Advice for my ponytail palm

rosie21March 4, 2013

I am new to the whole gardening scene so please be patient with me. I got me a pony tail palm (pics attached) cause my mom really like it. But now looking at it closely, I am not sure if it is healthy or not. When i got it, half the root of the plant was out of the soil and unlike the other palms, this one had 3 branches (not that it matters)..... I wanted to know:

1) Does my plant look healthy to you? To me the base looks fine (there was some white mildew like stuff when i was re potting a few days ago, but I clean't it and put the plant in dry soil.

2) I have zoomed in on the leaves to show you the brown spots as well as the cuts in between. What is it due to? If it matters, I found a creamish yellowish spider in the plant, it's body was the size of a mustard seed (maybe a little bigger). Is it dangerous to the plant? i got a little freaked out and applied a mix of dishwasher liquid and veg. oil to the water and sprayed the leaves. Any other remedies?

These are the new shoots... I hope these look fine!

3) When must i water the plant and is there any specific quantity I need to put? I repotted the plant 2 days ago haven't watered the soil since then. Is there any need for plant food?

And lastly, how old do you think the plant is?

Thank you in advance and sorry for asking so many questions but my mom really likes the plant and I don't want to lose it to my stupidity.

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

did you properly dampen the potting medium.. prior to potting???

if so.. do not water again.. until your finger.. inserted.. feels dry ...

palms.. generally speaking.. need a drink.. then near drying.. if you think about it.. they dont live near swamps ...

try to replicate their native terrain.. and you will be close to how they need to be watered..

i never fertilize stressed plants.. and repotting is stressing.. give it a month or two ...

others can chime in one your other questions...


    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 10:57AM
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Thanks Ken!

I did not go out of my way to dampen the mix... but then again, it wasn't exactly dry... maybe i'll try watering it tomorrow.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 11:15AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

what kind of medium did you use ...

one with a lot of peat.. will NEVER properly dampen unless you start with it damp ... as peat can be rather water repellant when dry ...

i cant tell ... from your words.. how damp it was ..

if its rather bone dry.. i might suggest you take the plant back out.. properly dampen the mix.. and repot it ...

i am sure someone will analyze the leaves for you ....

you are welcome ...


ps: spiders are USUALLY beneficial things ... if in fact.. it was a spider [your ID is questionable] .. it was preying on bad things.. you have to get over this over-reaction thing.. [psst??? i never applied vegetable oil to a plant.. unless is was preparing to eat it .... lol .. and then.. i would prefer an olive oil .... and i am not even going to start joking about dish soap ... dont you think you may have gone a bit far.. for one spider???? ].. based on this.. try not to kill this thing with too much love ... as in.. watering a plant that you just potted two days ago.. there is no way that plant used the moisture in the medium ... if it was properly dampened ... do you see where i am going with this.. you are over-analyzing it all ... relax with it ... i have killed more thing with too much love.. than i ever did.. with benign neglect ...

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 12:30PM
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Peat moss is not that well known here... I have used potting soil with sand and a bit of gravel. The soil was kind of damp so I let it stay that way.
About the spider... well I'm actually feeling guilty for killing it but somebody told me to get rid of it cause of the whole spider mite thing (how foolish was I to listen to him... but like I said I have just started learning) The whole dishwasher liquid and oil was also recommended cause I was told that I must get rid of them...
well... I'm going to leave it alone and then figure out the whole caring bit....

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 2:43PM
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Can you peel the brown spots off with your fingernail? They look like scale, but I couldn't tell for sure without a closer picture.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 11:49PM
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Yes.... Most of them can be peeled of!

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 2:00AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

spiders are spiders..

mites are mites ...

spider mites.. are NOT spiders.. they are mites ...

one thing sucks the juice out of plants [mites].. the other preys on bugs [spiders] ... spiders do NOT harm plants .... see why one is bad.. and one is good ..????

i do NOT know.. but would be surprised if spiders dont eat mites ...

and that is the lesson for today.. fully ID your problem.. so you can leave the good things .. and only attack the bad things ...

but NEVER .. over-react ... had you waited a day or two.. to research them .. it would not have made a difference. ...

if you do have scale... HORTICULTURAL oil is a recommended cure ... but that is not cooking oil ... so you might have been on the right track.. but used the wrong thing .. again, research ... [hort oil is VERY FINE ... while other oils are very heavy.. heavy ones MIGHT smother the plant .. but dont worry about that]

the oil will smother the scale.. unfortunately.. they look the same.. dead or alive.. so we dont know ... what you did to them ... if anything ...

