Beaucarnea recurvata

How to Grow a Ponytail Palm

As one of the most popular houseplants found in homes all around the world, the Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) is one of the easiest to grow and require very little maintenance by their owners. If you’re looking to add a splash of charm into your home, but don’t want to put much time or thought into it, then this tropical houseplant may just be the perfect choice for you.

Originating from the arid landscapes of Mexico, the name Ponytail “palm” is a bit of a misnomer. While the bulbous trunk indeed had some similarities to the trunks of other palm trees, the Beaucarnea recurvata is actually a drought-resistant succulent. And that bulbous trunk is where the plant stores its water.

Ponytail Palm

How to Care for Ponytail Palm

Ponytail palms are one of the easiest houseplants to care for.

They require little water, love lots of light, you don’t have to fertilize often, and they have the ability to adapt to the comfortable temperatures often found in homes. The downside of growing a ponytail palm inside your home is the incredible slow pace in which they grow.

As long as you don’t over-water it, you probably won’t kill it. It’s pretty much that simple.

However, if you want your plant to grow tall, thrive and be healthy, there are some easy guidelines you can follow to help you provide the best care for your ponytail palm.

Botanical Info

Latin Name Beaucarnea recurvata
Plant Family Asparagaceae
Genus Beaucarnea
Common Names Ponytail Palm, Elephant Foot Palm, Bottle Palm, Nolina Palm
Origin Mexico, South America
USDA Zone 10 – 11

Growing Conditions

Water Once every ~10 days.
Light Bright & full exposure to sun.
Soil Cactus potting soil.
Fertilize Once a month. Diluted liquid fertilizer.
Temperature Warm. Keep above 55°F.  
Humidity Adaptable. Not too low.  
Maintenance Easy to care for.  
Grow Inside? Yes
Grow Outside? Yes. Best in USDA Zone 10 – 11
Safe for Pets? Yes. But, care should be taken.
Container Size Depends on how large you want it to grow.  

7 Common Questions About Ponytail Palms

To help ensure that you’re providing to proper care for your ponytail palm, we have listed out the most frequently asked questions down below. If you have a question that you don’t see listed or would like to add additional feedback for others to learn from, please leave it down in the comment section below.

1. How often do you water a ponytail palm?

Not often, but the frequency depends largely on the environment you’re growing it in. Below, we have some general guidelines to watering a ponytail palm, but the best advice is to give it a drink of water when you see the soil start to dry.

  • During Hotter Months — You’ll want to water your ponytail palm plant once every 7-10 days.
  • During Cooler Months — You’ll want to slow down the watering schedule to once every 20-30 days.

If you don’t abide to that precise schedule, don’t fret. This plant is great at surviving long periods without water. But, if you want a healthy plant that grows to its fullest, you should try to follow the watering guidelines listed above.

Remember: The easiest way to kill a ponytail palm is by over-watering. Less is more.




2. How much light does it need?

Ponytail palms love lots of light. Remember, this plant is native to arid deserts, so full exposure to the sun will be appreciated by this plant. However, while full exposure is recommended, ponytail palms are adaptable to little or moderate amounts of light.

The downside of less light exposure is that you’ll see a noticeable slow down in its growth. And for an already slow-growing houseplant, this may just completely stunt it.

So, if you want your ponytail palm to grow tall, give it lots of light.

3. How often should I fertilize a ponytail palm?

Depends on the season and environment you’re growing your ponytail plant in. A general guideline is to fertilize your plant once every 3 or 4 weeks. If you see the tips of the leaves start to turn brown, then you’re using too much fertilizer.

  • Spring & Summer — Add fertilizer once every 2 or 3 weeks.
  • Fall & Winter — Add fertilizer once every 4 to 6 weeks.

Adding fertilizer is essential to the overall health of houseplants, and Beaucarnea recurvata is no different. Liquid fertilizers are recommended for ponytail palms, but granular fertilizers will also suffice. An all-purpose fertilizer will work fine here, but you can also consider using one formulated for cactus and other succulents.

4. What kind of soil should I use?

The best type of soil for this plant is one that drains quickly. Unlike many popular tropical houseplants, the last thing the ponytail palm wants is to sit around in moist soil for an extended period of time.

When you repot or transplant, it is recommended that you use a soil designed for cactus or succulents. If you want to make your own soil mixture, keep it light on the amount of peat you use within.

Remember: Keep the soil dry, and water sparingly.

5. Is repotting possible with a ponytail palm?

Yes, repotting a ponytail palm is possible and easy to do, but precautions should be made before you undertake this effort.

