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4 Steps to Save Overwatered Ponytail Palm

Ponytail palm is a set-it-and-forget-it houseplant whose main problem is overwatering. Because of its bulbous, water-storing stem, it requires meticulous water management.

But how do you save a ponytail palm that has become overwatered?

A ponytail palm that has been overwatered will show signs of leaf yellowing, wilting, browning at the tips, and leaf edema. In addition, look for brown, smelly roots that are rotting.

If you find any signs of root rot, cut them off, then treat the remaining roots with hydrogen peroxide or fungicide and dust them with cinnamon or garden lime powder before repotting.

Underwatered vs. Overwatered Ponytail Palm – What’s the Difference? 

It can be challenging to tell the difference between overwatering and underwatering, two of the most common ponytail problems.

However, to keep your ponytail palm alive, you must know the difference between underwatering and overwatering it.

After all, continuing to water an overwatered ponytail palm will only make matters worse. It might get out of control at some point.

– Check Soil Moisture

Try running your fingers through the soil to figure out what’s wrong with your plant. For example, it will be soggy if you’ve overwatered your plant.

If the soil is dry, dusty, and possibly compact due to underwatering, the problem is with drainage, not with the plant.

It results from the soil being completely dehydrated. You need to water your plant; once you do, it will quickly recover from its droopiness.

– Inspect the Leaves

Initially, edema will manifest on the leaves of an overwatered ponytail palm. They include water-soaked bumps or blisters, particularly on the undersides of leaves.

They are an indication of water overload in the leaf tissues.

Another early sign of overwatering is the yellowing of lower foliage. New leaves may form watery brown tips.

Even if you water your plants regularly, you may notice some wilting in the leaves.

Ponytail palm leaves, on the other hand, become dry and crunchy or even dusty when dehydrated.

As a result, they may initially appear yellow but soon turn brown.

To begin with, the entire plant’s leaves will typically turn brown and crispy around the edges and tips due to being underwater.

A close inspection of a leaf reveals that it is papery and crinkled. If you didn’t water your plant enough, the leaves would usually look better after you water it.

– Monitor Growth

Signs of waterlogging include reduced leaf size and slower development.

However, Overwatering is most likely to blame if your ponytail palm suddenly stops growing.

– Check Roots and Soil Smell

Overwatering plants commonly cause root rot. Therefore, overwatering is the problem if you uncover brown, rotting, smelly, and spongy or mushy roots below the soil.

Extreme underwatering can cause soil to compact and kill roots. Roots are likely to be dry and thin yet sturdy. There will be a natural dusty or earthy smell from the soil.

Why is Overwatering a Problem for a Ponytail Palm?

Overwatering occurs when your ponytail palm grows in poorly-aerated soil. 

Overwatering symptoms occur when roots can’t get enough oxygen to survive, grow, and function properly. It may surprise you to learn that roots need oxygen to breathe.

Unfortunately, excess moisture drives oxygen out of soil air pockets. Without access to a constant oxygen supply, the roots will suffocate and cease functioning properly.

In addition, because of their weakened state and susceptibility to fungal and bacterial infections, the roots cannot absorb and transport nutrients and water to the rest of the plant.

When that happens, a disease called root rot can set in. Consequently, overwatering leads to the following effects:

  • Root rot and other fungal infections.
  • Dehydration since the roots cannot absorb water properly.
  • Nutrient deficiencies.
  • Stunted growth and loss of plant vitality.
  • Death of your ponytail plant.

Signs of Overwatered Ponytail Palm 

(1) Yellowing Leaves

Yellowing leaves are one of the earliest and most noticeable symptoms of overwatering in ponytail palms.

And it’s not hard to see why: leaves that aren’t getting the nutrients they need turn yellow because the plant’s roots are unhealthy and damaged from suffocation and rot.

Leaves turning yellow indicate a need for more nitrogen and other nutrients.

Remember that photosynthesis, the primary means by which plants fix nitrogen, is stifled by overwatering.

Chlorosis can also be caused by a lack of iron, zinc, or magnesium.

In addition, leaves that turn bright yellow at the edges but remain green in the center suffer from a lack of potassium due to overwatering.

(2) Leaf Edema and Blistering

In the early stages of overwatering, your ponytail will have an abundance of moisture in the leaf tissue and cells. This will cause edema and blistering on the leaves.

Water-soaked blisters, mainly on the lower sides of the leaves, indicate that the leaves are soggy. They’ll rapture soon as excess turgor pressure builds up.

Younger leaves are more susceptible to blistering, which can cause the tips to brown and die.

(3) Brown Spots on Leaves

Excessive watering causes extensive leaf damage. Capturing lead edema blisters usually results in the creation of entry points for bacterial and fungal pathogens.

Worse, the affected leaves are frequently soft and wet, creating ideal conditions for infection from:

  • Powdery mildew.
  • Botrytis Blight.
  • Alternaria leaf spot.
  • Bacterial leaf spot.
  • Anthracnose leaf spot.

Root rot can also progress up the stems to the foliage. The brown spots could be caused by fungal diseases such as Rhizoctonia leaf spots.

[4] Root Rot

Root rot is caused by overwatering a plant for an extended period and is characterized by soft, spongy, or slimy roots that may be black or dark brown.

A soil that smells sour, pungent, or like rotten eggs is a common symptom of root rot.

The worst-case scenario of overwatering is root rot, and the longer your ponytail is infected with the rot disease, the less likely it is that you can save it.

[5] Moldy Soil

Overwatering a ponytail palm indoors provides the ideal conditions for the growth of most soil-borne fungi.

Therefore, you will notice a moldy covering on the soil’s surface and the lower parts of your plant due to the rapid germination and reproduction of fungal spores.

