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I have a 50cm tall Beaucarnea Recurvata which splits into 4 branches near it's top. I have had it for about 13 years. A few months ago I noticed that one of the branches appeared to be dying off; the leaves were brown at their base, ie where they sprouted from, and damp like leaf mould, and dropped off easily. The growing tip of that branch seemed a tiny bit spongey. Since it was coming into winter I reduced the watering to a soak every 4 weeks (from once a fortnight). Recently I noticed another branch starting to die off and after some consideration and internet research, and since both branches had lost all their leaves, I cut both these branches to about 2cm below the growing tips. I wasn't absolutely sure I was doing the right thing but I couldn't think of anything else to do. Now a third branch is showing the same signs, and the plant looks far from the magnificent specimen it used to be.
It seems like damp, but the top of the plant is never in contact with water -it would be far too messy to water from above. It used to sit by a south facing window, but the window is in a recess so only gets about 2 hours of direct sunlight. It is about 1 metre from a radiator (only used in extreme cold) but could be a bit draughty from the floorboards (although it sits on a table). I have moved it to a warmer and less draughty room, but there is no sign of sprouting on the cut tips. I can't find any signs of insects within the compost, leaves or at the growing tips.
Any advice: what is causing the problem and what is the solution? I really don't want to lose this one.
Thanks in advance.
It sounds like either cold, overwatering, or a combination of the two. Beaucarnea comes from Mexico, so doesn't like our cool, damp winters, especially if sited in a place with limited sunlight. However, they are quite robust plants, and I've seen one that was frosted outside, resprout the following spring when brought into warmer conditions.
I advise that you stop watering altogether and leave the plant to go completely dry. If you see any signs of squishiness in the branches, then cut them back by 2-3 inches. If possible, move the plant to a warmer place (though as the weather is warming up now, that may not be necessary), such as a sunny conservatory. My plant goes to my neighbour's in winter as I don't have a conservatory. In April, start watering again on a fortnightly basis and hopefully you'll see some new shoots appear. Good luck!
Thank you for your advice, Borassus.
The rotting seemed to start towards the end of last summer, so I wonder if it began the previous, very long and cold, winter and I just hadn't noticed until much later. I don't have a conservatory either, but I do have one window sill that gets sun for several hours, so I'll move the plant there and after that I'll leave it well alone for a couple of months and hope it sprouts from where I've cut so far.