my first thought.. is for you to compare ... the newest leaves coming out.. are they on those.. and then.. figure out the oldest leaves ... and i bet they are worse on those ...

and if so .. i would simply tug off some of the older leaves .. no plant holds its leaves forever.. and early spring is a great time to remove some of the older.. weaker leaves .... they are probably the ones that are brittle.. and curling toward the trunk .... snip them.. if they dont release easily ... over the years.. you will learn how to recognize them.. and if you dont do it.. it will self prune them off soon enough ... my though is simply.. since they are covered in scale...??? .. to reduce your population.. by simply removing the old leaves ... if you can get rid of 50 to 75% of the problem.. thru some pruning.. why not???

am i to understand.. you made your own potting medium????


    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 8:50AM
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Your ponytail palm is a Beaucarnia and doesn't need a lot of moisture. Grit is much better than peat as a soil amendment for it. Don't water it again until it is dry because a wet soil can cause rot, especially on an already stressed plant. You can google it and get info on how to take care of it. I had to fight scale on my houseplants when I brought them in this fall. ken is right, do your homework before you try any home remedies. Also, we treat any spiders that come in on our plants as guests with the exception of a couple very poisonous creeps. Anita

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 2:08PM
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I haven't done anything as yet ken... I took your advice and decided to wait and NOT over react!
The new leaves look fine for most part of it... its mainly the older leaves.... I will try pruning the plant and then see if I really need to use the oil.
@Anita, I researched the home remedies on the internet, A lot of forums had mentioned it and hence I decided to try it out.
As for the potting medium, there were no specifics mentioned by the person who we bought the plant from, in fact, when we got the plant it was in soil ( the sticky clay kind). After looking up the net, I figured out that it needs well drained soil and hence added sand to it.
I'm a little concerned since I have never really gardened before and am new to the whole thing....
If there is anything else I need to keep in mind, do let me know and thank you for all the advice.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 12:05PM
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I would be concerned about spider mites possibly hanging out on your plant rather than actual spiders.

When in doubt, don't water this plant. That fat trunk it has will allow it to get by in drought conditions for a long time, and over watering will make it rot.

If you are planning to grow this plant indoors, I would suggest visiting the houseplant forum - you might get more advice specific to your situation.

Here is a link that might be useful: Houseplant forum

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 10:46PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

You'll be interested to know that your plant is not a palm at all but a member of the Asparagaceae family.

Please visit the Houseplant Forum for advice! This is a great plant and a very easy first plant, but you need to gain a little knowledge.

Home remedies can be very 'iffy' in terms of efficacy AND the possibility of damage to the plant. A heck of a lot of plants have been severely injured or killed by the misuse of plain old dish soap.

I couldn't open your pictures to help you ID the brown spots. I will tell you that Beaucarnea recurvata is susceptible to scale insects, however.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 6:13PM
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hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

I've had a ponytail for well over 20 years. Inside in the winter, in the sun outside in the summer (gradual increase in sun exposure). The plant has been pretty impervious to about everything - scorching heat and wind, even occasional hail. I have had adjacent infestations of spider mite and they steered clear of the ponytail. I think the cuticle on the leaf is so tough and thick they would rather pick on something more succulent. Scale is something I have never had on that plant, not to say it isn't possible.

I'd say the brown spots are likely due to rough handling during shipping and at the place that you purchased it.

My watering technique is once a week in spring and fall, twice a week in the heat of summer. Inside in the winter it is also once every two weeks. However, when it gets watered it gets soaked. Seems to like that regimen.

As the new growth forms on the top the oldest growth browns out, usually clinging to the plant until pulled off. This old foliage can look pretty neat with the attached end turned upside down and cut off to about 12-15" then used in dried arrangements. Sort of a daffodil shape.


    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 4:37PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

That's a cute little tree! The new growth looks perky and vibrant. I don't usually recommend bagged potting soil but this plant would probably be better in that than my understanding of what it's in now (clay with sand mixed in it?) That's pretty much a recipe for cement, and sand is never good in a pot unless you happen to have a plant that grows in nothing but sand. A bagged potting soil that says it's for cactus or orchids would probably be better.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 5:41PM
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