Cat Palm Troubleshooting Guide

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Cat palms are a good indoor plant to grow because they don’t need direct sunlight, they’re safe for cats and dogs and they don’t need to be repotted often. There are some signs of trouble to watch for, but most problems with cat palms are easily fixed with this troubleshooting guide. Cat palms are worth the time to find out what’s wrong and make a simple change to their care routine, so you have a healthy plant.

Underwatering Causes Cat Palm Leaves to Turn Yellow

Causes of Yellow Leaves:
When a single palm frond turns yellow, there’s no need to worry because older leaves die naturally. New sprouts replace old leaves. But if several leaves turn yellow at once, then your cat palm is most likely underwatered.
What to Do If You’re Underwatering Your Cat Palm:
1. Check if your cat palm is rootbound. The soil of rootbound plants dries out quickly. Tip the pot and slide the root ball out to see if the roots are growing around the inside of the pot. If the roots are wrapping around or through the holes in the bottom of the pot, choose a new pot that’s no more than two inches larger than the current pot and repot it.
2. If your plant isn’t rootbound then you need to adjust your watering routine. When you water, pour a little at a time until the water trickles from the holes in the bottom of the pot. Test the soil surface with your finger and water again when the top inch is dry to the touch.

How to Stop Brown Leaf Tips on Your Cat Palm

Causes of Brown-tip Leaves:
1. Too much or too little water is the most common cause of many leaves suddenly turning brown.
2. Dry air, or low humidity, is another common culprit of brown leaves.

What to Do if You’re Over- or Underwatering

Water your cat palm when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Water a little at a time until the water drips from the bottom of the pot. Then, wait until the top inch is nearly dry to the touch before watering again. It’s important that you empty any excess water from a decorative pot or saucer after watering. Palms are especially sensitive to their roots setting in water.

What to Do if the Air is Dry

Mist the leaves of your cat palm every other day or plug a humidifier nearby if it’s in a heated room. This will increase the air humidity.

How to Cut Brown Leaves

Let palm fronds continue to grow until the entire leaf turns yellow or brown with age. In the meantime, you can tidy up your cat palm by using a sharp, clean pair of shears to trim off the brown tips at an angle.
Pro tip: Insect pests can be another cause of discolored or damaged leaves. Here are Common Houseplant Pests and how to control them.

Repot Your Cat Palm When It Outgrows the Pot

Wait until your cat palm is thoroughly root bound before repotting because palm roots don’t like to be disturbed. This will be about every three years. You can either choose a new larger pot or divide your palm.

How to Repot a Palm

Select a container that’s two inches larger than the current pot. Fill the bottom layer of the pot with fresh potting soil. Place the cat palm in the new pot and fill the sides with fresh soil. The previous soil surface should be level with the newly added soil. Leave at least half of an inch of space from the top of the soil to the pot’s rim to allow room for watering.

How to Divide a Cat Palm

1. Slide the root ball out of the pot. Remove loose soil by gently shaking the root ball or washing the soil away with water.
2. Use a knife to cut the cat palm’s root ball in half. The base of a cat palm can be very woody so using a serrated knife can make the job easier.
3. Repot each half of the palm in their own pot with fresh soil.
If you didn’t find an answer to an issue with your cat palm, ask in the comments below. You can also check out these tips for Caring for Your Cat Palm.


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4 thoughts on “Cat Palm Troubleshooting Guide”

    1. Hi Lindsay,
      There are a variety of things that can cause a plant’s leaves to appear droopy. Here are some things to check:

      Your plant is overly dry. Feel the soil with your fingertips. If the top two inches of soil are dry, you can give it a thorough watering.

      Your plant is overly wet. Rotten roots caused by overwatering can’t uptake water, so you get the same result as a plant that is overly dry. Be sure your plant’s pot has drainage, so water isn’t accumulating at the bottom. If your plant is in a plastic nursery pot, set inside a decorative pot, don’t let water drain and pool there either. Pour off any excess water.

      Use a magnifying glass to inspect your plant for tiny insect pests such as spider mites or thrips. See our article on Common Houseplant Pests for help with identification and treatment.

      Apply a slow-release fertilizer to make sure plant is getting sufficient nutrition.

      Leaves can droop if the light is too intense or hot. Moisture is drawn from the foliage faster than it can be replenished. Being too close to air ducts that can dry out the leaves can cause the same problem.

  1. I can’t seem to satisfy my cat palm. I have tried everything to help it. I mist it, water when the soil is dry feed it, transplanted into a 22″ pot with one of those disc so it wouldn’t stand in water and nothing seems to work. Can you help me. I don’t want it to die.

    1. Hi Linda,
      A couple more things you could check:

      Palms are a favorite for spider mites and these pests are so tiny that they’re easy to overlook – even if their side effects are obvious. Get a magnifying glass to inspect your plant closely, looking especially at the undersides of the fronds and in nooks where the fronds join the main stem. See our article on Common Houseplant Pests for help with identification and treatment.

      Cat palms can be picky about light. Your plant should be in a bright location but not in direct sunlight. Near a southern or western window would be ideal. If that’s not possible, you could add supplemental lighting. We’ve got tips in our article Setting Up Artificial Lights for Indoor Plants.

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