Beaucarnea recurvata, or the ponytail palm, is one of my favorite houseplants! It’s a long-living, beautiful, and hardy plant that looks like something out of a fantasy novel—except it’s a real-life, low-maintenance succulent that thrives indoors. The Mexico-native species is famous for its palm-like features—especially its leaves, which can reach lengths of more than 3 feet (0.9 meters) if well tended.
You can trim or prune ponytail palm leaves if they are too long. Pruning and trimming are similar practices, but they’re done at different times and for specific reasons. However, doing any of them will help control overgrown ponytail palm leaves and ensure your plant stays healthy.
Ponytail palms might be able to survive gross neglect and harsh climates, but they still need some care if you want them to flourish. In this article, I’ll explain the difference between trimming and pruning, show you how to prune and trim your ponytail palm leaves, and share some care tips to ensure you only have beautiful ponytail palm plants. Let’s get started!
The Difference Between Trimming and Pruning
Most amateur gardeners I talk to are pleasantly surprised when I tell them there’s a difference between pruning and trimming. After all, most of these gardeners typically have one or two houseplants like the snake plant or Chinese money plant, which can get by without pruning or trimming. And although it’s not a terrible sin to be in the dark about this subject, it’s handy information to have if you keep plants.
Trimming refers to the practice of cutting overgrown shoots of a plant to improve its aesthetics. Pruning is a practice done to remove damaged, diseased or dead branches from a plant to enhance its appearance and ensure it flourishes.
Both practices involve completely removing plant parts using some cutting tool. And they’re both done to care for all kinds of plants—both indoor and outdoor plants.
Both require different specialized tools and must be done at certain times to see their effectiveness. And while many gardeners use both terms interchangeably—since they both refer to “cutting back”—they’re not the same thing.
However, they both ensure healthy and visually pleasing trees, bushes, and hedges in your home or garden.
Let’s discuss each practice in detail:
As I mentioned earlier, trimming refers to the removal of overgrown shoots of a plant. You can trim a plant to keep it at a specific size or to maintain a particular shape. While pruning is primarily done for health and safety, gardeners trim plants for cosmetic purposes.
Still, it doesn’t mean your plant can’t get a few health benefits from trimming. After all, removing an overgrown branch or leaf can help your plant manage resources better. The critical distinction in trimming is that you only remove what is necessary to return your plant to an appropriate size or shape.
Trimming also has preventative health advantages. In addition to lowering the risk of illnesses and pest attacks, it also reduces the possibility of leaf loss and your plant tipping over due to uneven weights. The practice also promotes healthy growth in plants.
You can prune a plant for aesthetic reasons, but it’s typically done to remove unhealthy shoots from plants. The practice helps to prevent damaged or diseased shoots from harming the plant, other plants, or people. It’s also an excellent way to ensure your plant flourishes.
Pruning might seem a bit aggressive compared to trimming, but it doesn’t stunt plant growth. Removing damaged parts can stimulate the plant and ensure it reaches maturity, flowers, or produces fruit.
Expert gardeners also prune plants as an art form—a practice called topiary. It involves pruning plants to shape them into geometric, animal, or exotic shapes.
You can also prune a plant to ensure or encourage the growth of new shoots. This practice, known as pollarding, is typically done annually and is primarily aesthetic.
Consider Pruning or Trimming to Promote Healthy Growth
It’s evident that although both practices are different, pruning and trimming can benefit your plant in similar ways. However, pruning is selective—since you only need to cut back dead, dying, diseased or damaged plants—and trimming is a more general approach to cutting back plants.
So, which method is best for ponytail palm leaves that are too long?
It’s best to trim ponytail palm leaves that are too long instead of pruning them. Trimming is better since you’re not dealing with diseased or damaged leaves and want to cut them back to control excessive growth. However, you can prune if you notice damaged or diseased leaves on your plant.
The best way to determine whether to trim or prune is to assess the plant’s needs. If the plant is generally healthy and you’re dealing with overgrown shoots, trim it. I recommend you prune the leaves if your ponytail palm is showing signs of damage.
You might need to prune and trim your ponytail palm leaves in certain situations—especially if it’s overgrown and shows signs of damage. So, I recommend you carefully inspect the plant before taking action.
Only Trim if You Notice Overgrown Leaves
Trimming isn’t as necessary in most plants as pruning—so I recommend you trim your plants at least twice a year. However, you might not need to trim as often for a ponytail palm plant. The plant grows slowly; you only need to trim it if you notice overgrown leaves.
Here’s how to trim ponytail palm leaves:
Carefully Inspect the Plant
Move your ponytail palm plant into the light and carefully inspect the plant. Ensure you check for leaf damage, pests, diseases, and dying leaves before taking action. You can skip to the third step if the plant is fine.
Remove Dead, Diseased, & Dying Leaves
Remove pests and prune dead, diseased, and dying leaves before you trim the rest of the plant. The next section of this article contains precise instructions for pruning if you’re unsure what to do. Remember to be gentle with the plant.
Cut Back the Leaf Tips
Cut back the tips of the ponytail palm leaves using a pair of trimming scissors or pruning snips. I recommend using plant scissors since they encourage precision cutting. Ensure you don’t cut back too much so the leaves aren’t too short.
Trim Disclored Tips
Trim off discolored leaf tips so the plant is visually pleasing. Most people keep ponytail palms because they look good, so it’s crucial to keep aesthetics in mind when trimming.
Cut at Angles
Cut the plant at angles so the leaves retain their shapes. Trimming is entirely up to you, so you can play around with the shapes and lengths you want the plant to have. Remember to be careful so you don’t damage the plant.
You don’t need to cut a lot when trimming, especially if it’s your first time. I recommend you only cut off excess growth so you don’t accidentally hurt the plant or cut the leaves too short. However, you can experiment a bit if you’re more experienced.
Identify the Right Leaves to Prune and Use Clean Tools
The pruning process is almost identical to trimming, but it requires a bit more care since you typically cut closer to the trunk of the ponytail palm. While you could get away with a few mistakes when trimming, improper pruning could do more damage to your plant than if you left it alone.
So, ensure you follow the steps below to get it right.
Here’s how to prune ponytail palm leaves:
Gather Your Tools
First, collect all the necessary tools for pruning your ponytail palm leaves. You’ll need pruning shears, garden gloves, bypass pruners, and some waste bags to collect the clippings.
Clean the Pruning Shears
Clean the pruning shears using a piece of cloth. You’ll need to soak the cloth in some alcohol before cleaning so it can reduce the risk of infections. Ensure you keep the fabric close throughout the process.
Trim the plants using the pruning shears or a pair of trimming scissors. Trimming will improve plant aesthetics and help you better see the leaf base. Remember only to trim a little.
Cut Damaged or Weak Leaves
Cut the damaged, diseased, weak, and injured leaves. Prune just below the leaf stalk so you reduce the chance of damaging the plant.
Then, trim and prune as much as you want. You can reduce the size of the plant or shape it however you desire after getting rid of the damaged leaves.
Always examine the plant as you would when trimming to ensure you only cut what’s necessary from the ponytail palm.
Ponytail palms share a lot with palms, but they’re certainly not palms. They’re more similar to your cactus in terms of care. So, it would help if you learned how to take care of the plant—especially when its leaves get too long.
This article is an excellent guide if you’re unsure of how to deal with overgrown ponytail palm leaves and you need a step-by-step guide to trim or prune them.