  • Size Matters — First, consider how large the tree is, and where you’re going to be moving it to. Larger plants will likely require more help from others, as well as a few other tools or equipment to assist in the transplant. On the flip side, if you’re repotting a small bonsai ponytail palm, then you likely won’t need any help or special tools.
  • Do In Spring — It is recommended that repot your ponytail palm early in the growing season, as this gives it plenty of time to adjust to the larger pot and form strong roots.
  • Examine the Roots — Once you have it out of the original container, take a close look at the roots of your plant. Look for any signs of bugs, rotted areas, or anything that looks injured or contaminated. Cut these off before you repot in new container.

Keep in mind: Transplanting it to a larger pot will encourage the plant to grow larger. This may be a deal-breaker for anyone growing a bonsai palm.

6. Is this plant safe for pets?

According to the ASPCA, the ponytail palm does not pose any toxicity threats to dogs or cats.

However, every homeowner with pets should know, and possibly take precautions if deemed necessary, that the leaves of the Beaucarnea recurvata contain saponin which may cause discomfort in some animals if ingested. So, while it’s unlikely that any harm will come to your dog or cat, it may be wise to keep an eye on them and ensure that they are not eating or chewing on the leaves.

It’s also worth noting that saponins are found in many popular houseplants, not just the ponytail palm. They also pose no danger to humans. In fact, saponin is found in many dietary supplements and are suggested to have some nutritional benefits.

7. Can you grow a ponytail palm outside?

Yes, but it’s recommended that you live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 10 or 11 if you want your plant to thrive. The sandy soil and hotter temperatures create an ideal environment for growing the ponytail palm outside.


Broken CFL Bulb

How to Clean Up a Broken CFL Bulb

Using compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs in your house is a great way to use less energy, save a little bit of money on your utility bills and help protect the environment.

However, breaking one of these bulbs, as simple as it may seem, can create a dangerous situation. Because of the trace amounts of mercury inside the bulb, it’s important that you take proper precautions if you ever find yourself having to clean up a broken one.

Is a Broken CFL Bulb Dangerous?

Yes, it can be a potential safety concern. The tiny shards of glass that come from the broken bulb can easily cut open your skin.

But, that’s probably not why you’re reading this. I’m willing to guess that you’re concerned about the small amounts of mercury inside of a CFL bulb, and, perhaps, what it’s going to do to your indoor air quality. This is a valid concern.




Is There Mercury In CFL Bulbs?

Yes. It’s true that CFL bulbs have mercury inside them. And yes, if one of these bulbs break open inside your home, your indoor air quality could deteriorate if you don’t take proper precautions.

However, this scenario is much like many other emergency-like situations that homeowners often face. When something goes wrong, you take action before it gets worse. It’s simple.

Let’s look at the science:
  • Study from 2008: CFL bulbs tested contained about 3-5 mg of mercury, but the energy savings of each bulb prevents about 4.5 mg of mercury from being emitted into the air by power plants. Interestingly, this study also found that CFL bulbs contain about 1% of the mercury as old thermostats (500 mg).
  • Study from 2011: CFL bulbs tested only contained 0.1 to 3.6 mg of mercury, and would take up to ten weeks to emit vapors that would be considered hazardous to human health.
  • Study from 2012: Concluded that young infants were at the highest risk, and clean-up within the first four hours after a bulb breaks is “critical.” The study also noted that the temperature and ventilation of the room play a big role in whether the air is safe to breathe.

So, yes… A broken CFL bulb can be dangerous, especially for younger kids. But the danger can be minimized if you act quickly and follow a proper cleanup process.

For more information about the dangers of mercury, please visit the EPA’s website.


How to Clean Up Broken CFL Bulb

Cleaning up a broken CFL bulb isn’t a difficult or harrowing task. It’s a rather simple process that doesn’t require a professional and can be completed within a few minutes. However, because CFL bulbs contain mercury, the process for cleaning it up is a bit more complicated than simply picking up glass.

Below, we have explained the process you should follow if you break a CFL bulb, as well as some general tips that every homeowner should know before they start.

How to Clean a Broken CFL Bulb

Gather Your Materials:

  • Cardboard, heavy-duty paper or plastic scoop.
  • Tape, damp paper towels, or cleaning wipes.
  • Plastic bag or glass jar with lid.

Procedure for Clean-Up:

  1. First, use your cardboard or stiff paper to scoop-up the large pieces of the broken CFL glass.
  2. Next, use tape or damp paper towels to help remove the smaller shards of glass.
  3. Continue previous step until you feel confident that all glass shards have been removed.
  4. Wipe area with disinfectant wipes.
  5. Put all materials into your bag or glass jar, and seal completely.
  6. Dispose immediately.

Note: A glass jar with a tight fitting metal lid is the best item to dispose of the broken shards of glass because it keeps the mercury vapor sealed inside.

