Cat Palm (Cataractarum Palm or Chamaedorea cataractarum): Care and Growing Guide

cat palm (Chamaedorea cataractarum) care

The cat palm (Chamaedorea cataractarum) is a type of palm plant that is easy to care for indoors. Cat palms have long, arching palm leaves, giving the houseplant a bushy appearance. Growing up to 3 ft. (0.9 m) tall, cat palms are the ideal indoor plant to add greenery to almost any bright room in your house.

How to care for cat palms: The cataractarum palm thrives in bright indirect light, well-draining soil, and above-average humidity. Water cat palms when the soil partly dries and apply a diluted houseplant fertilizer monthly during the growing season. The best temperature range for growing cat palm is 70°F to 80°F (21°C – 27°C).

Cat palms belong to the genus of tropical palms Chamaedorea and are native to Central America and Mexico. Growing outdoors in their native environment, cat palms are found in moist, humid forests. In their native habitat, cascade (cat) palms grow up to 6 ft. (1.8 m) high. However, these tropical palm ‘trees’ don’t grow as tall in containers indoors.

Cat palms are not trees at all. These palm plants don’t have a trunk and such they are not trees. Cat palms grow as clumps of leafy stems from the ground. Their long cascading fronds (palm leaves) have glossy-green pinnate leaves. As the cat palms grow, their growth becomes bushy and less like an indoor palm tree.

If you don’t have room in your house for an indoor tree, then cat palms or other types of indoor palms are an excellent choice.

Other common names for cat palms include cascade palms or cataract palm. Another popular type of houseplant palm in the same genus is the parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans). Looking at pictures of cat palms, you’ll notice their appearance is similar to majesty palms (Ravenea rivularis) and the areca palm (Dypsis lutescens).

This article is a complete guide to cat palm care. Although the species Chamaedorea cataractarum is a low-maintenance, easy-care houseplant, there are a few essential things to know about growing cat palms indoors.

Cat Palm Care

The three crucial factors to grow cat palms indoors are adequate light, soil with excellent drainage, and proper watering techniques. If you get those care factors right, you’ll have an indoor palm that looks bushy and healthy and resistant to houseplant pests.

Cat Palm Light Requirements

Cat palms grow best in bright, indirect light. Compared to other indoor houseplants, cat palms need more light. The best location for cat palms indoors is near a sunny window but protected from direct sunlight. Long periods of direct sunlight can cause leaf burn.

Cat palms can endure full sun as long as they are well-established. But they won’t survive well if sitting in the sun for too long. Palms that are in direct sunlight may require extra watering so that they don’t wilt. Putting containers on a caddy allows you to move the palms out of direct sunlight when necessary.

When it comes to the best light conditions for a cascading cat palm, partial shade in a bright room is ideal. Protecting cat palms from too much sunlight prevents leaf burn or wilting growth. If you notice that leaves turn color, try moving your plant to a shadier location.

Best Soil for Cat Palm

Cat palms or cataract palms need a light potting mix that drains quickly. The ideal type of soil for these easy-care cat palms is a mixture of potting soil, peat moss, and perlite. This combination of ingredients retains some moisture without the growing medium becoming waterlogged or too soggy.

You will need to amend the soil if it’s too heavy or there’s too much clay. Appropriate soil amendments for extra drainage include perlite, bark chips, small pebbles, or coarse horticultural sand.

Several factors can affect the appropriate soil consistency for cat palms. Because healthy indoor palms depend on the right type of potting mix, it’s vital to be aware of the following:

Rootbound plants—Cat palms eventually outgrow their containers as the root system grows larger. Rootbound plants that drain slowly can cause too much moisture retention in the soil and lead to root rot.

Drainage holes—It’s vital that houseplants—including indoor palms and trees—grow in pots with drainage holes. Most indoor plants don’t like ‘wet feet’ when their roots are always in soggy soil.

Watering techniques—Soil should be light and aerated enough to allow water to drain fast. You should allow the soil to dry out before thoroughly hydrating it again.

How Often to Water a Cat Palm

Water a cat palm only as often as the top 2” (5 cm) of soil dries out. In warm weather conditions, you might have to water a cat palm as often as every five to seven days. During winter, the indoor palm needs watering less frequently—perhaps every other week.

Don’t make the mistake of watering your cat palm on a set schedule. Many factors can affect how often you need to water indoor palm trees. The best way to know if your cat palm needs watering is to check the soil’s moisture levels, ensuring that the top layer is dry.

To water a cat palm, thoroughly hydrate the plant by pouring water until it drains out the pot’s holes. Wait until the water has finished draining before returning the palm to its bright, sunny spot.

Factors that affect soil moisture levels include the following:

Climate—Soil dries out faster in warm weather than cold weather. Therefore, cat palms require frequent watering in spring and summer to prevent the soil from becoming arid.

Type of pot—Plastic and enamel pots retain more moisture than unglazed terracotta ones. If your cat palm is growing in an earthenware pot, you will have to water it more often than if it was in a plastic container.

Type of soil—Potting soil can become compacted, causing drainage problems. If you notice water pooling on the soil’s surface, it may be a sign that you need to amend the soil to improve drainage.

Remember to water your cat palm regularly as it’s is not on the list of drought-tolerant houseplants.

Best Indoor Temperature for Cat Palm Care

Grow cat palms (Cataractarum palm) in average room temperatures. Cat palms grow best in temperatures between 70°F and 80°F (21°C – 27°C) during the day. The minimum temperature for cat palms is 45°F (7°C) at night. It’s also vital to keep cat palms away from drafts or direct heat.

Cataract palms grow best outdoors in USDA zones 10 and 11. In zone 9, cat palms will thrive in your backyard if you can grow them in a protected spot. Ensure that the ground is well-draining and that the cat palms get full sun and partial shade during the day.

If you live in colder climates, you can grow cat palms in pots outside during the summer. Find a sunny spot in your backyard or patio and water whenever the soil partially dries. Take the cat palms back indoors when nighttime temperatures drop to 50°F (10°C).

Cat Palm Humidity Needs

Cat palms need at least 55 percent humidity to thrive indoors. You can boost air moisture levels by misting the cat palm leaves, setting the pot on a pebble and water tray, or using a humidifier. A lack of humidity causes brown tips on cat palm leaves.

Here are some cat plant care tips to get the humidity levels right:

Misting—Fill a spray bottle with filtered water at room temperature. Spray a fine mist every other day around the cat palm’s bushy foliage.

Pebble tray—Boost humidity by putting a layer of decorative pebbles in a shallow tray. Pour water in the tray until it’s half-way up the pebbles. Place the cat palm pot on the stones, not in the water.

Grow with other plants—Place other houseplants near your cat palm to increase indoor air humidity.

How to Fertilize a Cat Palm Houseplant

The best fertilizer for cat palm plants is a diluted balanced houseplant fertilizer. Cat palms don’t have a lot of feeding requirements. Dilute the plant fertilizer to half of the recommended dose. Apply the fertilizer every four to six weeks during the growing season—from spring until late summer.

When fertilizing a cascade palm growing indoors, take care not to over-fertilize it. Too much fertilizer can cause root burn and damage the plants. Also, a buildup of mineral salts over time can affect the palm’s growth. Because of this, some people only feed their cat palm once or twice in the growing season.

To prevent a mineral buildup, flush the soil every three or four months. Pour water for two or three minutes through the potting soil to remove excess minerals and salts.

Trimming Cat Palm Leaves

The main reason for pruning cat palms is to remove brown leaves. Over-watering, sun scorch, or excess fertilizer can cause cat palm leaves to turn brown. Removing the dead leaves helps to improve the plant’s appearance and keeps the foliage and leaves shiny and green.

Use sharp pruning shears to cut the cat palm’s frond at its base. Trim cat palm leaves to remove new growth (offsets) near the plant’s base or to get rid of dead foliage. When trimming the palms fronds, ensure that you don’t damage other stems on the plant.

Because cat palms have a natural bushy growth, pruning is rarely required to encourage more growth.

How to Propagate Cat Palms

The best way to propagate cat palms is by separating new growth—called suckers or offsets—from the base of the plant. All you have to do is remove the suckers from the main plant. These offsets usually have their own roots, and cat palm propagation is straightforward.

How to propagate a healthy cat palm:

  1. Remove the cat palm from the pot and locate the sucker with the most roots.
  2. Using a sharp clean knife, cut the offset from the main plant.
  3. Half-fill a new pot with the appropriate cat palm soil and put the new palm plant in the pot.
  4. Fill the remaining space with the potting mix and thoroughly water.
  5. Cover the propagated cat palm with a plastic bag to increase humidity and put in a bright sunny place, but out of direct sunlight.
  6. Water the plant’s soil whenever it dries out.
  7. After a few weeks, remove the plastic cover and care for the cat palm as usual.

Top cat palm care tip: Always propagate cat palms in spring when growth if vigorous.

Repotting Cat Palms

You only need to repot a cat palm or cascade palm every three years or so. Cat palms are slow-growing houseplants, so don’t require repotting very often. When repotting, transfer the cat palm to a pot one size larger than its current one.

How to repot a cat palm:

  1. Gently remove the cat palm from its existing pot.
  2. Untangle the roots if necessary and inspect them for any dead, brown, or mushy ones—trim as needed.
  3. Put the palm plant in a new, larger pot and fill with the appropriate potting soil so that the plant grows at the same height as before.
  4. Water thoroughly and put the repotted cat palm in a bright place.

Pests That Can Affect Cat Palm Growth

Cat palms are prone to spider mites, mealybugs, whitefly, and scale. Get rid of cat palm pests by applying a neem oil solution or wiping the leaves regularly with insecticidal soap. Keeping humidity levels right also helps to prevent some pests.

It’s vital to get rid of bugs from cat palms as soon as possible to prevent leaves turning yellow, and eventual plant death.

Here are some tell-tale signs of pest infestations on cat palms:

  • Spider mites—Look for webbing under the arching palm fronds as the first sign of a spider mite attack.
  • Mealybugs—You can spot mealybugs by the fuzzy white substance they leave on the palm’s foliage. You can also see the tiny white critters crawling on stems and under leaves.
  • Scale—Scales are hard to spot, but scale insects usually look like small brown growths on the palm’s stems.
  • Whitefly—If you notice tiny white flies near your palms, it could be whitefly or white aphids. Use yellow sticky fly traps to reduce the number of flies.

Related reading: How to get rid of houseplant pests naturally and quickly.

Diseases Affecting Cat Palm Growth

Leaf spot is a common fungal disease that affects cat palms. Most diseases affecting cat palms are due to their roots sitting in soggy soil. The constant dampness causes fungal infections to thrive and that affects your cat palm’s growth. Fungal root diseases can eventually kill cat palms.

Avoid water splashing on foliage and only water when the soil partly dries to prevent root rot. If you notice spots on leaves, or the stems are yellowing and seem weak, repot the dying cat palm in fresh, sterile soil to help revive it.

Are Cat Palms Poisonous?

Cat palms are not toxic for cats, dogs, or other household pets. The ASCPA states that plants in the genus Chamaedorea are not poisonous plants.

FAQs About Cat Palm Care

Is the cat palm easy to grow?

The cat palm is one of the easiest houseplants to grow. All you need to grow a cat palm are bright indirect light, average room temperature, and some extra humidity. For proper care, water the low-maintenance houseplant whenever the soil partly dries.

Do Cat palms clean the air?

Cat palms will probably help clean the air in your house if you grow them with other clean air plants. A NASA study found that a palm in the same cat palm genus—the bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)—helps remove airborne toxins. Among the pollutants that these palms can help remove are benzene and formaldehyde.

How do I make my cat palm bushy?

With the proper care, your cat plant will naturally grow bushy. The long stems of this palm have fronds that arch and cascade, giving this tree-like plant a bushy or shrubby look. Grow the plant in bright light or partial shade and water it enough for healthy growth.

Why are my cat palm leaves turning yellow?

Leaves on cat palms can turn yellow if they don’t get enough moisture. Cat palms don’t tolerate drought and need soil that is moist at the root level. To prevent leaves from yellowing on your cat palm, water it only when the top layer of soil dries. You can prune yellow fronds from the plant.

Why are the tips of my cat palm leaves turning brown?

If the cat palm’s leaf tips are turning brown, it’s usually a sign of too much fertilizer. Flush the soil to remove the mineral buildup and don’t feed the plant for a few months.

If the whole cat palm leaves are turning brown, you are probably over-watering the plant. Trim off brown leaves and let the soil to partially dry between watering to prevent palm leaves turning brown.

Find out other amazing indoor palm plants and how to grow them.

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