It’s always alarming when your plants start showing signs of distress. Ponytail palm brown tips are a common issue that can plague this popular houseplant, but don’t worry!
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to solve the problem.
In this blog post, I’ll discuss the causes of brown tips on ponytail palms and some solutions that may help. I’ll also share some steps you can take to prevent brown tips in the future.
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Ponytail Palm Background
Ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata) are a succulent native to Mexico and surrounding areas. They are characterized by their long, thin leaves that grow out of a bulbous trunk, resembling a ponytail. Ponytail palms are easy to care for and are often used as houseplants.
Since they are desert plants, ponytail palms are very drought tolerant. They prefer warm temperatures and bright, indirect light but can tolerate low light conditions.
What Causes Ponytail Palm Brown Tips?
Unfortunately, ponytail palms can sometimes develop brown tips on their leaves. There are several reasons why this may happen.
The number one reason for brown tips is improper watering.
These plants need to be watered regularly. If the plant does not get enough water, the leaf tips may start to turn brown.
However, the plant must not be allowed to sit in water. Overwatering can cause the leaves to turn brown and die back.
(I know. . . underwatering and overwatering both cause brown leaves. How confusing! Don’t worry; I’ll address the differences below.)
Finally, brown tips can also be caused by pests or diseases, too much fertilizer, or incorrect light levels, although these issues are less common.
Underwatering Is the Most Likely Cause of Brown Tips
Brown tips on your ponytail palm are most likely caused by underwatering.
Yes, these plants are drought-tolerant, but you still need to water them regularly.
When the leaf tips start to turn brown and crispy, it’s a sign that the plant is not getting enough water.
How To Fix It:
The first step in fixing the problem is to give it a good drink.
Check the soil an inch or two deep to see if it’s dry. If it doesn’t feel moist at all, then you need to water the plant thoroughly. You may even want to let it sit in its drainage tray for 5 to 10 minutes to ensure it soaks up adequate water.
If you don’t like sticking your finger into the soil, use a wooden toothpick. If the soil is moist, the toothpick will look wet, and damp soil will stick to it.
If the soil is dry all the way through, then your plant is severely underwatered. In this case, try bottom watering. Place the plant in a sink or container filled with a few inches of lukewarm water and let it soak for 30 minutes to an hour.
After soaking, check the top two inches of the soil again. If it still feels dry, then water the plant from the top. This combo method of top-watering and bottom-watering will ensure that water reaches all the roots.
Next, you’ll want to trim off the crispy brown ends because they won’t ever turn green again. Use a pair of clean, sharp shears to trim off the ends.
Other Possible Causes of Brown Leaves
Overwatering your ponytail palm may lead to brown leaves, but you’ll likely see other symptoms first.
The signs of overwatering include yellowing leaves and leaves falling off. However, the leaves may turn brown before they fall off.
Overwatered brown leaves look different from the crispy brown tips on the underwatered plant. With an overwatered palm tree, you’re more likely to see the whole leaf affected, and it will be brown but not crispy.
Overwatering your ponytail palm is one of the quickest ways to kill it because it leads to root rot.
If you see any of the above signs, cut back on watering immediately. Allowing the soil to dry out between waterings will help to prevent further damage. In some cases, you may be able to save your plant by repotting it in fresh, well-drained soil.
If your plant is infested with pests, the damage they cause may result in brown leaves.
Pests such as mealybugs, spider mites, and scale can all suck the sap out of your ponytail palm’s leaves, causing them to turn brown.
If you see small bugs or webbing on your plant, it indicates a pest infestation.
The best way to get rid of pests is to use a pesticide specifically designed for the type of pests you’re dealing with. I like to start by spraying with neem oil. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll try insecticidal soap.
You can also try spraying your plant with water to remove the bugs. You need to be careful not to accidentally overwater your plant, though.
If you’ve recently fertilized your ponytail palm and the leaves start to turn brown, it could be due to fertilizer burn.
Fertilizer burn occurs when the plant’s roots are exposed to too much fertilizer. This can happen if you apply too much fertilizer or the fertilizer you’re using is too strong.
Ponytail palms are not heavy feeders, so you don’t need to fertilize them very often. Once a month during the growing season is plenty. I recommend using half-strength fertilizer as well.
If your plant is placed in too much direct sunlight, the leaves may start to turn brown. This is because the leaves are getting sunburned.
Ponytail palms prefer lots of bright, indirect light. But they do need to be acclimated before being exposed to direct sunlight.
To correct this issue, simply move the plant to a spot where it receives indirect light only and then gradually move into more direct sunlight.
You can also trim off the dead, brown leaves.
How To Prevent Brown Tips From Happening in the First Place
The best way to prevent brown tips is to water your ponytail palm regularly. This doesn’t mean that you mindlessly water on a schedule. Always, always, check the soil before watering.
I like to make sure my ponytail palm is getting enough water by checking the soil weekly during spring and summer. Then, you can cut the schedule back to every other week in the fall and winter.
To check the soil moisture, just stick your finger (or a toothpick) about two inches deep into the soil. If it feels dry, then it’s time to water.
Alternatively, you can get a soil moisture meter like this one:
- 3-in-1 soil tester – can test soil moisture, light, and pH value
- Compact size
- Easy to use
By regularly checking your plant, you’ll also start to get a feel for how heavy the pot should be. A heavier pot means moist soil. A light pot means dry soil.
Remember, if you let the soil dry out too much, you’ll start to see brown tips on your leaves.
However, overwatering is worse because it leads to root rot. When in doubt, wait another day or two before watering.
When you do water, soak the soil thoroughly and then allow it to dry out completely before watering again.
If you top water, it’s also a good idea to avoid the trunk and crown of the plant. Instead, you should pour the water into the surrounding soil.
Check for Pests
Another advantage of regularly checking your plant is that you’ll notice pest infestations early on so that you can treat them quickly.
Fertilize Monthly During the Growing Season
Fertilize your palm once a month during the growing season with half-strength fertilizer.
Acclimate Your Plant to Sunlight
It’s also important to acclimate your plant to direct sunlight slowly, so the leaves don’t get sunburned.
Brown leaf tips on ponytail palms are relatively common, but that doesn’t mean they’re not frustrating.
If you’re dealing with this problem, hopefully, I’ve given you some insight into what might be causing it and how you can fix it.
Remember to start by examining your watering schedule and adjust as needed. Underwatering is the most likely cause of brown tips, so rule that out first.
You may also need to move your plant to a spot with less direct sunlight or treat it for pests.
With a little bit of effort, you should be able to get rid of those brown tips for good!
It’s not necessary to cut off the brown tips. But they won’t ever turn green again. So if they’re bothering you, go ahead and trim them away.
An overwatered ponytail palm will have wilted or yellow leaves that may turn brown. The leaves may also be falling off. If you think your plant is overwatered, stop watering it and let the soil dry out completely.
Ponytail palms should be watered whenever the top two inches of soil are dry. This is typically once every week or two during the spring and summer. But always check the soil before watering to be sure.
When a ponytail palm blooms, it produces a tall spike with ivory or pink flowers. Potted ponytail palms are unlikely to bloom, however.