House Plants/Beaucarnea Recurvata. Elephant foot/Ponytail plant,
QUESTION: Hi Will, I have a very 'old faithful' elephant plant, 25 years old. It 12inch round the base of foot, 16 inch high. It has been repotted about 3 times, last time 3, 5 years ago. In its current pot it has 2 inch space round about and the new pot I have bought will give it 4 inch round about. I want the plant to grow and leave it for years to come in this new pot. I have been using multi purpose soil in the past but wonder if I should mix some cactus soil with the multi purpose soil. Don't want the plant to be unhappy if I change the soil as it doing well. What can you suggest me to do? Looking forward to your response, Sonja
ANSWER: Hi Sonja,
I know this will surprise you, but my suggestion is that you leave your healthy Ponytail Palm alone. Ponytail Palms must be kept quite potbound in order to keep the roots from rotting. One-to-two inches of space between the edge of the pot and the outer part of the base is more than enough room for your Ponytail.
If you over-pot this plant, the excess soil will retain moisture for too long around the roots before drying out. The roots will then slowly rot out of sight and one day you will discover the plant is ailing and that it no longer has any roots. By then it is too late.
Ponytail Palm base bulbs are adapted to survive periods of drought, but they cannot adapt to constant moisture around their roots. Therefore, tight pots and a porous potting mix are what is best for this plant.
As long as yours is doing well, there is no good reason to repot.
I have written articles on repotting and on Ponytail Palm care that I will email for free to you (or anyone else) who emails a request to me at wcreed@HorticulturalHelp.com.
Please let me know if any of this is unclear or if you have any additional questions.
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---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Hi Will, thank you for your quick response, just 1 more question: the plant in general is doing well, but a couple of weeks ago some of the leaves turned yellow/brown, not at the ends but the whole length.(cut them of)
I thought this was a possible sign that it needed repotting. Now it has been quite cold here (London, U.K) maybe it didn't like that. I will take your advice and leave it in the pot it is in, but would it need some fertilizer as spring is around the corner? If yes can you suggest me please?
Thank you so much for your advice re repotting, that was very useful.
Yellow/brown leaves are a generic symptom with multiple possible causes, including inadequate light and improper watering. A few lower leaves that exhibit this symptom may be nothing more than the natural aging process. Unless your Ponytail was exposed to temps approaching freezing, then that is unlikely to be the cause. In any case, pot size is not the cause.
Fertilizer should be reserved for plants that are healthy and growing vigorously and have not been repotted in a couple of years. It can be used at any time of year and should be applied at half strength for indoor plants. It is not medicine and should not be used to correct anything other than known nutrient deficiencies.
For indoor foliage plants, a fertilizer with a 3-1-2 NPK ratio and trace elements is best. But most any will do because fertilizing is vasty over-rated.
I have also written an article on fertilizing indoor plants if you want a copy of that.