Ponytail Palm is a gorgeous indoor plant popular among many gardeners. It is striking in appearance, reasonably low-maintenance, and tolerant of infrequent watering. The simplicity and beauty of the Ponytail Palm lead many to wonder if it’s possible to propagate new plants from their current tree.
A ponytail plant can grow from a cutting, but the process is not easy. Successfully growing a new plant from a cutting takes the correct equipment, conditions, and a willingness to keep trying. Cuttings can be more fragile than adult plants, so additional care is necessary.
In this article, I’ll share the best methods for taking a cutting, timing your cutting, and how to set the cutting up for rooting success. I’ll also talk about special equipment you might need and the care you must take before embarking on this journey.
Finally, I’ll share tips on how to care for the cutting, so it can focus on establishing a healthy, robust root system.
To appropriately care for plants, it’s essential to know a bit about their origin and home climate. Use this knowledge to help recreate that environment to reduce plant stress and keep it as healthy as possible.
Ponytail Palm is not in the palm family at all, according to the University of Wisconsin Horticulture Extension service, but is instead a species of succulent.
The plant’s name comes from its lovely, long leaves resembling ponytail hair. The species is native to parts of Mexico and thrives outdoors in parts of southeastern Mexico.
The plant species is commonly called a few familiar names, including Elephant’s Foot Tree and Bottle Palm. These common names refer to the shape and texture of the trunk itself, which is a more important feature of the Ponytail Palm than the leaves.
The trunk of the Ponytail Palm sits on a bulb-shaped caudex with gray, cracked bark that resembles an elephant’s foot. This wide-based trunk allows the plant to store water for long periods, affording the plant success in surviving long periods of drought.
Because of this adaptation, the Ponytail Palm likes to get very dry between waterings. This preference mimics its native environs of the desert southeast of Mexico, parts of Guatemala, and parts of Belize.
Interestingly, the University of Florida Extension reports Ponytail Palm growing outdoors in parts of Southern California and South Florida. I can tell you from personal experience that lovely Ponytail Palm can be seen growing in yards around San Diego, Santa Barbara, as well as Fort Myers, and the Miami suburbs. They make a beautiful addition to any already existing landscape.
The most common cause of Ponytail Palm death as a houseplant is overwatering. When plant parents see the lovely tree begin to wilt, which is often caused by too much water in the first place, the natural inclination is to water it more to “save” the plant.
Too much water creates root rot, which prevents the plant from absorbing water and nutrients. Always be sure to err on the side of less watering with a Ponytail Palm and let the plant dry out thoroughly and completely, down to the roots, between each watering.
Despite their rugged outward appearance, it’s essential to occasionally feed or fertilize your Ponytail Palm, even if it is an indoor plant. The SF Gate recommends fertilizing with a “low-balanced” fertilizer in a lower concentration than recommended.
Fertilize twice per year with roughly half the concentration of fertilizer than is recommended. Doing this will promote regular, balanced, and sustainable growth in your Ponytail Palm.
My favorite brand of succulent fertilizer is the Miracle-Gro Succulent Plant Food sold on Amazon. I prefer a liquid form since it distributes evenly with water, and it’s easy to see if the fertilizer has evenly dispersed in the water. It delivers consistent results with my succulents, and they’ve never been happier or healthier.
Fertilizing is an important step to encourage new growth. With the proper watering regimen, light, and care, your Ponytail Palm will generate pups regularly, which will allow you to start new plants from the cuttings.
The way that Ponytail Palms propagate in the wild is by generating new growth on the bulbous trunk, called pups. They look like tiny, new Ponytail Palms growing directly out of the trunk.
If your Ponytail Palm has never grown pups, you may be wondering why this is and if there’s anything you can do to encourage the plant to produce pups. The good news is that there are several things you can do to promote new growth.
First, if you live in an environment without significant changes between seasons, you must create an atmosphere that mimics seasons change. The same is true if your Ponytail Palm is an indoor plant and your temperature and lighting stay relatively static throughout the year.
First, pay attention to the quality and quantity of light the plant receives. If the plant is in a place where it is regularly getting a lot of light, move it to a slightly dimmer location for several weeks.
You don’t want to move it to an entirely dark place as that is not the condition seen in a desert landscape during the winter months. Instead, seek a site with shorter periods of indirect light than the plant typically receives.
Next, start slowly reducing the amount of water you give the plant. You don’t want to dry it out completely but stress it slightly to where the plant begins to store water in the caudex as though it is going into drought conditions.
Once you have done this for several weeks and up to two months, move the plant back to its regular location and resume regular watering. This simple act of mimicking a change of seasons is often enough to encourage the plant to generate new growth.
If this doesn’t work the first time, give the plant another three or four months in its current location, and then try it again. Sometimes, a plant needs to experience more than one cycle of “season change” to encourage that new growth generation.
After trying to encourage new growth, it’s exhilarating to see those little buds of green on that gray trunk. However, resist the urge to remove the pups too soon, or you will risk not having a young plant that can sustain life without the mother plant.
The best practice is to wait until the pups are at least four inches (10 cm) in length before you remove them from the mother plant. This ensures all of the systems to deliver water and nutrients to all parts of the pup are developed to a point where the cutting is likely to survive.
To remove the pup, use a thin, flexible, sharp knife that will allow you to cut close to the mother plant without damaging the bark.
Before removing the pup, be sure the blade is clean and sterilized. Since you’ll use it to cut a plant, do not sterilize it with chemicals but instead do so with boiling water.
Cut gently between the base of the pup and the mother plant, getting as close to the trunk of the Ponytail Palm without damaging the bark. Once the pup has been cut free of the plant, I dip the base of the pup in a rooting compound to encourage healthy root growth.
My favorite rooting hormone is the RootBoost Rooting Hormone Powder Can which can also be purchased on Amazon. This rooting compound has an excellent success rate in my experience and is less expensive than other brands found at my local stores.
Once you have dipped the base of the pup in the rooting compound, it’s time to plant it in the correct potting medium. Before you run out and grab potting soil, remember the native environment for the Ponytail Palm and consider the conditions they naturally find most habitable.
Since they are a desert species, use a cactus or succulent mix rather than the typical potting soil. These mixes are meant to be fast draining and have a succulent-friendly pH.
If you want to make your own, try following this potting soil mix recipe from Plant Care Today. Mix equal parts potting soil, sand, gravel or perlite, and wood bark chips or shredded coconut husk to make it.
Mix it well, so the four parts distribute evenly across the mix of potting medium. This combination is said to drain while retaining just enough moisture to prevent root rot.
Ponytail Palms make for a lovely, vibrant addition to any space. Propagating plants from cuttings is a great way to grow your houseplant collection and share plants with friends and neighbors. With patience and the right tools and supplies, you’ll be producing new Ponytail Palms from cuttings in no time.
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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.