Rootbound Schefflerra – Is That Bad? (& Other Potting Advice)


Schefflera plant.

When a plant is rootbound it means the roots are tightly packed and tangled in the pot with no room for them to grow.

Generally, being rootbound spells trouble for a plant. However, some houseplants can take their living space a little tighter.

A Schefflera is one of them.

But, is being rootbound good for your Schefflera? And when does tight become too tight?

Scheffleras like a smaller pot and prefer being slightly rootbound. However, although your Schefflera can tolerate being rootbound, it cannot remain indefinitely in the same pot. If it becomes overly rootbound, your plant’s health and growth will suffer.

Read on to learn the signs of rootbound stress and when it’s time to repot your plant.

Rootbound Schefflerra

Scheffleras may like smaller pots, but they’re fast-growing plants. As such, they can easily outgrow their pot and become overly rootbound.

If this happens, it can be damaging to your plant. Because of this, it’s important to recognize when a Schefflera is too rootbound and make changes to correct the problem.

Signs Your Schefflera Is Rootbound

With rootbound plants, there are too many roots and not enough soil.  This means the plant may have a hard time getting enough nutrients from that limited soil.

Plants that prefer roomier accommodations can quickly show signs of being rootbound.

But, for plants that like being slightly rootbound, such as a Schefflera, their decline may be more gradual. And it may not be easy to tell when it’s too rootbound. After all, roots are buried in the soil and not usually visible.

This is why checking your plant regularly is important. Doing so allows you to catch any changes early on.

Overhead view of a Schefflera beside a chair.

Here are a few signs that may indicate your Scheffler is overly rootbound.

1.    Stunted growth – because your Schefflera isn’t getting enough nutrients it won’t grow as it should. You may notice it’s no longer gaining height and generally not filling out as expected.

2.    Small leaves – in addition to it not growing vertically, your plant’s new leaves may be smaller in size than the older leaves.

3.    Leaves start to wilt – the leaves may droop.

4.      Discolored leaves – you may see your Scheffleras leaves yellowing and falling off. My article on yellowing leaves goes into greater detail on why a plant’s leaves turn color. You’ll find it helpful when it comes to inspecting your plant.

5.      Your plant becomes leggy – if the plant’s pot is too small and the roots too crowded, this can encourage legginess. In other words, you’ll see a lot of stem but very few leaves.

6.    Watering needs have changed –  if water runs straight through the soil without actually wetting the soil, your soil is too compact and dry. The roots have overtaken the soil. On the other hand, if the overgrown roots are blocking drainage holes, water can’t escape. The soil can become too saturated, which can lead to root rot.

7. Visible roots –  roots coming out of the bottom or top of a pot is a telltale sign a plant is rootbound.

8.  Cracked pot – with severely rootbound cases, the pot may bulge or crack.

Root of a Schefflera plant breaking through the side of a pot.

When Should You Repot Your Schefflera?

Once the pot size begins affecting your Schefflera’s health, it’s time to repot.

As a general rule, Scheffleras should be repotted every 2 to 3 years.

If you want to see greater growth, then consider repotting, even if your Schefflera’s not overly rootbound.

If the plant’s roots are showing, or the pot is cracked, that plant needs repotting sooner rather than later.

Damaged pots and visible roots are clear signs of a problem. But, at other times root issues may not be so obvious.

In these cases, you may need to remove the plant from the pot and visibly inspect the roots.

Once removed, if you see the roots are circling the soil, or have attached themselves to the sides of the pot, then it’s time to repot.


If you’d like to learn more about Schefflera care, I’ve written a guide on the subject.  You’ll find it helpful.


How to Repot Your Schefflera

In general, aim for late winter or early spring to repot your plant. However, if your Schefflera is severely rootbound, don’t wait. It needs repotting immediately.

Once you decide to repot, it’s very important you choose the right size pot. The new pot should only be one or two sizes larger than the current pot


If you want more information on pots and how to choose one for your plant, I’ve written an article on this. You can find it here. 


When repotting a plant, I like running a butter knife around the edge of the pot to help loosen the soil. Then, I’ll tip the pot to one side and gently remove the plant from the pot.

If you loosen the soil beforehand the plant will usually come out whole, soil and all. This is especially so if it’s slightly rootbound. Whatever you do, don’t tug hard on the stems to remove the plant. You can damage your plant by handling it this way.

If your Schefflera is quite large you may need a second pair of hands to replant it.

Once you’ve removed your Schefflera from its pot, it’s time to examine the roots. Make sure they’re firm and healthy and not showing any signs of root rot

If the plant is tightly rootbound you may need to tease the roots a little to help them spread out. Using a dull instrument, work the instrument into the roots and gently wiggle it back and forth to loosen the root ball.

When done inspecting the roots, start filling the pot with soil. Only fill about ⅓ of the way up. You’ll want to test where your plant will sit before filling the pot too full.

Some people recommend layering rocks at the bottom of a pot before putting the soil in.  However, this is actually not a good idea. Doing so may interfere with drainage and can make the soil too moist. 

Scheffleras like slightly acidic soil. Adding some peat moss to the soil will help the acidity level. And I always add a little bit of perlite to help with aeration.

Once you’ve filled the bottom of the pot with soil, place the plant into the pot. Eyeball where it’s sitting in relation to the pot size. 

You want the roots buried, but not so deep they’ll have no room to expand downwards. On the other hand, the plant shouldn’t sit so high up that the roots will be exposed. Not only is this bad for the roots, but it will also make your plant less stable in the pot.

I find most of my plants end up sitting about a third of the way down the pot.

Once you have your plant positioned where you like it, fill in the rest of the pot with soil, leaving roughly ½ – 1 inch of space at the top.

Transplanting is stressful for a plant. So don’t be surprised to see some leaf loss afterward. It may take a little time for your plant to adjust to its new home.

And don’t aggressively prune your Schefflera at this point. This too will add to the plant’s stress.

After transplanting give your plant a thorough watering.

Final Thoughts

  • Scheffleras like to be slightly rootbound.
  • An overly rootbound Schefflera will show signs of distress.
  • A Schefflera should be repotted if the roots are visible, the pot is cracked, or the plant is tightly rootbound.
  • When repotting your Schefflera, gently remove the plant and repot it into a container 1 – 2 sizes larger than its current pot.

If you’ve enjoyed this article on rootbound Scheffleras, feel free to share it.

Angela

Hi! My name is Angela Carr. I started this site to share my love for plants and gardening. My aim is to provide my readers with easy tips and tricks on plant care, fun facts, and encouragement for the new plant owner or anyone questioning the colour of their thumb!

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