My Ponytail Palm Has Insects and Needs Repotting. Help!

“My ponytail plant has insects in it. How do I replant it, and can I sit it in water?” Question from Norvaline from

Dear Norvalene,

Ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata) like dry conditions, so do not sit yours in water. They are typically easy to grow, but on occasion, they get tiny mites on the foliage or other insects, such as mealy bugs, scale, or earwigs, down in the cracks between the leaves. I have a couple of recommendations for ways to remove any unwanted insect pests. Mealybugs are the most common problem. Please read the following to learn how to manage them. You can use the same techniques to manage scale and mites. The excerpt is followed by instructions for replanting and caring for ponytail palms.

How To Manage Mealybugs

Here is an excerpt from my blog, Managing the Worst House Plant Pests:

Mealybugs are soft, white, and feed on the juices of plant leaves and stems, particularly in the crevices between leaves and stems. Mealybug infestations are hard to manage because these pests travel and spread as crawlers. Crawlers are the nearly invisible nymphs that hatch from the pest’s white, cottony egg masses and “crawl” several feet to quickly infest other plants. You can’t always see these crawlers, so to manage them, you have to clean plants, containers, and surrounding surfaces when you see an infestation.  They produce copious crawlers, so the sooner you notice mealybugs, the better.

At high populations, mealybugs produce lots of cottony egg masses, adult bugs, and nearly microscopic crawlers. All must be completely removed if the plant is to be saved. (Image by Alexlutor)

To remove mealybugs, start by cleaning your plant, its pot, and all surfaces surrounding the plant. Remove the top two inches of potting soil and replace it with fresh. Finally, spray the plants. One of the best mealybug sprays is a 10-25% solution of isopropyl alcohol. Fill a spray bottle with 1/4 cup of isopropyl alcohol and 2/4 cup water and shake to combine. When treating plants with this solution, keep them out of direct sunlight because it can cause leaf burn in the bright sun. You can also treat plants with insecticidal soap or Neem oil. Repeat spray treatments until plants are mealybug-free.

Another method to stop crawlers is to surround infected areas with double-sided tape traps. As the crawlers hatch and begin crawling, they will get stuck on the tape and die. You can also surround plant bases and pot edges with double-sided tape to keep crawlers from moving beyond an infected plant.

Ponytail Palm Replanting and Care

Ponytail palms are technically succulents. The bulbous base of the plant holds water like a succulent, and they like drier soil, so provide a fast-draining potting mix, such as Black Gold® Natural & Organic Succulent & Cactus Potting Mix. To replant yours, plant it in a pot slightly larger than the one it’s currently in, and make sure the container has large drainage holes to further encourage drainage.

When replanting, I generally place a layer of fresh soil in the bottom of the pot. Your goal should be to have at least 1 inch of space at the top of the pot for watering after replanting. Remove the plant from the old pot and make sure its roots are not densely intertwined or pot-bound. If they are, gently tease them apart along the edges before planting. Next, center the plant in the new pot, and then work soil around the edges, packing it down gently with your fingers until the root ball is covered. (Please click here to watch the following video to learn more about transplanting.)

Be sure not to overwater the plant. I typically water mine once weekly during the winter months and twice weekly in summer when I take my plant outside.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

How Much Light Does Ponytail Palm Need Indoors?

“I just fell in love with the ponytail palm plant. I would like it in my dining room that gets some afternoon light. How much light does it need?” Question from Ann of Lookout Mountain, Georgia.

Answer: I have a ponytail palm, too, and just love it! Ponytail palm (Beucarnia recurvata) is native to arid regions of Mexico and needs low water, especially in the winter months, and high sunlight. It can withstand partial sun in winter, if necessary, but if you want your specimen to really thrive, I recommend bringing it outdoors in summer.

Don’t take it outdoors in spring until the threat of frost has passed and days have warmed up. Then let it soak up the sun in a slightly covered area that won’t get inundated with heavy rain. It is fine to give it moderate water outdoors in the summer, especially when days are very hot and dry. To ensure fast soil drainage and protect roots from rotting, I recommend planting it in Black Gold Cactus Mix.

In mid-fall, bring it indoors into your partially sunny dining room. Clean it before bringing it inside as a house plant. (Click here for tips on cleaning plants before bringing them indoors.) Once inside, you can water less. Then in November, give it very little water until the following spring.

(Click here to learn a lot more about growing ponytail palm indoors and out!)

I hope that these growing tips help.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist