Cat Palm Troubleshooting Guide

My Garden Life
December 1, 2021
Table of Contents
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.

25 Comments

  1. Lindsay Kilbury

    Ends of the cat palm are bending downward — no sign of browning.

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      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.

      Reply
      • Denise Dries

        My fern is lacking green color all over the plant. Any suggestions

        Reply
        • My Garden Life

          Hi Denise,
          The most common reason for a fern to turn pale is a lack of light. Try to find a location near, but not directly in front of a window. Another option is to use artificial lights to increase the light level around your plant.

          Reply
        • Robert

          Could be spider mites. This palm loves warm showers. This will deter insects. Don’t let soil become too dry try to give fresh air.

          Reply
  2. Linda Chavis

    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.

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      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.

      Reply
      • Karla

        Hi,
        My cat palm has al sorts of things, it has bending leaves and fronds, also some broken stems which I cut, it also has brown tips and yellowing, it was droopy but got a bit better after watering although its happening again, even though I just watered it a about 4 days ago, when I feel the dirt it feels dry to me, it is in a nursery plastic pot with holes and no saucer, I place a plate underneath when watering, I water with 2.5 cups if water every 15 days according to webpage for a 9.5” pot, but when stick my finger through the bottom holes or the top it feels dry, I dont want to over water it, but given that it does feel dry to the touch, should I? Ive begun to mist it as it seems like its to hot for it, so maybe it needs more water? It gets some light but not much, I open the front door to let light in given that 2 of my windows have uv filter but it still gives light and a 3rd window is filterless, its next to a heating duct but its never in use and no air comes through as far as I can tell, it was leaning quite a bit so I started turning it, my cats accidentally knocked over 2 days ago,. Ive done some pruning of the browning tips and yellowing leaves since I read I should but then I also read I should just prune once a year and not during summer and just let it sit with te dying leaves as it takes nutrients from them and also for photosynthesis? Please help, dont want it to die but also my apartment s small and I dont see where else to put it since I dont want my cats to have such easy access to eats since they like biting it a lot, they will eat it all if they could

        Reply
        • My Garden Life

          Hi Karla,
          A few things for your consideration:

          Your plant needs adequate light to grow sturdy stems. Place it as near to the window with no filter as you can. If the window faces north or east, you can put it right in front of the window. If it faces south or west, put it a foot or so away so it doesn’t have hot sun beating down on it in the afternoon.

          If the soil is dry to the touch, your cat palm does require watering, especially if you’re finding that it’s dry at the top and bottom of the pot. That suggests that all of the soil is dry and that could certainly lead to yellowing and death of the foliage. It may be time for a new pot that’s an inch or two larger than the current pot, so there is ample space for additional moisture so you’re not having to water so frequently. Slip the plant out of its pot and have a look at the roots to see if they are dense and winding around the base of the pot. If so, the plant is ready for a larger pot. Have a look at our article on How to Repot a Plant to see a photo of what root-bound roots look like.

          You should feel free to trim off any dead, crispy leaves at the base of the frond stem at any time of year. It is not true that those leaves are still photosynthesizing, they have no function, and they are simply making your plant unattractive. A leaf that is actively photosynthesizing and producing chlorophyll would be green.

          Fortunately, cat palms are not toxic to cats, so although your cats may cause damage to your plant, the plant won’t harm your fur babies.

          Reply
  3. Christina

    The tallest fronds on my cat palm keep snapping, not sure what is going on? Do I need to trim them, if so how?

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Christina,
      If the blades of a frond are snapping off, you should inspect the leaves closely (a magnifying glass is ideal for this) and make sure your plant doesn’t have spider mites or scale. See our article on Common Houseplant Pests for identification and treatment tips. Pests feeding at the juncture where the blades meet the stem can weaken the tissue to the point the blades fall from the frond.

