The Cat Palm, also known as the Chamaedorea cataractarum, is the perfect plant if you want to add some foliage around your home.
It is easy to care for and low maintenance.
But in case you wake up one day and notice your cat palm leaves turning brown or develop brown tips, then something is not right.
The good news is that you should not panic.
Instead, it is important to start focusing on figuring out the reason why this is happening.
Why are your cat palm leaves turning brown? Watering issues are the most common cause of brown leaves and tips on cat palms.
But there are other causes as well including too much light, temperature stress, improper soil, pest and excess fertilizer.
Causes of Cat Palm Brown Tips
Cat palm brown tips happens dues to overwatering because the plant does not like wet feet.
It is native to tropical and subtropical regions, which is why it likes warm weather. The warm weather can sunny climate also allows the soil to dry faster.
This is why it is important to avoid letting your cat palm sit in wet, mucky soil.
Excess moisture will cause its roots to stay wet for long periods of time.
When this happens, the roots are deprived of oxygen because of all the water. This prevents it from deliver sufficient oxygen, nutrients and water to different parts of the plant.
As a result, your cat palm develops brown tips and brown leaves.
In addition to watering the plant too often, other causes of overwatering can occur from:
- Poor soil drainage
- Lack of pot drainage
Therefore, it is important to watch out for these things to ensure that your beautiful cat palm does not end up sitting in lots of water for extended periods of time.
As such, it is important not to water the plant when the soil is still moist or wet. Instead, wait until the top few inches of soil has dried between waterings.
Underwatering is not as big a problem for cat palms as overwatering. But you still need to be aware of its dangers.
That’s because while the plant likes to stay on the dry side, it does not like going completely dry.
This means it is important not to let the entire root ball or soil go bone dry. This is something that will make your cat palm unhappy.
And although it may just look like a very sad, droopy or wilted plant, letting the roots stay very dry for extended periods of time can make them brittle and damage them.
Additionally, because plants consist of about 90% water, this makes the plant very weak.
It also prevents nutrients and moisture from getting to any of the other parts including the leaves. And due to this you end up with cat palm leaves turning brown along with brown tips.
For this reason, it is always important to check and monitor the soil.
If you see that it is very dry, check to see if it needs water.
Too Much Light
Cat palm thrive in plenty of light. However, it cannot take too much intensity.
As such, cat palms thrive in medium to bright indirect light. You can place them in filtered, dappled or diffused light as well.
However, avoid direct sunlight.
It cannot tolerate more than 1-2 hours or so of this intensity on a daily basis.
And if you leave it there, the strong, harsh light will cause the leaves to dry and even get discolored.
In more serious cases or when the sun is very intense, its leaves will get scorched or sunburned. This is when they sustain damage and turn brown.
As such, you’ll see cat palm brown tips and leaves turning brown.
The longer you leave the plant in this environment, the larger the portions that get damaged. And the more leaves will be affected.
Thus, it is important to avoid full sun outdoors and direct sunlight indoors.
High Salt Content
Like most plants, the cat palm hates salty soil. This is often caused by one of two things.
The most common is too much fertilizer.
But it can also happen due to highly mineralized tap water.
If you live near beach, sea or ocean, you also want to be wary of the saltiness of the soil as well.
That said, majority of the time, excess feeding is the cause of high salt content.
That’s because commercial fertilizers contain salts in addition to nutrients. The problem here is many people are too generous with fertilizer hoping that giving your plants more means they’ll grow bigger faster.
Unfortunately, doing so increases the accumulation of salts in the soil.
Dissolved salts that accumulate in the soil draw water towards the salt particles away from the roots. This makes it more difficult for the roots to absorb the moisture in the soil.
As a result, there’s less water and nutrients that gets distributed to the leaves.
So, after a while, the leaves will dry up and deteriorate due to lack of nutrients. This is why cat palm leaves turn brown or develop brown tips.
These are signs of decay.
Cat palms are native to tropical rainforests. As such, they are used to moderate to warm weather.
Since they’re accustomed to the weather in the tropics, they can tolerate a wider range of warm temperatures.
That said, their size means they’re shaded by the larger trees.
This is why your cat palm prefers temperature between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it can tolerate conditions all the way down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit without any problems.
But since there are no cold months in the tropics and neither do they have winters it will struggle if its gets colder than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
So, avoid anything cold.
Indoors, this means rooms that can get chilly in the winter. It also means air conditioned rooms and areas near windows where cold breezes or drafts can enter.
Outdoors, keep the plant away from the winter climate.
In cold conditions it will experience cold damage which will affect its tissues.
This is why the plant won’t survive through the winter.
That said, keeping it anywhere under 50 degrees Fahrenheit for long periods of time or colder environments will cause cat palm brown tips and leaves to develop as well.
Cat palm brown tips can likewise happen due to pests. So, if you’ve checked through the other items in the list above and none of them seems to be causing the brown leaves, consider inspecting your cat palm rom pests.
Cat palms can get attacked by bugs just like other houseplants.
Aphids, spider mites, weevils and other insects can cause brown spots and tips on its leaves.
Many of these bugs will sink their teeth into the leaves and feed on the plant’s sap. This is what they’re after.
