The Beaucarnea recurvata, commonly known as ponytail palm, is one of the most popular choices for medium to large-sized houseplants. It’s tolerant to neglect, cold-hardy, and resilient to many plant diseases, but it can still be prone to certain conditions. A Ponytail palm plant will show its current state through its leaves.
When a ponytail palm’s leaves turn yellow, it’s usually due to three reasons. Your plant might be overwatered, overfertilized, or under-fertilized. It is essential to diagnose the root cause of its yellowing leaves accurately. This way, you’ll be able to give your plant the proper care it needs.
Hence, in this article, I will go through each of these issues and provide the information you need to resolve them and ensure that your plant stays healthy and thriving.
One reason why the ponytail palm is so popular is its unique foliage. It has a bulbous trunk that leads to an explosion of long, thin leaves that gives an impression of a gathered ponytail (hence the name).
The wild, fun, yet still refined aesthetic isn’t the only value you’ll get from its leaves. They also conveniently express the current state of the plant.
If your ponytail palm is turning yellow, it means that something is interfering with your plant’s chlorophyll production. This yellowing is because a plant isn’t getting the proper nutrients or focusing its efforts on another area rather than keeping its leaves green.
According to the Morton Arboretum, the yellowing of leaves is a condition called chlorosis. It can occur due to a single issue or a combination of various factors. For instance, most plants with chlorosis in the Chicago region suffer due to high soil alkalinity and drought.
However, as I’ve mentioned above, chlorosis in ponytail palms is commonly due to three culprits that I will further discuss below.
Your ponytail palm might not look like the spiny, compact plants you commonly see on Instagram, but don’t be mistaken. It is succulent and belongs to the Asparagaceae family.
Fun Fact: It shares the same family as the Agave plants endemic to Arizona and Texas.
And just like other succulents, it doesn’t enjoy being overwatered. Your ponytail palm can suffer from root rot when it gets waterlogged. Once it does, its small roots can suffer and die, making the plant unable to absorb water and nutrients adequately.
Aside from slower growth, you will probably notice the palm’s leaves slowly turning from green to yellow or brown.
There are three ways to know if your ponytail palm is overwatered:
- Check the soil. The fastest way to determine whether your plant is getting waterlogged is to check the soil by gently pushing down a bare finger into it. If the first two inches of your soil are still moist, but it’s been a while since you’ve last watered it, it’s a good indication that it’s not draining well.
- Check the roots. You may also check the roots directly. Rotting roots will look brown and feel mushy. A more severe case will also show the rotting slowly creeping up the bottom part of the stem.
- Use a soil moisture meter. Finally, if you wish for a more accurate diagnosis, I highly recommend using a soil moisture meter. This way, you also won’t need to disturb your plant anymore.
As a rule of thumb, it is ideal to only water most succulents when their soil is already 90% dry.
Depending on the severity of the issue, you might need to remove the rotted parts of your plant. This way, your plant can focus more on its recovery.
However, ensuring that your ponytail palm is planted in a well-draining environment first is imperative. Two factors can affect the drainage of your plant: the soil and its pot.
Cacti and succulent potting mix will be your best bet for your ponytail palm. Manufacturers precisely formulate this mix to prevent excessive moisture retention.
Or better yet, you may also choose to prepare a mix at home. There are various recipes online, but my personal go-to is two parts gardening soil, two parts sand, and one part perlite.
Aside from the soil, you should also ensure that the pot is well-draining. Ensure your pot has a wide hole or multiple smaller ones to allow excess water to escape. I also recommend using a pot made of a porous material, such as clay. It can help absorb moisture and dry out your soil more quickly.
Another possible reason your ponytail palm’s leaves are turning yellow is overfertilization.
Remember, most fertilizers are salts. This composition allows them to dissolve in water and release the nutrients that your plant needs to absorb. As such, they will also naturally increase your soil’s salt concentration. The scientific name for this process is osmotic pressure.
Unfortunately, excessive salt concentration can hinder your plant’s ability to absorb water. This phenomenon is more commonly called “fertilizer burn” among plant circles. It can cause a plant’s leaves to turn yellow. When left unresolved, it can even lead to the plant’s death.
Aside from the yellowing leaves, overfertilized plants also shed their foliage and experience a significantly decreased growth rate. One of the first symptoms you may notice is browning at your palm’s leaf tips. Ideally, you should limit yourself to fertilizing your palm only in the active growing season—from spring to fall.
The best method to save an overfertilized plant will depend on the severity of the case. If you have detected a mild case immediately, you can potentially drain the excess salt with water.
You can water your plant until the water seeps out the bottom of the pot for a few seconds. However, remember that you should only attempt this if you’re sure you planted your ponytail palm in well-draining soil and pot.
It might take a few attempts to drain the salt build-up completely.
If you suspect the issue is more severe, it would be wise to repot your plant into a fresh potting mix instead.
Finally, yellowing leaves may also indicate that your plant isn’t getting enough nitrogen, manganese, or magnesium.
Nitrogen and magnesium are two of the most vital components of a chlorophyll molecule. Meanwhile, manganese catalyzes photosynthesis—lacking any of these minerals (or all three) can result in yellowing leaves.
There are tell-tale signs that your plant isn’t getting enough of the nutrients it needs to thrive. Aside from yellowing leaves, you’ll also observe a notable decrease in growth. Even freshly sprouted leaves may struggle, shrivel up, and shed.
In addition, magnesium deficiency can decrease your plant’s leaf size, while manganese deficiency may cause leaf spotting.
I understand that these signs may also indicate other possible diagnoses. There are soil test kits that you can get for better accuracy, such as the Luster Leaf Professional Soil Kit (available on Amazon.com). This kit delivers an accurate reading for soil pH, N, P, and K. It also offers the component for 80 soil tests to improve your palm’s growing medium.
There’s only one way to save an undernourished plant: to give it what it needs. The soil test results will come in handy in this. It will shed some light on the specific nutrients you need to give your plant.
When it comes to choosing fertilizers, I recommend a slow-release formula. This type of fertilizer usually comes in the form of a pellet or capsule enclosed in a special coating that will ensure the gradual release of its contents.
A great option is a fertilizer suited to succulents, such as the Miracle-Gro Succulent Food (available on Amazon.com). This fertilizer feeds instantly—you can apply it straight to the soil or mix it with water.
Depending on your preferred brand, you might not even need to worry about feeding your plant for several months. There are slow-release fertilizers that can last for up to nine months, after all.
It is rare for a yellow leaf to turn green again. That’s because a plant usually abandons leaves that don’t help in chlorophyll production anymore. However, I have seen cases of nutrient deficiency where the plant regained its leaves’ original color after treatment.
In the end, I find that it’s usually a better idea to remove yellowed leaves. The plant will be able to focus more on new, healthier growth this way instead of reviving lost causes.
As a plant lover, I know how worrying it can be to see your plant’s leaves slowly turning yellow, especially if it’s like the ponytail palm, whose leaves are its crowning glory一literally!
Three common culprits can lead to chlorosis. It’s a sign that your plant may suffer from waterlogging, overfertilization, or malnourishment. Fortunately, there are methods to resolve these issues if you act timeously.
The real challenge lies in getting an accurate diagnosis to determine the best step. The best thing to do is follow a process of elimination until you find the root cause. Good luck and happy gardening.
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Hi! I’m Sophia, and I love plants – especially an expert in growing house plants. I stay in Chicago, United States of America, and through my blog and social media platforms, provide tips and tricks on how to grow healthy, vibrant plants indoors. Check out more here.