If one is not available, a sealable plastic bag, such as a large ziploc bag, will suffice. However, if you go this route, try to handle it as little as possible. You may also want to wear disposable gloves or gloves you don’t mind throwing away in order to prevent the glass shards from cutting your hands.


General Tips Every Homeowner Should Know

Know that you have a better understanding of how to clean up a broken CFL bulb, let’s take a closer look at a few other factors that will help protect you from the mercury inside.

1) Shut Off Central AC

The first step is to turn off your air conditioner, heater, fans or any other appliance that circulates air throughout your home.

The goal with this first step is to prevent the air in the “zone” with the broken bulb from spreading throughout your home. If the area has been exposed to elemental mercury, than it is important that you prevent the air from dissipating to other areas of your home.

2) Air Out & Ventilate Room

Now that you’ve shut off all air conditioners in the room, open the windows and allow the room to “air out” a bit. As noted in the studies above, a well-ventilated room is an important step to limit your exposure.

It would be wise to instruct all people and pets to leave the room immediately, taking precautions to avoid the area where the bulb was broken. Once everyone has left the room, you should open windows, doors and vents to the outside, but not into the house. Use this time to gather your materials.

CFL Bulb

3) Clean Up Within Four Hours

Allowing the mercury to sit, undisturbed, in a room with no ventilation is extremely unsafe and will quickly degrade the indoor air quality of your home. If you’re using an air conditioner, no matter what kind it may be, turn it off.

As the study above concluded, the first four hours are the most important. Try to clean it up within that time frame.

You have absolutely nothing to gain by waiting.

4) Safely Collect & Seal Debris

After you’ve gathered what you need, re-enter the room where the CFL bulb was broken. Leave the windows, vents and doors to the outside open in order to continue to let the mercury vapor dissipate.

Scoop up the larger pieces of glass from the floor. Place the shards into the glass jar or ziploc bag. Use the tape to pick up the smaller pieces of glass. Make sure that all glass is removed from the hard surface or carpet.

Once the glass has been picked up and placed in the jar, use the damp paper towels to clean the affected area. Disposable disinfectant towels will also be good for this purpose. All of these wet wipes should be placed inside the jar or ziploc bag. If you wear disposable gloves while cleaning up the mess, those too should be discarded inside the container

Once this has all be completed, tightly seal the jar or ziploc bag.

5) Remove From Home Immediately

Now that the broken bulb has been picked up, remove it from the house immediately. This is especially important if you used a plastic bag. This is because the plastic may not completely contain the mercury vapor inside. If not, it may then leak out into the air inside your home.

6) Never Use a Vacuum Cleaner. Ever.

Trying to vacuum up the glass from a broken bulb will only further fan the mercury vapor into the air. This is exactly what you want to avoid. Contain, not circulate.

Of course, depending on the type of floors that the broken bulb is on, this is easier said than done. Below, we have listed out some tips for cleanup based on the type of flooring.

  • Hardwood & Tiled Floors — It would be avoid the vacuum cleaner entirely. Stick with using a steam mop, swiffer or wet wipes to clean up the tiny shards of glass.
  • Carpets & Rugs — On a carpeted area, it can be difficult to find all the smaller pieces of glass from a broken bulb. Vacuuming can help, but it should be done with windows open and entry ways into the rest of the house closed.



No matter what type of flooring you have, once you completed the cleanup process listed above and picked up as much of the broken bulb as possible, you will be able to then — and only then — use the vacuum cleaner.

Note: If you decide to use the vacuum cleaner, it would be wise to use the hose attachment, keep the area well-ventilated and dispose of the bag / empty the canister as soon as possible. You don’t want CFL debris sitting inside your vacuum cleaner for an extended period of time.

7) Always Wash Your Hands Immediately After

Even if you wear gloves when you clean up the broken bulb, there is no guarantee that mercury didn’t get onto your hands. After cleaning up the shards of glass and throwing all the debris away in the best possible way, thoroughly wash your hands with soap and hot water.

This will help remove any small pieces of glass that may be lingering on your hands. It will also give you more peace of mind about residual mercury.

8) Dispose Hazardous Waste Correctly

Check your local regulations for the best way to properly dispose of broken CFL’s. Some municipalities may require you to dispose of the hazardous waste in different manners. Some simply allow you to throw it out with your garbage.

Of course, you could always toss it out and know one would ever know. But, you don’t want to inadvertently contaminate another area of our community. So, be a good neighbor, follow the law and dispose accordingly.


Summary

Cleanup of any broken CFL bulbs should be prompt and precise. Shut off your air conditioner to prevent circulation of air. Open windows to ventilate air in the area. Never, ever use a vacuum cleaner. And, seal the broken shards in bag or jar and remove from your home as soon as possible.