      If the entire palm frond is falling over, look for mushy areas of the stem. Overwatering is the most common reason for entire fronds to bend and break as a result of root or stem rot. Cut off the frond just above where it starts to grow away from the base, taking care not to cut into other stems emerging from the same base. Make sure your plant is in a pot with drainage. If it’s in a grower pot set inside a decorative pot, be sure water isn’t standing in the outer pot. Pour off any excess water. Try to get your plant on a watering routine that allows the top inch of soil to dry between thorough waterings.

      Reply
  4. Julie

    I have my Cat palm on my back patio but it is under a covering all day with direct morning light but minimal in the afternoon. I recently purchased and repotted into a heavier pot but so far we have lost a lot of leaves already due to yellowing. Could this just be the effects of a new pot and new environment or is there something i’m doing wrong. It’s spot on the patio gets the least direct light of any place i could put it.

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Julie,
      If you’ve returned your plant to the same location after repotting, and it was growing happily there before, then it sounds like it’s reacting to being repotted and perhaps adjusting to a new watering routine. Does your new pot have a drainage hole? It’s important that the roots aren’t standing in water. Ideally you would thoroughly water the soil all the way around the plant until water runs out the bottom of the pot. Then don’t water again until the top inch of soil is dry to the touch. At that point you thoroughly water again, then don’t water again until the top inch of soil is dry; keep doing that and a routine for meeting your plant’s watering needs should emerge. Also watch for new growth. If your plant is producing new fronds, then that’s an indication that the roots are healthy, and the yellow fronds are likely just older leaves naturally being discarded as the plant adjusts to the disruption of repotting.

      Reply
  5. ML

    My cat palm has a number of issues. I have tried misting, water, repotted and moving it (2x), neem oil (to rid pests) and it still gets brown / yellow tips (which I have cut off). I’ve also cut the fronds that were completely yellow. Additionally, the stems coming out of the pot are yellow. Help! Is this cat palm on its’ way out?

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi ML,
      A couple of things to consider: the most common cause of yellowing leaves is underwatering. Try to get your plant on a watering routine. Check the soil moisture by feeling the top inch or two of soil. If dry, give your plant a thorough watering, making sure you aren’t applying the water just on the center of the plant. Make sure you’re watering around the plant as well, where the more fibrous “feeder” roots are located. Repeat when the top inch or two of soil is dry again.

      To answer the question as to whether your plant is “on its way out”, the stems coming up and yellowing is concerning (we’re assuming this is new growth?) Is there other new growth appearing elsewhere on the plant? If so, then the plant is not dying, but perhaps just supporting the optimum amount of growth given its environmental conditions. When you repotted did you increase the size of the pot by an inch or so diameter? Root-bound plants will discard foliage because their constricted root space doesn’t allow for the root mass to develop to support an increase in foliage. A sort of foliage/root mass equilibrium is maintained. A root-bound plant also can’t supply adequate water as the roots crowd each other to the point that flow of water is cut off. As a result, you get the same yellowing leaf symptoms as a plant that is too dry – no root flow, no water getting to the leaves.

      Finally, be sure your plant isn’t next to an air duct that might be contributing to drying out the fronds and contributing to the browning tips. Whether the air is warm or cold, a location with constant air movement can have a drying affect.

      Reply
  6. Somone

    Almost all of my palms tips are brown. I have been cutting off the entire palm piece when it’s dead but it’s not helping. Can I just cut the tops? Anything else to try?

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Somone,
      If the majority of the leaf is still green and healthy, we would recommend just trimming the leaf tips rather than cutting off the entire leaf. Use a sharp scissors and trim at an angle to give the frond a natural look.

      Reply
      • Plant l

        I have something growing with my cat palm. It has small balls on it. I have had this plant for over six years now

        Reply
        • My Garden Life

          Hello,
          If the small balls are white and fluffy-looking your plant may have mealybugs. See our article The Most Common Houseplant Pests where you can find images to help with identification. If the balls are green and being produced along a stem, this may be your cat palm naturally producing fruits. The fruits are interesting, but not exceptionally attractive so you may want to remove them. Just snip off the stem with the fruits on it at its base. This way energy from the plant isn’t being expended on the fruits rather than the main plant.

          Reply
  7. De'Vonte

    I recently bought a cat palm from ikea and immediately repotted the plant (I now know I should not have done this). After repotting my cat palm started dropping and is slowly dying. The stocks on the plant are also breaking and getting weaker, and every other day another part of the plant is drooping. I repotted again this time with cat palm specific soil, however the plant is still not doing well. The only thing I can think I did wrong is the pot I got for the cat palm may be too small, and I am going to get a new pot today. Any advice would be helpful.

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi De’Vonte,
      Please have a look at our article on Caring for Your Cat Palm where you’ll find a list of your cat palm’s preferences for care and light. Usually when people are having general problems with a cat palm (assuming it’s not a pest infestation) it’s because one of the cat palm’s basic care/environmental requirements aren’t being met. Since your plant is brand new to your home, and newly repotted, it may be struggling a bit to adapt to its new environment. Follow the care recommendations as closely as you can to help your plant recover from its recent stresses.

      Reply
      • Silverstream94

        I just got a cat palm who was in distress at a local hardware store. I know it’s not ideal, but I really want to try and save her. I had to cut a lot of broken and browned fronds away, but it seems that every day since I’ve had to cut another one or two of as shey go really dark and crispy.

        I also trans planted her when I got her home.

        Did I just do too much at once and she’s in shock? I can’t find any results on darkening, crispy leaves.

        Reply
        • My Garden Life

          Hi Silverstream,
          It is going to be hard to pinpoint what’s going on with your cat palm given that there are a lot of unknowns such as its treatment while at the hardware store (was it watered properly, did it have enough light – most likely answer is “no” to at least one of those since it was in distress when you found it). When you transplanted your cat palm do you recall seeing any problems with the soil or the roots? Was the soil too wet? Too dry? Were the roots firm and healthy or soft and decaying? To your point, the plant has been through A LOT and is probably struggling with all the transitions, but the condition of the soil and roots might give you some clues as to its previous treatment.

          Very often the blackening of cat palm leaves is a result of overwatering. Overwatering can also encourage root rot. Exposure to cold can also lead to blackened foliage. If you live in a cold climate, the plant may have gotten nipped by the cold during transport from the store to home.

          The best you can do right now is try to offer your cat palm optimum growing conditions. Hopefully you’ve placed it in a pot that has drainage so water isn’t accumulating in the base of the pot. You’ll want to be sure it’s in a location where it is getting bright, indirect light and you’ll want to water it when the top inch or two of soil dries out (use your finger to feel the soil). You may continue to lose some foliage as the plant continues to adjust, but if you can give it proper and consistent care, and as long as you see new growth developing, there is hope!

          Reply
  8. Cathy

    My cat palm’s stems have multiple small black spots and leaves are turning brown. No sign of scale or spider mites. Was doing fine until couple months ago, no changes to watering.

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Cathy,
      Those type of spots are usually associated with overwatering. Sometimes adjustments may need to be made to watering in different seasons. The amount of light your plant is receiving can help guide you, as well as feeling the soil periodically to make sure it’s not staying too wet.

      Houseplants growing near a window are subject to similar light conditions as plants outdoors. As days become longer or shorter through the seasons, a plant’s needs can change; growth can increase or slow. I have a situation where my houseplants actually require more watering in winter because the window is shaded by a large maple tree in the summer. Once the maple tree drops its leaves in the fall, and even though the days are shorter, the light intensity is much stronger and there’s a heating vent not far away that makes the air dryer. So, strange as it sounds, my houseplants increase growing and need more water in the winter than the summer. Every home will have its own “microclimate” that needs to be considered with houseplants through the seasons; light levels, air ducts, size of the plant, each specific plant’s needs, and even the type of pot can affect watering (terra cotta pots are porous and can evaporate water away vs plastic pots that retain water).

      Reply

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