A cascade palm tree (Chamaedorea cataractarum) adds a distinctly tropical vibe to your home, but it's a far cry from the tall, thick-trunked palm trees you might envision. This palm features clusters of cascading fronds for a full, wispy look. With enough space, it can grow up to 8 feet tall and works well as a privacy screen when grown outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9b to 11. Cascade palms, which are also known as cat palms, can also grow in containers as indoor plants.
Choose an Ideal Spot
A cascade palm loves bright, indirect sunlight, so choose a spot where it can soak up the sun regularly. A well-established cat palm can often handle direct sunlight. Partial shade can protect the fronds from burning. The plant needs well-draining, nutrient-rich soil. Use soil amendments if you have clay soil, adding organic material to improve drainage.
If you're planting the palm outdoors, leave at least 3 feet between cascade palms. This spacing creates a privacy screen when the plants are fully grown. Space out the plants more if you don't want a solid wall of palm fronds.
Growing a Cascade Palm Indoors
Use palm potting soil in the container when growing cascade palms indoors. The container should have drainage holes to keep the soil from becoming overly saturated. Since cascade palms like to be tight in the pot, you don't need to repot very often or choose a large pot. For indoor cascade palms, choose a spot with bright, indirect sunlight. Avoid areas near heating and cooling vents, which can affect the temperature and dry out the palm fronds.
Water Your Cascade Palm Tree
A cascade palm tree does best with consistently moist soil but don't let the soil get soggy, as too much water can damage the roots. Water the palm when the top 2 inches of soil are dry. You can test it by sticking your finger in the soil. Don't let the soil dry completely before you water again. Watering needs to happen more frequently in hot or windy conditions.
Your palm gives you clues about watering issues. If you're overwatering it, the fronds often turn brown. If you're not giving it enough water, the fronds tend to turn yellow. If you notice the tips of the leaves look burnt, switch to filtered or distilled water, as the salt and chemicals in tap water, especially fluoride, can damage the cascade palm.
Cascade palms also do well with humidity. If your home air is dry, mist the plant regularly with water or place the pot on a tray filled with rocks and water. A humidifier placed near the plant can also keep it humid and happy.
Fertilize Your Palm Regularly
Fertilizing your cascade palm regularly helps encourage growth and helps the palm plant become established. A slow-release palm fertilizer provides a continuous supply of nutrients to your plant. Water the plant and apply it according to the package instructions, keeping the fertilizer 6 inches away from the base. Apply the fertilizer three times per year. If you skip fertilizing, expect your cascade palm to grow more slowly.
Prune Your Cascade Palm
Cascade palms do well with some minor pruning. Remove yellow and brown fronds using a sharp, sanitized pruning tool. This helps keep the palm looking tidy and can remove problem fronds that could affect the health of the plant. Pruning can also be used to control the growth of the cascade palm.
Handle Pests and Diseases
Certain pests and diseases can affect your cascade palm. The fungal disease leaf spot is one of the most common. It causes reddish-brown spots on the leaves. Fungicide spray can help treat the condition.
Spider mites tend to hang out on the underside of the leaves, and they create webbing on the fronds. Mealybugs are small white bugs that are often on the stem and underside of leaves, and they leave white fuzzy debris on the leaves. Whiteflies are also a possibility on cascade palms. Using neem oil or insecticidal soap takes care of most pest problems. If you grow your palm outdoors, spraying the plant with a strong stream of water can also knock off the pests.
Shelley Frost combines her love of DIY and writing in her freelance career. She has first-hand experience with tiling, painting, refinishing hardwood floors, installing lighting, roofing and many other home improvement projects. She keeps her DIY skills fresh with regular projects around the house and extensive writing work on the topic.