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I bought a cat palm about a month ago and after about 2 weeks it started showing some yellowing and then browning. I'm an indoor plant noob so I can't tell if this is due to over watering or underwatering, or something else. I've only watered it thoroughly twice since I got it, based on the short list of instructions that came with it. Once with plant food. Right now the top layer of soil is dry but about an inch below is moist from the last watering.

I'm also located in Buffalo, New York in a low-lit apartment in mid-winter. But I bought this particular plant because it said it needed low light only.

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Appreciate any help! Ty!

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    Do remember what the temperature was on the day you brought it home? What precautions were taken to prevent the plant from getting too cold while it traveled form the store to your home? – Jurp Feb 11 at 0:53
  • It was very cold, but it wasn't outside long at all. Maybe a minute to my car, then 30 seconds into my apartment. Would that make a big difference? – Alex Monterville Feb 11 at 23:25
  • No, as long as the temperature in the car was above 50 degrees F or so for most of the ride. Tropicals are often transported in plastic bags when it's fairly cold outside, but can suffer from it nonetheless. – Jurp Feb 12 at 0:23
  • Alex, that amount of time out of doors wouldn't do anything unless it was 20 below 0 F or 52 degrees below freezing. Beer will freeze before it hits the ground. This plant was grown in exacting specifications for tropicals to include humidity. Our homes during the winter are horribly dry. Is that a door right next to your plant? The change in temperatures with the cold air is also stressing this plant. Please get a magnifying glass, some white paper, knock a leaf to get any mites to fall on the paper, you should see movement if there are any mites. Use a 10X loop or magnifying glass. – stormy Feb 12 at 0:51
  • The bottom of your pot shows wetness. You are watering way too much and that pot's bottom needs to be lifted off of the plastic bag. Air should be between the bottom of the pot and that bag or a saucer in the near future. – stormy Feb 12 at 0:54
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The good news is your plant is not dying. It is stressed and when stressed a plant is more vulnerable to disease and insects. Without being able to look closely this guy looks like he's got a case of spider mite. Easy to fix.

Do you have a southern window with more light but not direct sunlight? Do you have a covered patio or porch?

When that plant is watered, feel the heft. Pick it up to feel the weight. I'll bet it is heavy right now and that means do not water until that pot is substantially lighter in weight. Your palm looks like it will be needing an upgrade to a slightly larger pot, soon.

Right now, lets get this guy happy again. Better light, no drafts, let the soil dry out before watering, in between watering. Cut off the yellowing leaves right at the trunk. Get down on your knees with the plant between you and a light source. You might be able to see fine webbing between leaves and leaflets. With a magnifying glass you could see the spider mite. If you find both of these on your plant; the webbing and being able to see the insect, then we can talk about treatment. Not hard to do. Ask another question?

Allow the soil to dry out and the next watering I would put this plant in my shower and turn on the cold water spray over this plant...it cleans off all the dust, spider mite hates moisture...allow to drain and drip then take back to this plant's spot. (find a south window)...I do this will all of my indoor plants once or twice per year. My indoor plants get to go outside under the roof of a covered porch or patio for the summer. No acclimating necessary. No direct sun allowed. Still far more light to do photosynthesis than indoors from a window. If you use artificial lighting, use a fan 24/7 to keep the air moving. 16 hours light and 8 hours darkness. Use a simple timer. Ask another question if artificial lighting interests you at all...or how to treat spider mite if you see sign.

You will be up potting this palm soon. Find a pot that is 2 to 3" larger in diameter than this pot. Is that a 10" pot? Clay is the healthiest and the least expensive and has weight to balance the bulk of a large plant.

Use ONLY sterilized potting soil. No water holding gimmicks such as sponges and gels. Absolutely no fertilizer should have been added to the potting soil. You want to be in charge of the fertilizer because "less is best, more is death and none is dumb"...grins.

No rocks or gravel or packing peanuts below the potting soil and above the drainage hole. Just soil. After firming the soil around the plant's root ball you should have 1" of space between rim and surface of soil for proper watering purposes.

If you don't have a more airy, sun lite space, I would purchase a REAL grow light for this plant. Another question you could ask. Artificial lighting is not just a bulb called grow light...a bit more expensive as well, but not a deal breaker.

Be careful when changing environments for plants. Like Jurp asked, just driving or walking this plant home from a warm moist environment and spending 10 minutes in dry cold air can kill a plant. Transporting plants is where most people ruin their brand new plant, upright in the back of a pickup? Killer of any plant.

Please look for the spider mite, shop for a new pot and saucer, check out 'pot feet' for potted plants. They raise the bottom of the pot off of the saucer, patio floor, a bench so that the surface tension in the water doesn't slow the drainage. As water drains air is allowed back into the root system, the pore spaces of the soil medium. Broken pieces of tiles 1/4 inch thick work well for this job, pot feet are cute. And cost a few bucks.

Never use garden soil in potted plants.

The best fertilizer for you would be Osmocote 14-14-14 all purpose extended release fertilizer. One maybe two applications per year will be more than enough. Use half the amount the directions recommend.

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    great and very detailed answer. when I saw this plant, my first thought was overwatering, underlighting and or overfertilization. what makes you think it might be spidermites? I can't see any webs or typical inidicators – elPolloLoco Feb 11 at 12:25
  • The stippling caused by spider mites is there and this plant has been under major stress for 2 weeks transitioning to the new environment. No doubt spider mite could have come with the plant. Stressed plants almost always have insects taking advantage of a weakened plant. I am glad you saw the same stuff, elPollo! Diagnosing via the internet is not at all responsible, ugh. But it works out better than I thought possible. – stormy Feb 12 at 0:45
  • @stormy Never expected to get such a detailed answer. Very much appreciated. TBH I wasn't even aware of plants being under stress. I'll take the advice you outlined here and post back in a few days with results. – Alex Monterville Feb 12 at 1:20
  • @stormy Finally got around to re-potting today. Got a 14" clay pot with the works (legs + drain plate). Put it in the shower, as you mentioned, and ran it under cold water. Trimmed off the yellowing branches. Also moved it to a south-facing room with the most light (which isn't a whole lot, in this small apartment. But much more than where it was). Will re-check for spider mites. Again, appreciate your very detailed answer – learned a bunch. Hoping these changes make the poor guy healthy again. Have been so busy with other stuff that the browning has spread a little more. – Alex Monterville Feb 25 at 2:21

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