding right here.

Never sink the bulbous base lower than its existing soil line.

Leave the root ball up about an inch or so higher than you want it – the weight of the plant will pull it down in the light planting mix.

I leave it dry for about a week & then thoroughly water it in.

I top dressed it a month after repotting it.  I wanted it to settle in before bedecking it with the turquoise rock.  

Repotting A Ponytail Palm

Here’s what the pot looked like before it was whisked off to my craft table for a transformation.

Check back in a couple days because my next post is all about how I painted and decorated it.  The shells on the pot are the same as those used in my wind chimes.  As you will see in the video below, this Ponytail Palm was very root bound and now has room to grow.  I hope the lizards like it!

Top Dressing The Ponytail Palm

Repotting A Ponytail Palm & How To Care For It

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  2. Hi Nell,

    Great guide however I just have one question: I travel quite a lot and I am looking for something that can go say 4 weeks at a time between watering. Do you think I would be able to do this with a Ponytail Palm?

    Thanks, Peta.

  3. Hi Peta, Ponytails store water in their big bulbous bases so every 4 weeks would be fine. Just water it thoroughly (make sure the water drains out of the bottom) before you leave & keep it out of all day, hot sun.

  4. Hello Nell,

    I love your blog! However, before I found your blog I already repotted my ponytail. I bought her last month and she was already root bound and over watered. I gave her dry out time and repotted using mircle grow soul potting mix (very littl) and mostly mircle grow cacti potting mix. I put top dressing of some small stones on top and watered her. Please let me know if you think top dressing and water right after was a “killer” like I mentioned, I did this before finding your blog. I am already in love my ponytail and would love to keep her for years to
    Come and in good health! Any advice or tips would be appreciated as well!
    Thank you for your time ,

  5. Hi Liz – Glad your enjoying the blog – that’s why I do it! Your Ponytail Palm should be fine if it has enough light. Remember, indoors or out, they like a lot of sun. And, that big bulbous base of theirs stores a lot of water so go easy with the liquid love. Depending on the conditions you have it in & the size of the pot, she should only need watering once every 3-4 weeks. Be sure that it,s a thorough watering & not a drop or 2. Stay tuned because I’ll be doing a video & blog about repotting my 3-headed Ponytail Palm soon. Also, we have a houseplant care book coming out next week & the Ponytail Palm is in it. Here’s the 411 on the book: Enjoy your PP! Nell

  6. I would like to know how to remove a pup on the side of my main ponytail plant, without killing the young one

  7. Hi Maree – I’m going to assume that the pup is a side shoot. Leave it there for at least a year or 2 to develop a sufficient root system. When that time has come, remove the dirt from around the pup & cut it away from the mother with a clean & sharp knife. Get it immediately into potting soil. Hope that helps, Nell

  8. Hi, my pony tail is 25 yrs old. Gave it to my mom in a dish garden (she gave back when she passed). It has been in pots only two inches wider then its bulb since garden dish. Only two babies (did not know process 🙁 ) it is now 10ft tall! Should I put her in the ground? She has been outside for many years.

  9. Hi Lori – Yes, Ponytails do grow slowly! But, they are a plant which has great longevity – what a nice reminder of your mom. If the temps don’t get below 20-25 degrees F where you are, then you can plant it outside. They need excellent drainage so you may need to amend your soil or plant it in a mounded, raised bed. Hope that helps, Nell

  10. Hi, my sister-in-law brought me a baby ponytail palm when I was in the hospital having my daughter in June of last year. The leaves have gotten a little longer but the tree itself hasn’t grown very much so I was thinking it may need a bigger pot. Would it be okay to repot it with only an organic cactus mix alone? Also, the little baby brown leaves it had at the bottom when I got it are still there. I was told they would fall off on they’re own but it’s been over a year

  11. Hi Brettany –
    Ponytail Palms grow very slowly, especially indoors, so you won’t see much growth in a year. You can repot it if you like but it may not need it. Yes, organic cactus mix alone would be fine. I usually pull the brown leaves off because it takes them a while to fall off. Hope that helps, Nell

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  13. Yes I would like to know why my ponytail palm tips turn brown. I don’t water to much. Keep in my house in front of a window. Do you think I need to repot.

  14. Hi Debbie – My Ponytails have brown tips too, it’s just a natural occurrence. If the brown tips are big, then it could be poor water quality, too much or too little water or dry air. Whether you need to repot or not depends on the size of the plant & the pot & how long it’s been in the pot. Nell

  15. I need an advise from you , Debby.
    I got a ponytail a half a year ago. It was a bit overwatered, infected with mealy bugs and planted too deep into the ground.
    I replanted it into the cacti soil properly and treated from the bugs. After a while it showed a tiny bit of growth and then nothing. I was thinking it is because of the winter. Been watering it every 3-4 weeks.
    Now a half a year passed and the top of the trunk started looking as if it is drying out. I decided to take a look at the roots today. I pulled out the plant today and noticed that it has not grown a single root in 6m! The ones that it has looks dry and dead. I cut the very base with knife to see if it is not rotten. It’s firm and white.
    How do I make it root?? Maybe I need to cut all the old root or what?
    I really need some smart advise here.

