Ponytail palms are relatively resilient plants, surviving on little water and tending. However, your plants may succumb to adversely stressful conditions, resulting in death. Let’s look into possible reasons why your ponytail palm is dying.
Ponytail palms may die from root rot or infestation by mealybug pests. Other possible causes include dehydration, transplant shock, overfertilization, and unmet light requirements. Fortunately, early diagnosis can save your ponytail palms.
If your ponytail palms are dying and you’re unsure how to proceed, this article will go into much more detail on how to fix the problem.
Before delving into possible causes of ponytail palms dying, let’s consider their basic growth requirements, which are as follows:
- Water: These plants only need watering once every two weeks or when the top two inches of soil have entirely dried out. Too much water can damage the plant by causing root rot, while underwatering causes dehydration.
- Soil: Well-drained soils are ideal for ponytail palms since they do not remain wet for long (which encourages root rot and fungal growth).
- Temperature: The optimum temperature range for ponytail palms is 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit ( 16 – 27 degrees Celsius). Significantly higher temperatures can cause sun damage, while the opposite may lead to frost damage.
- Light: Although ponytail palms thrive in bright sunlight, partial light is also adequate for average plant growth. However, using plant shades during summer is recommended to prevent sun damage.
- Humidity: Humid environments disfavor ponytail palms because they impede transpiration–an essential plant process.
- Nutrients: Ponytail palms can survive in nutrient-scarce soils and only require fertilization once per month during growing seasons and once through the winter. Additionally, most potting mixes contain sufficient nutrients to last a year.
Now let’s explore the possible causes for your ponytail palm dying.
Root rot occurs when there is excess water retention around the ponytail palm roots. This suffocates the roots and prevents them from absorbing oxygen and other essential elements from the soil. Following this, the plant’s roots start to rot and die.
Soil fungus may also cause root rot. Since fungi thrive in humid conditions, overwatering your ponytail palm may revive dormant soil fungi, which then attack and damage the plant’s roots–eventually killing them. Young plants are more susceptible to soil fungi since their roots are more vulnerable.
Some early telltale signs that your plant is suffering from root rot include:
- Yellowing leaves
- Stunted or slowed plant growth
- Drooping and wilting leaves
- Mushy stem base
Root rot quickly spreads to healthy roots, so you must address the problem promptly to prevent plant death (your ponytail palm will not recover if all its roots are damaged by root rot).
Managing your watering schedule is crucial to preventing root rot in your ponytail palm.
The ponytail palm is a succulent plant, and it is adapted to living in drought-like conditions by storing water in its thick woody stem. Therefore, it is best to wait until the soil is dry before watering to prevent water retention around the roots (since the plant will not absorb more water if its reserves are saturated).
For outdoor plants, avoid watering during the rainy seasons. You may also need to water your ponytail palms less if you live in humid areas such as Port Arthur, TX, and Jackson, MS because humidity affects the transpiration rate.
Trimming affected roots may help control root rot’s spread (where possible). When disposing of any infected plant parts, keep them away from other plants, seal them in a plastic bag, and do not mix them with compost, since it may cause further spread.
Mealybugs are tiny, oval, wax-covered insects. They have a cotton-like appearance. Adult bugs may lay up to 600 eggs in their lifetime, and these eggs appear as a white cotton powdery substance on the plant (may be mistaken for fungal growth).
Adult mealybugs and their nymphs feed on plants by sucking sap from the leaves, leaves, and stems of your ponytail palm. This damages the plant tissue by weakening it, and excessive sap loss may cause plant death.
Since mealybugs are a common houseplant pest, they may come into your home through other infested plants (besides your ponytail palm).
Unfortunately, these pests reproduce fast (laying an average of 150 eggs within 15 days) and may have already caused significant plant damage before you notice them.
How to Eliminate Mealybugs from Your Ponytail Palms
Below are some suggestions to help you get rid of mealybugs from your ponytail palms:
- Rubbing alcohol: Soak some cotton swabs into the alcohol and use this to wipe down infested parts of the ponytail palm.
- Mealybug destroyer ladybug: For ponytail palms grown outdoors (not potted) and more extensive ponytail palm plantations, you may opt for this biological control to eliminate mealybugs.
- Insecticide spray: Insecticides that target mealybugs may also be effective. However, there are several safety precautions to keep in mind, such as the potential toxicity, safe use, and storage of the product.
Some plant owners suggest using a water jet to spray off pests. By doing this, you risk overwatering your plant. Therefore, avoid this method of pest control.
As mentioned earlier, ponytail palms are relatively drought-resistant because they store water within their caudex. Nonetheless, when these water reserves are depleted, the plant may succumb to dehydration.
Here are some signs that your ponytail palm is dehydrated:
- Drooping leaves
- Brown-tipped leaves
- Shriveled stem base
- Shrinking stem
Water your ponytail palm fortnightly to prevent dehydration. The soil may dry out faster in the summer, so you may need to increase the watering frequency.
If the plant is severely dehydrated, consider bottom watering (potted plants). Place the plant in a larger basin filled with at least 4 inches of water, and let it soak for 45 minutes. If this does not revive the ponytail palm, you may need to replace it.
Improper transplanting or repotting can cause stress to your ponytail palm in several ways, including:
- Injured plant parts, especially the roots, stem, and caudex
- Pest infestation
- Fungal infection
- Root rot
Transplant shock may lead to plant death. Therefore, you must know the right ponytail palm transplanting procedure as a plant owner.
When transplanting your ponytail palm, preserve the roots as much as possible (even the tiny root hairs are critical to plant health). Keep the root bulb moist during the transplanting process to prevent dehydration. Avoid using soil that may have been infested with pests or fungi.
Ponytail palms can survive in low-nutrient soils. During growing seasons, ponytail palms should be fertilized no more than twice a month. However, in winter, you do not need to apply fertilizer.
Overfertilization can happen in two ways:
- Applying fertilizers too often
- Not diluting the fertilizer enough
Overfertilization can damage plant tissue, causing your ponytail palms to be more susceptible to pests and diseases. These signs can help you identify an overfertilized plant:
- Stunted growth
- Root damage–darkening and weakening of roots
- Brown-tipped leaves
- Wilting leaves
- Plant death
Only fertilize as recommended (maximum of twice per month during the growing seasons) using products made specifically for succulents. Follow the application instructions as stated by the manufacturer. Whenever possible, fertilize your ponytail palm using compost to minimize risks associated with fertilizers.
Underexposure to light for extended periods will slow plant growth because it affects photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into energy. When the ponytail palm lacks sufficient energy to grow, it will stagnate and eventually die.
Before the plant dies, you will notice signs like yellowing leaves that may also have begun drooping. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the yellow leaves will be restored to the original dark green color even when the issue is corrected.
Place indoor potted plants close to a window, with a bright light coming through for a better part of the day. Where possible, you can also transfer these plants outside or onto your balcony so that they get sufficient sunlight.
Remove any shades that may prevent your ponytail palms from getting adequate sunlight for outdoor plants.
Ponytail palms are relatively easy to care for because they are drought-resilient and can survive in low-nutrient soils. However, subjecting the plants to stressful conditions for an extended duration can cause irreversible plant tissue damage and death.
Inspect your plants regularly to identify signs that may indicate a distressed plant. An early diagnosis may help you save the plant before severe damage occurs.
Moreover, whenever you purchase plant care products, ensure that they are meant for succulent plants and are safe for use around the household.
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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.