How to Grow and Care for Cat Palm

By Jean D , last updated January 11, 2012

Growing palms is a quick way to infuse your home with a taste of the tropics. The chamaedorea cataractarum plant, commonly known as the cat palm, produces glossy, dark green leaves on thin shoots. The plant grows slowly, and may only reach 24 inches in height. These are the palms you remember from the 1970s, as they were extremely popular houseplants during that time. Cat palms can be slightly challenging to care for, as they require a significant amount of water and may be prone to disease. By choosing your plant carefully before you buy, you'll increase your chances of success.

Choosing a Healthy Plant

Garden centers may create displays full of massed cat palms for you to choose from. Before you buy, pull your plant away from the others and walk all the way around the plant. Look under the leaves for bugs. Check the leaves for small discolorations, which are sometimes caused by bugs. Make sure your plant doesn't have many missing, burned or discolored leaves. In general, a small plant with abundant leaves may be much healthier than a tall, leggy plant. Pick up the pot and look for roots emerging from the bottom. Root-bound plants with roots emerging will need much larger pots soon. It's best to know the pot size before you get home and realize that the pot you've chosen is not large enough to accommodate the plant you've just purchased.

Choosing a Good Location

The cat palm originates in the tropics, and requires an environment that is quite tropical. It needs medium lighting, preferably in a window that faces either east or south. It shouldn't be placed in a drafty or cold room. Cat palms prefer daytime temperatures of 80 degrees and nighttime temperatures of 62 degrees. If you live in a warm climate, such as Florida, you may be able to grow your cat palm in a pot on your deck or as a landscape plant in your garden. Just remember to keep the plant out of direct sunlight. Your palm is also used to high humidity levels. You can help by misting your plant with water periodically, and steering your plant clear of air conditioners and heating vents that can dry the air.

Planting

The cat palm requires a potting soil that drains well. Choose a soil with a high amount of peat to ensure that the soil won't become waterlogged. Palms do not like to be repotted, so you'll want to plan your pot choice carefully. If you plant a palm in a pot that is much too big, the soil will often become too wet for too long and cause the roots to die. Planting a palm in a pot that is too small will cause the plant to pull up too much water and wilt. Experts recommend that you plant your palm in an inexpensive plastic pot, just larger than the plant's root ball, and placing the plastic pot inside a bigger, more decorative, pot. If your plant doesn't have roots emerging from the bottom of its pot, just place the plastic pot inside a more decorative ceramic pot and leave it alone. When the plant needs to be replanted, roots will emerge from the bottom of the pot, or the palm will burst from its plastic pot.

Care and Watering

The cat palm prefers a moist, but not soggy, soil. Before adding water to your cat palm, put your finger in the soil and feel for moisture. Only add more water when the soil feels dry to the touch. In general, your cat palm plant should not need fertilizer added to the water you provide. However, if the tips of your leaves turn yellow, your plant may require more nitrogen, potassium or magnesium. Before applying any sort of fertilizer to your delicate plants, take a sample of your soil to your garden center for testing to determine just what sort of nutrient is needed.

Pests

Cat palms are prone to spider mite infestation. Mites look like small dots on the bottoms of your leaves, and the mites themselves leave behind a delicate web-like trail. You can combat spider mites by wiping down your plant with insecticidal soaps. Cat palms may also be infected with scales, which are small insects with waxy shells. You may be able to wash these pests away with common soap and water, but more advanced pesticides may be required if the bugs return. If you cat palm is infected, quarantine it so the pests cannot spread to the other plants in your home.

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