    Thank You!

    P.s. Its a 50 inch tall plant with the trunk size of a kids head.

  16. I was hoping to see a video of the actual repotting. I was disappointed to only see the plant in the old pot and then the next second I see it in the new pot. I’m not an expert and need all the help I can get.

  17. Hi Marilyn – That 1 was more of an action video (repotting & topdressing), not a how to video. I’ll have to do a basic video on repotting some day, although there are variables involved depending on the type of plant. Nell

  18. Hi Lina – I’ve never had any problems with Ponytail Palms rooting but here’s what I’d do. Shear off an inch or 2 of the bottom & sides of the root ball with a clean & sharp knife or pruning saw, massage the roots a bit to open it up & then plant it into fresh mix. Leave the head an inch or so above the mix because the weight will bring it down. Spring is a great time for transplanting so do it as soon as you can. Hope that helps! Nell

  19. Hello! Today I was trying going to repot my 2 trunk ponytail and when I laid it down… I beheaded one of the 2 heads 🙁
    Is the broken off head salvageable ? If yes, can you advise me how.
    Thank you in advance for your help!

  20. Hi Serena – sorry to hear that but the good news is that new sprouts will appear at the top pf the broken trunk. The experience I have is by air layering & propagating by removing the new sprouts at the base. Ponytail Palms are so tough that I would imagine that you can do that. Let the head heal over for a few days & then plant it in a loose mix like cactus & succulent mix. Keep the soil lightly moist but not soaking wet. I’ve done that with Spider Agave heads & it’s worked fine. It’s worth a try! Nell

  21. Hi. I have a 3 bulb large ponytail that I believe is due for a transplant. I am assuming that a larger pot about 2-4 inches wider and 2-4 inches deeper would be good. I think they prefer to be snug in their planter with a succulent type of soil mixture. It is now in a 12-13″ wide at the top x 9″ deep pot. I have a 16″ wide at the top x 14″ deep but I think that might be too deep for a ponytail. There are some small roots coming out the bottom hole. I think a 15-16″ wide x 12″ squat pot might be better. What would your recommendation be for transplanting this beast?

  22. Hi Thomas – Regarding my experience with Ponytail Palms, being tight in their pots is not an issue. Mine was in a relatively small pot & I transplanted it into a pot which was at least 3 times wider & deeper. The less I have to transplant the beast, the better! It’s been well over a year since the transplant & my 3-headed PP is doing great. Nell

  23. Hi Nell,

    Thanks for the reply. I have read that Pony tail Palms are among several houseplants that fair better being somewhat root bound. That’s why I proposed my question to after I found your site. I also watched your Youtube video transplanting the 3 bulb plant which is very similar in size to mine and you did place it in a rather large pot. If yours is doing well then I suppose the root bound theory is not always applicable. Thanks for the reply.

  24. My ponytail palm (25+ yrs old) has 3 babies sprouting out the side of the water ball. They are ABOVE the dirt line, so the instructions I have found for removing them don’t really apply. I would have to seriously damage the water ball to cut any roots with them. How do I properly remove these to replant them? It needs t be done because they are stealing all the nutrients from the top of the plant. She used to have long, beautiful curly “hair”, now she looks sickly & pathetic. 7 new little shoots sprouted from the top over 2 years ago & then just stopped growing, but the babies @ the bottom are growing like crazy. Please help! Thank you!

  25. Hi Lissa – I know the branches aren’t too hard to root but I’m not entirely sure about the pups (unless you get some of the roots off the mother plant). I’ve propagated the pups by cutting them off the base being sure to take some of the roots too. You can always try to cut the babies off (make sure your knife is very clean & sharp) & then stick them in succulent & cactus mix. Not 100% sure if they’ll make it but it’s worth a try. Nell

  26. Hi Nell, watched your blog. loved it. is it okay to re-pot the pony tail palm in the winter?

  27. Thank you Stephanie. Plants rest in winter so it’s not the ideal time. Spring & summer are best. That being said, I’ve repotted a few plants in winter & they’ve been fine. If you can wait until March, try to. Nell

  28. Can my 3 headed ponytail palm be separated and planted into their own pots?

  29. Hi Joe – I have never done that before so I can’t say for sure. If the heads are all well formed with good root systems, then I would think it could be done. It’s very important to use a knife which is very sharp & very clean. Nell

  30. Can you remove pups from the mother bulb that are NOT in the soil? They come out way above the soil line all around the mother bulb.

