Caring for Your Cat Palm

My Garden Life
July 8, 2020
Table of Contents
Cat palms (Chamaedorea cataractarum) are a favorite houseplant for indoor gardeners and interior designers alike. They lend a tropical feel to any room they grace, they fill space with an abundance of lush leaves, and, for the most part, cat palms are easy to grow and care for.
Follow these ten tips, and chances are good that you’ll have a healthy, attractive cat palm to enjoy for years to come.

1. Light Requirements

Cat palms are like Goldilocks when it comes to light: not too much, not too little, but just the right amount. That means they want a bright spot but no direct sun, which can burn their leaves.

2. Water Needs

As with light, cat palms don’t do well with extremes in watering. They don’t tolerate dry soil or soggy soil. Either one can result in the leaves turning yellow or brown and even dropping off all together. Instead, keep the soil moist to the touch. When you do water, add a little bit at a time until it just starts to leak out the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.

Like many tropical
houseplants, cat palms like high air humidity. This can be achieved by misting
your plant once or twice a day using a spray-bottle of water. You could also
fill a shallow tray, saucer, or pan (for larger plants) with sand or small pebbles,
place the potted plant on the pebbles, then fill the tray with water. As the
water evaporates it increases the humidity around the plant. Replenish the
water in the tray as needed.

3. Temperature Tolerance

Cat palms like it warm during the day, up to 80°F (27°C), and in the evening, they won’t tolerate temperatures below 50°F (10°C).

4. Repotting

The cat palm’s roots are sensitive and easily damaged when disturbed. You should only repot when you’re sure the plant is root-bound in its current planter. You can tell if this is the case if, when you try to slide the palm from its pot, you see roots circling the inside or coming through the drainage holes in the bottom. Here’s more on how to repot, if needed.

5. Propagation/Dividing

If you have decided to repot your cat palm, then you might also consider dividing the plant at the same time. Two palms for the price of one! It’s a simple process: Slide the root ball out of the pot and wash the soil away with water. Use a knife to cut the root ball in half, then repot each half of the palm in their own container.

6. Feeding

Buy a slow release fertilizer specially formulated for indoor palms (available at garden centers and online) and follow the instructions. Normally, you will only need to feed once or twice during the growing season (spring and summer).

7. Brown-tipped Leaves

Brown leaf tips on your cat palm can be a sign of several problems:
  • First, make sure you aren’t over- or underwatering.
  • Second, if the air in the room in which you’ve set the palm is too dry, that could be the issue.
  • Third, a recent repotting may make the entire palm look unhealthy for about six weeks while it recovers.
  • Or finally, there might be too many salts in your water. Sometimes it’s obvious that
    you have “hard” water (water high in calcium and magnesium carbonate salts).
    Glassware might have white spotting or a white crust forms around faucets and sink surfaces. If
    you’re not sure, water test kits are readily available at hardware stores or
    online. Consider switching to distilled water for your houseplants if you think
    this might be the case.

8. Pests

Mealy bugs, scale, aphids and spider mites can all afflict cat palms. Your first defense against these bugs is to wipe the affected leaves with cotton balls dipped in rubbing alcohol. For more information, check out our tips on identifying and dealing with common houseplant pests.

9. Pet Safe

The cat palm is not toxic to cats or dogs, but be careful not to confuse it with the sago palm which looks slightly similar and is poisonous for pets.

10. Fungus Treatment

Reddish blotches on your cat palm’s leaves may mean it has contracted leaf spot. A grayish white dusty coating usually signifies powdery mildew. Both can be treated with a homemade or commercial fungicide spray. And as with any fungal houseplant disease, you can help prevent these by not wetting the leaves when you water and increasing the air circulation in the room where your cat palm sets.
Cat Palm foliage - Chamaedorea cataractarum

Cat palms are fun, easy to grow and make a beautiful addition to the decor of any room. Even better, cat palms can help make your living environment healthier. Find out more about how houseplants of all types bring the benefits of green living indoors.


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