Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata or Nolina recurvata) is an easy-to-grow houseplant with very low maintenance requirements. However, if you notice leaves turning a reddish-brown or purple color, you may have a problem. Don’t worry! It’s usually an easy fix.
So, why is my ponytail palm turning purple? The most common causes of purple leaves are dry soil, too much light without proper acclimation, and/or dramatically changing conditions (temperature, watering routine, light, etc). If the plant is not happy, the leaves will start to show it by changing color.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at why you’re seeing purple and what you can do to fix it.
Under-watering may cause your ponytail palm leaves to turn a purple, red, or brown color – usually starting at the leaf tips. Although this hardy dessert plant doesn’t need a lot of moisture, it’s still possible to under-water it.
The “knot” on the plant’s trunk is a natural water reservoir, so it can go quite a long time without watering – especially during the winter months. You can forget to water it for a month at a time and it will usually be perfectly fine. But you may begin to see some color changes in the leaves.
For the best results and to prevent discoloration, follow these guidelines for watering your ponytail palm plant:
- Water when the top quarter of the soil becomes dry.
- Water once a week during spring through fall.
- You can allow the soil to completely dry out in winter by reducing watering frequency to once every two weeks.
- Always use lukewarm water and pour over the soil slowly. Once water starts to seep out of the drainage hole, you’ve given it enough water.
- Never all the plant to sit in water.
- If you notice the bulb on the trunk shrinking, this is a sign that water is needed.
It’s hard to underwater a ponytail palm. But if you’ve gone longer than a couple weeks without watering, the trunk reservoir may run out of water and leaf tips may start to change color. Just remember to water once a week all year except winter, then reduce watering to once every two weeks. That should be more than enough to keep the plant happy.
Another common cause of ponytail palm turning purple is being placed in direct sun after being indoors or in a shadier area for a period of time.
Because ponytail palm is native to the desert, it can thrive in bright sunlight. However, it must be acclimated to the bright light slowly. If you take a ponytail palm that’s been living indoors for a few months and place it outside in the direct sun without acclimation, it will become stressed and leaves may begin to turn purple or red.
How do you acclimate a ponytail palm to brighter light?
The best way is to slowly move it towards the new location a little every day. If the location is outside, begin by placing it in a shady outdoor area for a few hours each day, then slowly increase the time spent outdoors over the next week.
If the location is indoors, like a brighter window, just move the plant physically closer to the new area by a few inches every day. Allow at least a week of moving slowly closer. Once you get the plant in it’s new location, you may want to hang a sheer curtain over the window for a few days – just to make sure.
Even when slowly acclimating to new conditions, you may still see some leaves drop or change color temporarily. Ponytail palm is not particularly finicky, but it doesn’t like to be moved once it’s become happy in a certain location.
Dramatic changes in environment are another reason for ponytail palm turning purple. As described above, ponytail palm does not like dramatically changing conditions – such as light changing from medium to very bright suddenly.
Some other environmental changes that may cause leaf discoloration include:
- Changes in light exposure – Make sure to acclimate to brighter light slowly, as discussed above. Ponytail palm can handle lower light for short periods, but it will eventually kill the plant. Ideal lighting is bright indirect to full sun (south- or west-facing window).
- Changes in temperature – Ponytail palm grows best when temperatures stay in the range of 65 to 75 degrees F (18 to 24 degrees C) at all times. It likes the warm, dry air of most homes. If temperatures drop below 65 degrees F (18 degrees C), leaves may begin to drop or change color. It’s also a good idea to keep the plant away from drafts and heating vents.
- Changes in moisture – If the plant goes from super bone dry to drenched in an instant, this can cause the leaves to turn color or drop. It stresses the plant. If you notice your ponytail palm is very dry or you haven’t watered it in a while, give it lukewarm water and pour into the soil slowly.
How to Fix Ponytail Palm Turning Purple
Ponytail palm is truly an easy-care houseplant. The only issues that might cause it to turn purple are under-watering, placing in bright light when it isn’t acclimated, and other dramatic changes in its environment – like temperature fluctuations.
However, if you keep it watered enough (but not too much), keep it in a sunny window, and don’t move it around too much – your ponytail palm will be thriving in no time. If you do have purple leaves or leaf-tips, don’t worry. They will turn green again once you’ve fixed the issues.