  31. Hi Wendy – You can remove those pups as long as they already have roots forming. Nell

  32. Love the questions and your answers. My ponytails never sprout pups. How can I encourage the plant to make pups?

  33. Hi Jane – Mine have never sprouted pups so I’m not quite sure exactly how to encourage that. What I can tell you is that my neighbor’s PP produced 3 plus sprouted at the top after it got decapitated (it grows in the sidewalk strip). Nell

  34. hi, we have a huge palm that is about a dozen feet high, the base is five feet in diameter and it has 6 large branches. it is starting to push our metal boundry fence and lift the paving slabs. can it be moved or split up and re potted . thanks. Tony…

  35. Hi! I bought my first ponytail palm today at Sam’s Club. I watched your video of repotting one above, they way you caress it’s “tresses” is what drew me to it. I want to caress them. I try researching all plants I get. I have a question about this one, it seems to be dressed to the point of no visible soil. The small rocks are stuck together actually, should I remove this to find the soil? This is a small ponytail. I was able to lift it and carry it. I can’t determine when to start watering it without finding the soil though.

    Thank you,


  36. Hi Angela – If you tend to over water plants, then I would definitely remove them. Ponytail Palms store water in their roots & bulbs & like to be kept on the dry side. Nell

  37. Hi Nell, my pony tail palm is doing great. Has gotten so big I decided to do some research. Has four heads ( walmart 4 inches) now in a 12 inch pot and I noticed that plastic pot getting reshaped. Been in this pot for over 4 years. When I transplant do I put the different soil, worm castings etc. In layers? And would a huge 19 inch pot big to big? Thank you Susie

  38. Hi Susie – You’re timing is great. Tomorrow’s video & blog post are about transplanting my 3-headed Ponytail Palm so your questions will be answered in that. You can plant Ponytail Palms in a large pot, just as long as it doesn’t look out of scale. Going from a 12″ to 19″ pot will be no problem. Nell

  39. Hi Tony – Yes, they have a tough root system & can be moved & transplanted fairly easily. It’ll have a good-sized root ball so be prepared to do some digging. Nell

  40. Hello Nell. I enjoyed watching your video on the ponytail palm. I am a new ponytail palm owner.
    I planted mine in pure potting soil and I was wondering if I should take out some of the potting soil and add the Cactus soil. But I did plant my root ball above ground.
    Thank you

  41. Hi Renee – I always recommend planting a PP in succulent & cactus mix because it helps to prevent root rot if you tend to be heavy on the watering. Potting soil holds more moisture so if you leave it in the potting soil, just be sure not to over water it. The fact that you planted the root ball above the ground will help. Either is fine, but just adjust the watering accordingly! Nell

  42. Thank nail. I might take some of the top soil out and mix the cactus mix in. I appreciate your response and I’m not a heavy waterer. I pay very careful attention to the requirements of a plant. I always do research and do whatever it says that they need to do. I have also however through trial and error on some plans found that the directions that come along with the plant aren’t always correct. But I believe that yours are seeing as how you’ve had them for so long thank you for your instructions and help

  43. Can you send me an email so I don’t have to wait so long for a response? I would like to know if the worm compost stinks? Because I wanted to put some in my palm. And should I put it in now since it’s coming in to fall or wait till spring and I plan on keeping the plant indoors

  44. Hi Renee – No, the worm compost doesn’t smell at all. You want to wait until spring to do the top dressing. And, use a 1/4″ layer at the most because it breaks down much slower indoors. Nell

  45. Oh course Renee, my pleasure. I share my experiences with plants so its always what has worked for me. I have lots of houseplants & plant on getting more – they’re addicting! Nell

  46. Hi Nell. I take care of a ponytail palm for a business I clean for. It is getting too tall. They want it cut back but don’t want to deal with rooting it, etc. I wonder if I can cut some of the leaves out of/ off of the top, instead of cutting the plant down on the trunk? – Renee Fox

  47. I haven’t tried to re-pot my Elephant Foot yet. It is about 43 years old and so root bound in a clay pot that the water just sits on top when I water it. I need to wait for it to percolate down and then water a bit more. I don’t know how I can get it out of the pot – should I break it? Will the roots be stuck to the pot? I’m afraid to run a blade into the pot because there really is no room between the “foot” and the pot. Will appreciate any advice.

  48. Hi Renee – I’ve never done that before. Knowing how the plant grows, I believe it would distort the growth & appearance of the plant. It’s best to cut the head off & let it re-sprout. Nell

  49. Hi Vivien – It sounds like it really needs to be repotted! Ponytail Palms have a very tough & extensive root system so you’ll probably need to break the pot. If a few of the outer roots stick, then cut them. It won’t damage the plant. Here’s a post & video I did I repotting mine again: You can see how much this plant has grown. Nell

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