Ponytail palms, also known as bottle palms or elephant foot trees, are native to Eastern Mexico. These plants are succulents and are members of the Agave family, meaning they are neither a palm nor a tree. They have a bulbous trunk and long, hair-like leaves that resemble a ponytail, hence their name. Although these are drought-resistant plants, they are still prone to the effects of underwatering if neglected for too long.
Underwatered ponytail palm – Signs and how to revive
Signs of an underwatered ponytail palm
1. Shrunken bulbs
A ponytail palm that is watered well will have a full, firm bulb at its base. An underwatered one, meanwhile, will have a base that is wrinkled, deflated and shriveled. This means that the plant’s water reserve has become low.
2. Limp, droopy leaves
Underwatered ponytail palms will have droopy and wilted leaves. These plants have naturally recurved leaves, meaning the leaf margin turns downward, so the change may not be immediately evident, but you will notice the leaves are very limp and are hanging lower than usual.
3. Crispy or brown leaf tips
Another surefire sign of an underwatered ponytail palm is browning foliage with the discoloration starting at the tips. The leaf blades will be dry and crispy, and will be curling at the edges.
4. Dry soil
Do the finger test by pushing your fingers into the top of the soil. If the top two to three inches is completely dry, you should give your plant a good watering. If the soil is moist, wait about a week and check it again before watering.
How to revive an underwatered ponytail palm
To revive an underwatered ponytail palm, place it in a sink filled about four inches deep with water and leave it there for at least 45 minutes. Allow the water to soak through the hole at the base of the pot. Once all of the soil is moist, remove the pot from the sink and let any excess water drain out. You can then return the plant to its usual spot, and be more vigilant with your watering going forward.
How long can a ponytail palm go without water?
A ponytail palm can go up to four weeks without water. This is because the plant has a thick, bulbous trunk that serves as a reservoir to store water for dry spells, making the plant a drought-resistant one.
How often should a ponytail palm be watered?
The frequency of watering will depend on your local climate and weather conditions, so the best way to know when to water is by using the abovementioned finger test. Press your fingers down into the soil to assess whether it is dry, and if the top two inches are dry, you can water the plant. During warm weather, your ponytail palm should be watered at least every two to three weeks, while in winter it will be roughly once a month.
Water the plants well each time, and make sure that any excess water can drain freely from the pot. If the plant is badly underwatered, give it a thorough soak so it can bounce back to health again.
Other reasons your ponytail palm may be dying
Aside from being underwatered, other reasons your ponytail palm may be dying include low-quality fertilizers or low-quality soil. It could also be due to fertilizer being placed too close to the roots. Too much or too little sunlight, or planting the palm at the wrong depth, could also affect its overall health.
Ponytail palm care
Ponytail palms do best in dry soil, and like to become slightly rootbound before being repotted. When repotting, use pots that are an inch or two wider than the previous ones. If you use pots that are too large, there is more space for excess water to remain stagnant around the roots, resulting in root rot and other diseases.
These plants only need to be fertilized three times a year. They are low-maintenance houseplants, adding to the aesthetic of homes and offices.
Ponytail palms are also called bottle palms or elephant foot trees. Native to Eastern Mexico, they are actually succulents, rather than trees or palms. Despite being succulents, they will suffer the effects of underwatering if neglected for too long, and the signs of this include droopy leaves, shrinking bulbs and dry soil.
To revive an underwatered ponytail palm, give it a long and thorough soak in a sink full of water. Soak it for at least 45 minutes so that all of the soil is moist and all the roots have had access to water. Then, allow the excess water to drain from the pot before returning the plant to its usual spot.
Image: istockphoto.com / Bilal photos