So, you’ll see damage in the form of brown tips.
In larger pest infestations, you’ll see entire sections of leaves turn brown as well as the damage spreads since there are more bugs.
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How to Fix Cat Palm Brown Tips
Now that you know the different causes of cat palm brown tips, it is easier to understand how to fix the problems.
Note that the solutions will be based on what the cause of the browning leaves are.
As such, you don’t need to apply all the solutions below.
Instead, just pick the one that is relevant or will fix the reason for the brown tips and leaves of your cat palm.
Keep Soil Moist but Not Wet & Water Consistently
If underwatering is the issue, then the best way to fix it is to make sure the plant is getting sufficient moisture.
This means checking the soil regularly to make sure that it is not too dry.
You’ll be able to tell by feeling the surface of the soil.
If it feels very dry and there’s crusting, then you know the soil needs watering.
I also know some gardeners who lift the pot. However, this only works if your cat palm is still small. Once it gets bigger, it isn’t practical to use this method.
If you don’t like getting your hands, dirty, then you may prefer getting a moisture meter.
The goal here is not to allow the entire soil or root ball to get completely dry.
Similarly, too much water is a problem.
And in this case, the goal is not to overwater the plant.
To avoid overwatering, you’ll likewise need to regularly check the soi. This time, stick your finger into the soil.
If the top 2-4 inches of soil feels dry, it means it is time to water.
But never do so before then. If you do, it increases the risk of overwatering.
Feeling the soil is the best way to know when to water the plant. Thus, it is important to check the soil every few days especially during the summer.
This way, you can water consistently.
Use the Right Soil Mix
In addition to watching when you water, using the right kind of soil is also important.
Again, this is because the cat palm does not like too much water.
Therefore, it is important to use soil that has good drainage.
Just as importantly, avoid soil that either holds too much moisture or has overly fast drainage.
The former will cause overwatering problems due to waterlogging. And the latter will cause the plant to dry out very quickly.
This is why the best soil for the cat palm needs to be loose, porous and have sufficient drainage.
A simple potting mix you can use combines potting soil, peat moss and perlite.
This will allow the soil to hold some moisture. But at the same time, it will be light and drain excess water so the roots don’t end up sitting in water for prolonged periods of time.
Increase Humidity If Needed
Humidity is closely related to watering. But is has more to do with the moisture in the air.
Since the cat palm is native to tropical rainforests, it is used to high humidity.
This is why its ideal humidity is 55% and higher.
Unfortunately, this can be a problem for most homes to maintain. Thus, it is important to check the humidity where you decide to place the plant.
If humidity stays too low, you’ll see brown tips on cat palm leaves start developing.
That’s because the moisture cannot reach the farthest points from the roots which are the tips of the leaves and the edges.
If this is the case, you can use a humidifier or pebble tray to increase humidity.
Avoid Direct Sunlight and Low Light
In case the cat palm brown tips and leaves are caused by too much sunlight, move the plant to a less bright location.
The easiest way to tell is to check the plant at different times of the day.
The goal is that the sun’s rays should never directly hit any part of the plant at any time of the day. This keeps it away from direct sunlight.
Instead, position it somewhere that is well-lit or bright but without the sun’s rays touching the plant.
Don’t Overfertilize the Plant
If excess fertilizer and salts are the cause of the brown tips in your cat palm, then you have two options.
One, you can flush the soil.
To do so, apply running water directly onto the soil for a few minutes. This will carry out excess salts, debris and other minerals from the soil.
Then let the soil completely drain after.
Another option is to repot the plant.
This will let the plant get away from the overfertilized soil containing the excess salts. You’ll then repot it in fresh, soil.
Don’t add fertilizer for a while to let the plant recover first.
Maintain Moderate to Warm Temperature
Cat palm like warm conditions. But because they live under the shade of large trees in the forest, they’re not used to scorching heat as well.
While they can tolerate 90 to 95 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, they prefer a more moderate to warm range.
Ideally, to keep the cat palm between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
It will likewise grow very well up to about 86 degrees Fahrenheit as well. But try to avoid very hot conditions as the plant can get dehydrated which can lead to brown tips on the cat palm as well.
More importantly, avoid temperatures that are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
This the plant will struggle in the cold.
And as the temperature keeps dropping, it will experience more side effects.
Repot When Needed
Once the cat palm gets root bound, it means it is time to repot the plant.
You’ll know by looking at the bottom of the pot. If you see roots peeking out from the drainage holes, it means that it is time to repot.
Similarly, if there are roots circling the pot or coming out from the surface of the soil, that’s a sign that it is root bound and needs repotting.
Let the Plant Recover from Repotting or Transplant Shock
One of the things you may need to watch out for when it comes to repotting or moving the plant is repotting or transplant shock.
Unfortunately, once this happens, there’s nothing you can do but give it time to recover on its own.
You can keep the conditions ideal to help it out. But in time, it will recover by itself.
Treat Pests When You See Any
In case pests are the cause of cat palm brown tips and leaves, then it is important to immediately isolate the plant away from your other houseplants.
Then apply neem soil or insecticidal soap to eradicate the pests.
You’ll also want to prune the dead and brown leaves as they won’t turn green again.