How to Save Your Underwatered Ponytail Palm

Written by Ivy

Feb 01 2023

How to Save Your Underwatered Ponytail Palm

Beaucarnea recurvata, also known as the ponytail palm or elephant's foot, is a strange-looking but endearing plant.

These unusual perennials, which are native to Mexico, resemble true palms but are unrelated to them despite looking very similar (albeit with unrulier hair).

The plants can grow up to two meters tall (almost to the ceiling), as you might expect from their tropical appearance, and they prefer warm, dry air.) in centrally heated rooms.

Additionally, they require little maintenance. Their swollen, bulb-like base stores water, allowing them to go for weeks without replenishment.

It follows that drowning a ponytail palm is much less likely than overwatering one. But let's help you identify the problem if you suspect that yours might be dehydrated.

Here are some warning signs that your underwater Ponytail Palm needs to be rehydrated.

Signs of An Underwatered Ponytail Palm

1. Deflated Bulb

The caudex, or bulbous base of the plant, is worth examining. Elephant foot tree is another common name for the ponytail palm, which has a full, firm caudex that resembles an elephant's foot when it is well-watered.

Is the base of your plant appearing a little shriveled, wrinkly, and deflated? The plant's water supply is depleting if the bulb has shrunk.


2. Limp, Droopy Leaves

The foliage of a underwatered ponytail palm will become droopy, wilting, and generally look a little down on itself, similar to other houseplants.

With their naturally recurved, cascading leaves, the change won't be as dramatic as some droopy plant displays. The leaves are hanging a little lower than usual, though, if you are familiar with your plant.

3. Crispy Brown Leaf Tips

A sure sign that the plant is underwatering is browning foliage that starts at the tips. The leaves of your ponytail palm may become limp, droop, and possibly even begin to turn brown and curl if the soil is unintentionally left completely dry for an extended period of time.

Underwatering is confirmed by browning foliage that starts at the tips. The edges of the leaf blades may also begin to curl and feel dry, crispy, and papery to the touch. (Read More: Why Does My Ponytail Palm Have Brown Tips)

4. Dry Compost

A straightforward indicator, but possibly the best one. Push your finger into the potting soil of your plant to perform the finger test. Do you feel complete dryness in the top 2-3 inches?

If so, give your plant a really good soak right away. Give the soil another week and check again before watering if the top is still moist.

How to Revive An Underwatered Plant

Water is the obvious cure for a thirsty plant, but if it's clearly depressed, it'll need more than a splash.

Put the plant (in its pot) in the sink with about 4 inches of lukewarm water to save a underwater ponytail palm.

Soak the Plant Thoroughly

When the top 2-3 inches of soil feel damp, leave it to soak up water for about an hour. Your finger can be used to confirm.

The plant should be removed from the sink and placed somewhere where any extra water can drain before being put back on the saucer or pot cover.

Check the soil's moisture level frequently after the plant has recovered to help you determine when to water ponytail palms.

Ponytail Palm Watering Tips


Don't Stick to a Schedule

As they're prone to overwatering, deciding when to water these plants is always, always best guided by the finger test.

Regardless of whether it seems like a long time since you last watered. Before giving them a good glug, wait until the soil feels dry up to your knuckle.

Water More Often in Warm Weather

You'll probably need to water every two to three weeks in the spring and summer. It'll happen more frequently once a month in the winter. (Read More: How Much Light Does Ponytail Palm Need)

If you do water, make sure any extra drains away freely while watering thoroughly. Your plant might require a little more tender loving care if you believe it is underwatering.

It should be restored to full health with a single, intensely thorough soak (as mentioned above).

Is a Ponytail Palm Drought Tolerant?

The ability of these plants to survive without water is absolutely incredible. They are well adapted to drought conditions because their native habitat experiences sporadic rainfall.

They can go without water for about 4 weeks thanks to that bulbous, water-holding caudex. It really won't harm your ponytail palm if you occasionally allow the roots to dry out.

But while it is very drought tolerant compared to many other houseplants, it won't survive without water indefinitely.

It can be more easily neglected than other plants because it requires so little care. So try and make sure the watering doesn't dwindle too much.

How Do I Know When to Water My Ponytail Palm?

Due to its high drought tolerance, your ponytail palm can go for weeks without water. It can be tricky to know when your plant needs water, so here's what we suggest:

  • Heavy lifting

When your Ponytail Palm is freshly watered and when the soil is completely dry and it needs to be hydrated, pay attention to its weight. Is your plant significantly thinner than usual? Then you should drink some water.

  • Get your hands dirty

Test the moisture content of the soil by inserting your finger there. Do the roots feel any dryness in the soil? It is time to water if that is the case. If you detect any moisture at all, hold off for a few days and do the "touch test" again before watering. Water the Ponytail Palm only when the soil is completely dry because overwatering is one of the most frequent issues it faces.

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You might notice limp, drooping, and possibly browning and curling leaves if you unintentionally leave the soil of your Ponytail Palm completely dry for an extended period of time. The trunk might also start to droop and wrinkle. A thorough soak is necessary if the soil is excessively dry throughout the entire pot.

Should You Mist Your Ponytail Palm?


NO! A ponytail palm won't appreciate you using a misting spray, placing it on a tray filled with water, or taking any other humidity-increasing actions.

As touched on earlier, it responds best to dry heat, which is why it grows so well in centrally heated rooms. (Read More: How Big Do Ponytail Palms Get)

Keep your spray mister for your other houseplants that love moisture; this one does not require humid air. All it needs is a good soak if it is thirsty.

Summing Up

Even though it's challenging, it's not impossible to underwater a ponytail palm, especially if other, more demanding plants are vying for your attention.

It takes a lot for them to complain, but when they are seriously dehydrated, they give you a distinct, unmistakable indication.

So keep an eye on that base bulb; if it starts to appear noticeably less full, you can be sure you have a ponytail that has submerged.