[6] Ponytail Palm Wilting

Overwatering can cause root rot if your ponytail palm looks wilted, even when the soil is wet or soggy.

Simply put, your plant has difficulty absorbing water and will continue to be dried despite abundant supplies.

[7] Stem Rot

If overwatering is allowed to continue, root rot disease will spread up the stem, causing dieback and decay.

Beginning at the base, affected stems will be soft, swollen, and discolored. The entire trunk will eventually rot, and the plant will topple over.

[8] Soft, Mushy Leaves

If you overwater a ponytail palm, you’ll kill it because the roots will rot, and the plant won’t be able to absorb water.

This means that no matter how often or how much you water your ponytail palm, it will not be able to rehydrate itself.

As a result, leaf cells and tissue will lose their turgidity (also called turgor pressure), resulting in leaves that are soft to the touch and appear limp.

[9] Failure to Bloom

Mature ponytail palms usually have clustered flower blossoms that decorate the leaves. In contrast, overwatering causes noticeable leaf yellowing.

Furthermore, chlorophyll is essential for photosynthesis, which is necessary for flower growth.

Therefore, it prevents the emergence of new flowers and causes the premature demise of existing ones due to a lack of nutrients.

How to Fix Overwatered Ponytail Palm 

Step #1: Reduce Watering Frequency

To give your ponytail palm enough time to recover, stop all watering at the first sign of overwatering (yellowing leaves).

If overwatering hasn’t caused root rot, dry conditions will encourage internal healing and possibly full recovery without repotting.

Step #2: Dial Down Humidity Levels

Overwatering’s adverse effects will be exacerbated by high humidity. In addition, the soil will take longer to dry out, giving rot disease more time to wreak havoc on the roots.

Fortunately, there are several ways to reduce humidity levels in your ponytail plant:

  • Spread out your plants, so they don’t get too close together and create a microclimate with less humidity.
  • Increase the circulation of air around your plant.
  • Make use of a dehumidifier.
  • Move your plant to a room that isn’t naturally humid, such as an open office or an air-conditioned room.
  • If your ponytail plant is sitting in a humidity tray, remove it.

Step #3: Unpot your Ponytail Palm and Dry Out the Roots

Turn the pot on its side and remove your palm with the ponytail from the opening.

Now, please look closely at the roots to see how they are doing. Roots with rot are weak, dark in color (brown or black), and soft.

Rotten roots may also have an unpleasant odor. Roots that are strong and healthy will be pale or creamy white in color and firm to the touch.

Ponytail palms are susceptible to mild overwatering; in this case, place the root ball on a bed of newspapers or magazines to dry out.

If root rot hasn’t already taken hold in your ponytail palm, you can rest assured that it will survive the problem.

Don’t put your plant in the sun or near a heater. Then, after the soil and roots have dried, you can put the plant back in its original pot.

Step #4:Repot your Ponytail Plant

If there’s any sign of root rot, repotting should be your best shot at saving your ponytail palm. Here’s the procedure:

  • Brush off or remove all soil from the root system of your ponytail palm. The remaining dirt can then be rinsed away.
  • Sharp, sterile pruning scissors should remove any rotten or affected roots. Make sure to sterilize the pruners to avoid the spread of pathogens to healthy parts of the plant and other plants.
  • Allow the remaining root system to dry after spraying it with hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is non-toxic to your plant and is effective at killing pathogens.
  • Alternatively, drench the healthy roots in fungicide and let them dry.
  • Once completely dry, dust the cut areas with cinnamon powder or garden lime powder to prevent bacterial or fungal growth.
  • Repot your ponytail palm in a new sterile pot with a fresh, well-drained, rich potting mix. I usually start with a cactus mix (Amazon link) and then add some peat to boost the richness.
  • Mix some powdered cinnamon into the potting mixture to serve as a mild anti-fungal.
  • Irrigate and drain thoroughly.
  • Avoid Direct Sunlight – After the soil has been slightly moistened, place the plant in a bright spot with indirect light.

Propagating Ponytail Palm

If root rot has destroyed the entire root system, your only choice is to propagate a new plant.

  • You obtain pups or offsets that grow from the base of a healthy ponytail palm and pot up each offset individually.
  • To stimulate new root development, apply rooting hormone to the offset.

How to Water Ponytail Palm

Ponytail palms are succulents with high tolerance to arid conditions. They’re more forgiving if you skip watering than when you overwater them.

  • Watering guidelines – You can water your ponytail from the bottom or the top. Allow the excess water to drain thoroughly in either case and don’t forget to empty the saucer.
  • During the growing season, irrigate potted indoor ponytail palms once every 1-2 weeks. Reduce irrigation frequency to once per month during the fall and winter months.
  • Consider the following factors: Watering frequency is affected by ambient temperatures, light conditions, humidity levels, and the time of year. For example, a ponytail palm in a bright sunny southern window will require more watering than one in a darker corner.
  • Water quality – Ponytail palms, like all houseplants, dislike tap water high in chemical and mineral salts. Use rainwater, distilled water, or filtered water instead.
  • When and how much to water – Soak it in water until it overflows the bottom drains. Make sure to start the day by giving your ponytail palm a good soaking of water.

Common Mistakes in Watering Ponytail Palm 

Common MistakesHow to Avoid
Watering Too Frequently Water once every 7-14 days during the growing season. Reduce to once every month during the off-season.
Wet Soil from OverwateringAllow the soil to dry out between watering sessions.
Inconsistent WateringAdopt a consistent watering schedule. Always check the soil moisture using your finger.
Watering the Leaves and Not the Roots Water from the side of the pot. Avoid overhead watering.
Watering During the Heat of the DayWater early in the morning.