Pony Tail Palm Size

matthardyMarch 4, 2012

I have been lucky enough over the last few years to have a very nice Pony Tail Palm that just keeps getting bigger and bigger. It came to me in a fairly small pot, about 4 inches deep and maybe 10-12 inches square. The plant as you can see from the picture looks to almost overwhelm the pot and is almost touching the table it sits on.

Does it need to be re-potted and if so how big of pot should be used? Does the new pot also need to be as shallow? Any other hints with re-potting?

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Hi...what a beautiful plant..it gorgeous...it reminds me of a majestic weeping willow standing tall...
I have one too, with the same problem, mine is in a ugly plastic pot, and I have been wondering what to plant it in and how...
I'll be watching and see what the others here suggest...
your plant is so great..I love this plant....linda

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 11:43AM
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I am not a experienced ponytail palm owner, but I think the size of the pot might be best determined by what you want the plant to be like. These can get to be very large, tree sized when they are in their native Mexico in the ground. If you pot up in size continuously it will respond by getting taller. Keeping the plant root bound will help the stem get fatter, rather than taller, which is what I would try to do with this plant if I had one.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 3:13PM
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matthardy, that table top does not look like the usual location for the plant. I'd be reluctant to do anything other than put the entire pot & plant combination on a "plinth" or similar elevation. Perhaps a tall slender 'plant stand' would work well. I have used the support for a drinking-water container to support a 10" 'Pothos'. It looks very well.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 5:01PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

A nice plant, Matt.

The advice to keep a PT rootbound doesn't isn't based on what will allow the plant the best growth and vitality, it's simply offered to protect you and your plant from a poor soil choice. The thinking goes something like this: "The plant won't tolerate wet feet, so let's tell all these growers to keep the plant root bound because we just KNOW they're going to use an inappropriately water-retentive soil and overpot the plant if we don't protect them from themselves. It's soo easy to cause root rot if the soil stays wet too long that it's better to sacrifice vitality and growth by keeping the plant's roots tight so it uses the water in the soil faster and air can return to the soil so we can avoid the fungaluglies that rot roots", and that's all true. However, if you choose a soil that allows you to grow the plant WITHOUT tight roots, you'll be VERY surprised at how robustly the plant will grow and the vitality it's capable of.

If you bare-root the plant and put it in a large pot with an appropriate soil (one that allows you to water freely w/o worry about root rot issues), you'll be soo pleasantly surprised.

The appropriate size of the pot is determined by soil choice. Here is something I recently posted to another thread/another forum that goes into more detail:

We usually select containers progressively larger as a planting matures. How big they MUST be is determined by the size of the root mass and how much attention you've paid to root maintenance. How large they CAN be is determined by soil choice. More:

How large a container "can" or "should" be, depends on the relationship between the mass of the plant material you are working with and your choice of soil. We often concern ourselves with "over-potting" (using a container that is too large), but "over-potting" is a term that arises from a lack of a basic understanding about the relationship we will look at, which logically determines appropriate container size.

It's often parroted that you should only move up one container size when "potting-up". The reasoning is, that when potting up to a container more than one size larger, the soil will remain wet too long and cause root rot issues, but it is the size/mass of the plant material you are working with, and the physical properties of the soil you choose that determines both the upper & lower limits of appropriate container size - not a formulaic upward progression of container sizes. In many cases, after root pruning a plant, it may even be appropriate to step down a container size or two, but as you will see, that also depends on the physical properties of the soil you choose.

Plants grown in "slow" (slow-draining/water-retentive) soils need to be grown in containers with smaller soil volumes so that the plant can use water quickly, allowing air to return to the soil before root issues beyond impaired root function/metabolism become a limiting factor. We know that the anaerobic (airless) conditions that accompany soggy soils quickly kill fine roots and impair root function/metabolism. We also know smaller soil volumes and the root constriction that accompany them cause plants to both extend branches and gain o/a mass much more slowly - a bane if rapid growth is the goal - a boon if growth restriction and a compact plant are what you have your sights set on.

Conversely, rampant growth can be had by growing in very large containers and in very fast soils where frequent watering and fertilizing is required - so it's not that plants rebel at being potted into very large containers per se, but rather, they rebel at being potted into very large containers with a soil that is too slow and water-retentive. This is a key point.

We know that there is an inverse relationship between soil particle size and the height of the perched water table (PWT) in containers. As particle size increases, the height of the PWT decreases, until at about a particle size of just under 1/8 inch, soils will no longer hold perched water. If there is no perched water, the soil is ALWAYS well aerated, even when the soil is at container capacity (fully saturated).

So, if you aim for a soil (like the gritty mix) composed primarily of particles larger than 1/16", there is no upper limit to container size, other than what you can practically manage. The lower size limit will be determined by the soil volume's ability to allow room for roots to "run" and to furnish water enough to sustain the plant between irrigations. Bearing heavily on this ability is the ratio of fine roots to coarse roots. It takes a minimum amount of fine rootage to support the canopy under high water demand. If the container is full of large roots, there may not be room for a sufficient volume of the fine roots that do all the water/nutrient delivery work and the coarse roots, too. You can grow a very large plant in a very small container if the roots have been well managed and the lion's share of the rootage is fine. You can also grow very small plants, even seedlings, in very large containers if the soil is fast (free-draining and well-aerated) enough that the soil holds no, or very little perched water.

I have just offered clear illustration that the oft repeated advice to "only pot up one size at a time", only applies when using heavy, water-retentive soils. Those using well-aerated soils are not bound by the same restrictions.color>

I hope that helps. Let me know if you have questions or if anything needs to me made clearer.


    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 5:18PM
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I'm glad you said something here, Al, as I really was just posting something to get other folks who know more to chime in. This post was languishing with not much in the way of a response, and I wanted the OP to get some kind of answer about whether and how to repot.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 8:39PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Thank you. I really like the name you chose for the forums, btw. I think about how neat it is every time I come across it.

There is no rush to repot this particular plant unless there is a significant problem that involves root health. I'd just sort of hang on until somewhere near the summer solstice, when a faster recovery is assured.

Take care.


    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 9:22PM
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Thanks to everyone who posted. I think when I find the right pot that is a bit larger then the current one, but not too large, I will make the move making sure I keep the soil similar to where it is now. It seems to be working.

And Tapla/Al, what is it that you like about my name? That is just my real name put together.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 12:35AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Sorry about that confusion. I was saying I think 'Aseedisapromise' is a pretty cool name for the forums ...... it says a lot.

There's a difference between 'repotting' and just 'potting up'. The former involves bare-rooting, root pruning, and a complete change of soil, and offers much greater promise for your plant to grow to its potential. Potting up, which is essentially just putting the plant in a bigger pot and adding soil, ensures your plant remains root bound and limited in growth and vitality. Repotting also allows you to get the plant into a fast-draining, well-aerated soil, which would be one highly suited to this plant.

Take care - best luck!


    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 7:33AM
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