Ponytail Palm Pruning [Complete How to Guide]

I have many indoor plants, but the ponytail palm is hands down my favorite. The ponytail head with curvy leaves and the elephant foot base are fantastic. Unfortunately, a common mistake is to repot them into a larger pot without pruning, which usually results in vigorous growth.

Pruning ponytail palms involves trimming the brown tips off the leaves and cutting back the long leaves at an angle. Peel the old leaves off the stem until you get to the newer growth. Cut off the growing tip, leaving behind some green leaves at the base to encourage subdivision.

The rest of this article will discuss ponytail palm pruning in detail, what you should and what to avoid. I’ll also discuss the care of the ponytail palm after pruning so you can keep your plants in top shape.

How To Prune the Ponytail Palm

The ponytail palm grows very slowly, so you may not need to prune it often, especially as an indoor plant. It also grows well outdoors, specifically in USDA zones 9 – 12, because they have dry and warm climates.

States with harsh winters, like North Dakota and Maine, are not ideal for growing ponytail palms. You may grow them indoors, but you will need to use grow lights to compensate for the shortfalls in the climate conditions.

The ponytail palm grows up to 30 feet (9 meters) outdoors. In South Florida, it is not unusual to see ponytail palms towering at 7 meters (22 feet) and above. At this height, pruning may not be feasible. However, you can trim the leaves and prune the tree early to preserve its appearance.

When pruning the ponytail palm, you must understand why you are doing it.

  • Are you doing it to remove dead or dry leaves?
  • Do you want to encourage the growth of more heads?
  • Are you pruning to remove the pups?

The technique you use when pruning varies, depending on the outcome you seek.

Pruning for Subdivision

In its natural state, the ponytail palm has a long trunk with curvy leaves at the head, looking like a ponytail. However, you can alter your ponytail palm’s appearance by pruning it to create multiple heads.

This will allow the plant to grow wider. However, this only works when you prune young ponytail palms shorter than 6 inches (15 cm) tall. Cut the growing tip, leaving some green foliage growing at the base. This way, your tree doesn’t look “empty” with just the trunk.

You should also make some minor, curved cuts on the main trunk if you want to force some growth.

The ponytail palm heals its wounds naturally, so you don’t need to apply anything to the cut areas. However, you should protect the tree from high humidity as it will encourage rotting. Place it in a southern-facing window under direct sunlight if it is an indoor plant.

If the plant is outdoors, you should prune your ponytail palm between spring and fall. However, the peak of summer is preferable because the high temperatures prevent rotting.

The Gonnic 8″ Premium Titanium Pruning Shears (available on Amazon.com) have non-slip handles that are lightweight, strong, and comfortable. The blades are strong, and they cut tough stalks, measuring up to ¾ “(1.9 cm) in diameter size. The ponytail palm roots are tough, but these shears cut them easily.

Pruning To Remove New Shoots

You can also prune your ponytail palm to remove the pups, which grow at the trunk’s base. As the ponytail matures, it will develop shoots that you will prune and propagate into new ponytail palm plants.

The best time to remove the young shoots is during the spring season.

  1. Clear the soil around the base of the ponytail palm to expose the shoots.
  2. Check the size of the shoots before cutting them off. Shoots that are at least 4 inches (10 cm) tall or longer are ready for propagation. If the nodes are too small, you should leave them, or you can cut and throw them away if you are concerned about utilizing nutrients meant for the mother plant.
  3. Use a clean, sterilized knife or pruning shears to cut the pup, separating it from the main plant. 
  4. The best mix for growing young shoots is the soilless medium. A succulent potting mix will work best. You can also use sand-based potting soil.
  5. Place the potting mix in a well-draining container and moisten it. Add water until you see some flowing through the drainage holes.
  6. Put the shoots in the container, with the roots safely tucked into the moistened mix.
  7. Cover the pot with a plastic bag, sealing it tightly at the edges. This encourages the plant hormones to stimulate root growth.
  8. Ensure you mist the soil with water every few days. However, you should check the moisture levels in the mix to determine if you need to add water or not.

The ponytail palm is a desert plant. Overwatering will damage the roots. This is why you should use the succulent potting mix. The pups will grow roots, and you will notice new foliage within a few weeks.

This Miracle-Gro Succulent Potting Mix (available on Amazon.com) is fast-draining. It is a blend of peat moss, forest materials, and slow-release fertilizer. The ponytail palm roots and base will rot easily if exposed to too much water.

I found this potting mix light and airy. It was also easy to tell when it had dried out. It also has a robust water-holding capacity, so you don’t have to water the ponytail palm too often.

Pruning To Preserve the Appearance

When pruning to preserve the ponytail, the palm’s appearance is more regular than the other types of pruning. This method involves cutting back the leaves, especially if they are taking over your space and blocking your other indoor plants.

Use sharp scissors to cut the long leaves to a preferable length. Cut the leaves at a 45° angle to make them appear natural and blend with the curvy nature of the leaves. When pruning, prioritize leaves with browning tips. You should also peel off old, dead leaves.

Cut leaves tend to brown at the tips, but it is barely noticeable, so you shouldn’t worry about it.

How Do You Keep a Ponytail Palm Small?

Ponytail palms that grow indoors are easier to keep small than those grown outdoors. When you get a ponytail palm, it is great to have an idea of how big you wish it to grow. If you have limited space, you can control its growth.

You can keep a ponytail palm small by growing it in a small pot. It will grow slowly and won’t need repotting for several years. You can also expose it to lower light, indirect light instead of direct light. Occasionally pruning the ponytail palm will also help control its shape.

The ponytail palm is an easy plant to control. It is a slow grower; your pot will determine its height and girth. It is easier to keep it small than to reverse its growth. So, it is best to keep it in a small pot until you decide if you want it to be a ponytail palm bonsai, or a large tree.

The Dos and Don’ts When Pruning the Ponytail Palm

Although the ponytail palm is easy to maintain, it is also delicate. You need to prune it occasionally to maintain its appearance and keep it healthy. However, before you start pruning, there are some dos and don’ts that you need to know.

  • Start with the dying or dead foliage. This way, you will create room for new growth, plus dead leaves ruin the appearance of a ponytail palm.
  • Target untrimmed thick leaf clusters to encourage vigorous growth.
  • Inspect the leaves for pest infestation. Scale and spider mites often attack the ponytail palm. Some signs of pest infestation include yellowing leaves and brown bumps on leaves. A spider-web-like substance is an indication of spider mite infestation. You can also check the underside of the leaves for eggs.
  • Avoid trimming the upper leaves because they give the plant its signature look. However, if you want to encourage vigorous growth, remove at least ⅔ of the top growth.
  • Cut the leaves diagonally. It helps to maintain the natural sharp end appearance. The 45-degree angle cut also prevents water from collecting on the ends of the leaf, hence encouraging diseases to attack the newly pruned ponytail palm.
  • Trim the long leaves to control the growth.
  • Keep turning the pot, exposing all sides of the ponytail palm to direct sunlight. This will encourage even growth. If the leaves on one side are longer, turn the pot and expose the other side to sunlight for extended periods.
  • Shoots suck nutrients from the main plant, so you should prune and propagate them. Otherwise, your ponytail palm will have stunted growth, and it will start showing signs of nutrient deficiency.
  • Avoid exposing a recently pruned ponytail palm to low light and lower temperatures because it will go into shock. You can tell the ponytail palm is in shock when the leaves start drooping and drying soon after pruning. If the natural sunlight is insufficient, you should compensate for it with grow lights.

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Conclusion

How often you prune your ponytail palm depends on how fast it grows and if it is growing out of shape. If you don’t have the time to prune, you can trim the leaves until you are ready to do the major pruning.

You should also ensure the plant heals because pruning introduces wounds to the ponytail palm. The plant will start to rot if exposed to high humidity or cold temperatures.

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