Ponytail Palm Root Rot

Ponytail Palm Root Rot

Ponytail palms, with the scientific name Beaucamea recurvata, are more semi-succulents than typical palm trees. They are also called elephant foot, bottle palm, and ponytail plants, and are native to the states of eastern Mexico and Veracruz. Their leaves are long, narrow, and dark green, curving downward at the ends. These palms are drought-tolerant and easy to care for, but they are also prone to infections like root rot if not provided with the correct soil conditions.

Symptoms of ponytail palm root rot 

If you notice that your ponytail palms have drooping fronds, it is most likely an indication of root rot. This can affect both the older and newer fronds, and excessive drooping is an indication that the infection may be severe. The roots may also appear brown or black and exude an unpleasant, musty smell. 

Causes of ponytail palm root rot 

Fungal infection is the most common cause of root rot, and these organisms thrive where there is excessive moisture. These pathogens can be dormant in the soil for long periods and will return to life if the soil is waterlogged. They attack the roots of plants, resulting in rotting and then death. Common species of fungi that thrive in moist conditions include Pythium, Rhizoctonia, Fusarium, and Phytophthora.  

Overwatered soil is another cause of root rot in palm plants. The soggy conditions caused by overwatering prevent the roots from absorbing the oxygen they need to survive. Once the oxygen-starved roots have died and decayed, the rot can spread to healthier roots even if the soggy soil conditions have been resolved. 

How to treat ponytail palm root rot

1. Remove the palm tree from the pot. 

Remove your plant from its pot and push the soil away from the roots carefully using a trowel. Place the plant on a flat surface so you can check the roots thoroughly. Dispose of the infected potting soil in a trash bag and seal it tightly. 

2. Check the roots for any signs of disease.

Check the roots thoroughly to confirm the root rot. Infected roots are dark, soft, and have an unpleasant smell, while healthy roots are white and firm. 

3. Remove the rotten roots. 

Trim away the infected roots using a pair of pruning shears. Cut as close to the root ball as possible, and discard the infected roots in a plastic garbage bag. Do not use them for compost, as this risks spreading the infection. 

4. Sterilize your gardening tools. 

Sterilize your tools, such as pruning shears, to remove all traces of fungus and prevent the spread of disease. To sterilize, mix one-part household bleach with nine parts water and soak the gardening tools for at least 90 minutes. Rinse with clean water and allow the tools to dry off well. 

5. Sterilize the new container or pot. 

Place new, sterile potting soil in new containers or pots, but first wash the containers with a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water. Soak them for at least 30 minutes and rinse with clean water before you add the potting soil. Check the size of the pot against the palm’s roots and be sure there is more room in the pot than the diameter of the roots. Do not opt for too-large pots, as too much space in the pots encourages pooling water and therefore root rot.

6. Apply fungicide to the roots. 

Make a hole in the center of the new potting soil and place the palm inside. Apply fungicide over the roots by adding one teaspoon to a gallon of water to create the drench. Cover the roots with soil. 

Water the plants regularly to keep the soil moist and encourage new growth. However, do not water until the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch, as this could lead to overwatering that encourages root rot.

Move outdoor palms to a new location after replanting them, to keep them away from infected soil. Treat both the old and the new area with fungicide. Do not plant anything in the old area until there are no more signs of fungal disease.

7. Repeat the fungicide treatment. 

Repeat the fungicide treatment by pouring a fungicide drench over the soil at least every two weeks for two months. This is to control any remaining root rot fungus. Uncover the roots with a trowel now and then to check for signs of root rot. If the infection continues to spread, dispose of the plant in a plastic bag to prevent the fungus from infecting nearby plants. 

To prevent another infection, you need to keep an eye on the soil conditions. Do not plant your ponytail palms too deep, and see to it that the soil is well-draining. If your potting soil holds moisture too well, add sand and rework the soil. For potted palms, the potting soil mixture should at least be 50 percent sand. Also provide the right fertilizer to ensure the health of your plants. 


Ponytail palms are semi-succulent plants that are native to the states of eastern Mexico and Veracruz. They are drought-tolerant and easy to grow, but could become prone to root rot due to overwatering or fungi such as Fusarium and Phytophthora. 

To treat root rot, you need to remove all the rotten roots and transfer the plant to a new container with fresh potting mix. You should also apply fungicide to eliminate the fungus, repeating this treatment every two weeks for at least two months. 

Image: istockphoto.com / Bilal photos