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Ponytail Palm Leaf Tips Turning Brown

Question:

I bought this plant at a home improvement store. It is potted in stones that appear to be in some sort of solid resin so I can’t see or touch the soil. I had it sitting about ten feet from a window. Now I see that all my tips are turning brown. Since it is potted in this weird stuff that have it “glued” in the pot should I try to get it out and pot it in regular soil so I can monitor the watering better?  Should it be in front of a window directly, like where I have it in the picture?  Love the plant and hope to move it put on the patio this summer.  Please give me as much care tips as possible.  Thanks so much!

Answer:

Plant retailers will do anything to sell a plant, but nothing to help people properly care for their plants. The stones are there because they look pretty and they are glued together because it makes it easier for the nursery growers to ship them to the stores. The problem is exactly as you described: how does one determine when to water?

Usually the stones are single layer on the surface of the soil and can be pried off by slipping a knife under the stones. They serve no useful purpose so do whatever is necessary to remove them while doing your best not to disturb the soil and roots below. There is no reason to move the plant to another pot or to replace the stones with new soil. In fact, I recommend that you do not do that.

Once you have removed the stones you will be able to determine when the soil is dry about halfway to the bottom of the pot. At that point it will be ready for water. Add just enough water so that it reaches that level of dryness again in a week or less. Ponytail Palms can withstand dryness quite well, but they do not tolerate soil that is constantly wet or damp. Always err on the side of dryness with this plant when in doubt.

Maximum indoor sunlight is best for Ponytail Palms, so where you have it right now should be fine. I think you can leave it there year round, but if you do move it to the patio, make sure it is in shade at all times. Outdoor sunlight is many times more intense than indoor sunlight.

Ponytails can be fertilized very lightly a few times each year. They do not require high humidity and do not need to be repotted. They do lose lower leaves as new ones are added on top. That is normal. Brown leaf tips can be trimmed off just to make the plant look better. Once you provide proper light and get the watering under control, they are very easy plants to care for.