Why Is My Ponytail Palm Losing Leaves? [What to Do]

Aesthetically pleasing and incredibly easy to care for, the ponytail palm makes for an excellent house plant. Like other succulents, the ponytail palm tree thrives in relatively arid environments, which is why it is essential that you do not overwater it.

If your ponytail palm is losing its leaves, it is highly likely that you have been overwatering it. While some leaf loss is part of the natural growth process of ponytail palms, too much water can have a deadly effect on the plants, causing their stems and roots to rot.

In this article, I will tell you more about the possible reasons your ponytail palm is losing its leaves. I will also give you a number of practical tips to help you care for your ponytail palm.

Key Characteristics and Growth Patterns of Ponytail Palms

Ponytail palms—also known as ponytail palm trees—belong to the Agave family. This means that contrary to what their name would have you believe, they are actually succulents!

Within the botanical world, the ponytail palm is often referred to by its official name, Beaucarnea recurvata—a clear reference to its curved leaves.

So, why call it a palm when it is not a palm? The answer lies in this plant’s peculiar shape. The ponytail palm features a thick trunk and long curly leaves that make it look like a palm.

One of the things that make the ponytail palm an ideal houseplant is its evergreen leaves. Mature ponytail plants tend to exhibit rather long leaves (up to 6 feet or 1.8 meters in length), whereas younger plants have much shorter leaves.

Ponytail palms’ leaves are tough and sharp, so you may want to be careful when handling them with your bare hands, as you may easily get cut.

Ponytail Palms Thrive in Arid Environments

This fascinating plant is native to southeastern Mexico, which is also home to many other desert plants that thrive in arid environments.

Like cacti and other succulents, the ponytail palm is capable of retaining quite a lot of water in its trunk, which makes it particularly resistant to drought conditions.

You should find it particularly easy to care for your ponytail palm if you live in a dry state like Nevada, Arizona, or Utah, as the climates in these areas are similar to that of the plant’s native habit.

That being said, ponytail palms are very resistant plants that will survive in most climates, including humid and rainy ones.

It is also worth pointing out that in its native habitat, this plant can get pretty tall – up to 30 feet or 9.1 meters in height. When grown indoors, however, ponytail palms are unlikely to exceed 4 feet or 1.2 meters in height.

Why Ponytail Palms Lose Their Leaves

If your ponytail palm is starting to lose its leaves, you will first need to determine whether your plant is simply dropping its older leaves as part of its natural growth process.

If that is not the case, you will need to identify the root of the problem to devise a suitable strategy to revive your plant. Like other succulents, ponytail palms drop leaves for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Organic growth
  • Prolonged neglect
  • Underwatering
  • Overwatering
  • Heat stress (i.e., long exposure to excessive heat)
  • Prolonged exposure to cold weather
  • Lack of light

As previously mentioned, ponytail palms are highly resistant plants that can easily withstand a fair amount of neglect. However, if your plant becomes overly stressed, it will have no choice but to use a range of coping mechanisms to survive – dropping leaves being one of them.

Observe Your Plant To Identify the Root of the Problem

Finding out why your ponytail palm is losing leaves should not be too difficult, as long as you know what to look for. Because plants respond to stressors in very specific ways, you should be able to find out what is wrong with your plant by performing a detailed assessment of its leaves, trunk, and roots. 

For example, when exposed to excessive heat for a prolonged period of time, many succulents respond by developing sunburn spots on their leaves; furthermore, heat stress often causes their leaves to wilt.

Overwatering Weakens Ponytail Palm Leaves

With ponytail palms, the most common cause of fallen leaves is overwatering, which often leads to stem and root rot.

If you consistently overwater your ponytail palm, your plant’s stem will gradually rot, and its leaves will turn yellow as a result. The next step is root rot: if you do nothing to overturn the situation, your plant’s roots will inevitably rot, too, causing its base to go mushy and its leaves to get increasingly weak.

You may think that one needs to drown a ponytail palm for it to get to this stage, but that is not the case. A bit too much water is enough for any drought-resistant plant to suffer greatly, which is why it is important that you learn how to care for your ponytail palm.

Treating a Ponytail Palm With Yellow or Brown Leaves

If neglected or mistreated for too long, your ponytail palm will show you that it is suffering by changing the color of its leaves.

Depending on whether you have underwatered or overwatered it, its leaves will turn either brown or yellow. Their texture will likely change too.

One thing that you need to keep in mind is that your ponytail palm will not just start shedding leaves all of a sudden. If your plant is losing leaves, it means that your plant has reached a critical stage where immediate action is required.

Before your plant gets to this stage, its leaves will turn either yellow or brown, depending on the cause of its stress. If your plant is overwatered, its leaves will turn yellow, whereas the base of its stem and its roots will turn brown.

Another symptom of overwatering is altered consistency: if overwatered, your plant’s leaves, stem, and roots will all look and feel mushy.

By contrast, if your plant is underwatered, the tips of its leaves will slowly turn brown and crispy. Another sign of dehydration is reduced trunk size; when a ponytail plant does not get enough water, its trunk, which is usually plump and swollen, gets increasingly smaller.

Optimal Growth Conditions for Ponytail Palms

The most important thing when caring for a ponytail palm is to give it the right amount of water: not too much, not too little.

Choose a Pot That Facilitates Drainage

The first step is to choose a pot (ideally a clay one) with one or more holes at the bottom.

This way, any excess water will flow out of the pot, and your ponytail palm will not sit in overwatered soil for too long.

“Why use a clay pot?” you might rightfully ask. Clay is a porous, breathable material capable of absorbing moisture. Unlike plastic, it will help keep your soil dry. This is why clay pots are a much better alternative to plastic ones when it comes to succulents.

Simulate the Lighting and Soil in the Plant’s Natural Habitat

When choosing a potting mix, go for something that resembles the kind of soil present in a ponytail palm’s natural habitat. A potting mix for cacti is ideal, as it is not particularly rich in nutrients and drains quite fast.

In their natural habitats, ponytail palms get plenty of natural sunlight. Create the perfect environment for your ponytail palm by placing it in a bright spot where it can enjoy lots of indirect sunlight. Your plant will thank you for it!

For optimal growth, place your ponytail palm near a bright window during spring and summer, when temperatures are higher. If you live in a region where temperatures drop significantly in autumn and winter, make sure not to keep your ponytail palm away from cold windows.

Refrain From Watering if the Soil Is Moist

Now for the most crucial point: how to water a ponytail palm. Before you water your plant, check to see if the soil is dry. If it feels moist, your plant does not need to be watered.

If the first two inches or 5 centimeters feel dry to the touch, go ahead and water it until you see a moderate amount of water come out through the bottom of the pot. Let the excess water flow into the dish for a few minutes and throw it away. 

The good news is that if you follow these few simple tips, your ponytail palm may very well last you for decades – yes, decades! That is because, like many other succulents, ponytail palms have a long life span. 

Ponytail Palm Plant


There are three main reasons why your ponytail palm is losing its leaves:

  • It is dropping its old leaves as part of its natural growth process.
  • It is suffering from overhydration.
  • It has been overwatered.

Ponytail palms are drought-resistant plants that do not require an excessive amount of water. Like other succulents, they thrive in luminous, dry, and warm environments.

If your ponytail palm is losing its leaves, inspect its leaves, stem, and roots to determine the cause of the problem. Then, implement the tips listed in this article to resolve the issue.

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