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The easy going Schefflera – a.k.a. umbrella tree – is a popular, quick growing houseplant.
Scheffleras have distinctive oval shaped leaves that resemble fingers. The leaves grow in circular groups and can be variegated or solid green.
In addition to umbrella tree, other common names for this plant include parasol plant and octopus tree.
In this guide, we’ll delve into Schefflera care and learn the simple steps to having this lush fellow flourishing in your home.
- Watering Your Schefflera
- Light & Temperature Needs of Your Schefflera
- Schefflera Soil
- Maintaining Your Schefflera
- Propagating Your Schefflera
- Common Schefflera Pests & Problems
Beginner’s Guide to Umbrella Tree Care
The two most well known species of the umbrella tree are the Schefflera arboricola (dwarf umbrella tree), and its close relative Schefflera actinophylla.
Size is the main difference between the two.
As the name implies, the dwarf umbrella tree, S. arboricola, is a smaller version of S. acinophylla.
With the larger Schefflera, the leaves are 4 – 5 inches or longer in length. Whereas the dwarf umbrella tree has leaves 4 – 5 inches or shorter in length.
There’s also a difference in height. Indoors, S. acinophylla can grow to heights of 6 – 10 feet. S. arboricola will grow 4 – 8 feet. Either way, both can make for large indoor plants.
Lastly, many dwarf umbrella tree varieties have variegated leaves, but S. acinophylla leaves tend to be solid green.
Both plants can be pruned to maintain a reasonable height and care for either species is basically the same.
For more ways to keep plants healthy in general, check out my guide to a happy houseplant.
1. Watering Your Schefflera
Scheffleras are tropical plants so they like a moister environment. But, overwatering can be a problem, especially for the new plant owner.
When watering, give your plant a good soaking, letting the water flow from the drainage holes. Then allow the soil to dry out a bit, maybe 50-75%, before watering again.
It’s important your pot has good drainage and that your plant’s roots are not sitting in a pool of water.
If the leaves are yellowing or browning, dropping off, or becoming droopy, this can be a sign of improper watering.
Both over and underwatering can cause leaf issues. So, you might need to do a little digging to get to the bottom of the problem. My guide on watering indoor plants can help you with this.
Scheffleras like humidity. Keep them in a spot where the air stays moister. You can place a pebble tray underneath your umbrella tree to increase the humidity.
They’ll enjoy the occasional spritz and wiping down of their leaves. It’ll help with dust build-up.
My article on tips for watering your Schefflera has some more helpful information.
2. Light & Temperature Needs of Your Schefflera
Schefflera’s like lots of bright, indirect like. They can tolerate a small amount of direct sunlight, but too much and the leaves may burn. Keep this in mind when placing it next to a window.
Though it prefers bright light, you can put your umbrella tree in moderate to lower light. But it may not grow as fast. Also, too low a light can cause it to become leggy and floppy.
If you have a variegated variety, lower light may also affect the coloring.
As you can see, my plant has a mix of green and variegated leaves. Originally, he was sitting in a northwest-facing window, and I suspect the lower light affected the variegation level. When I moved him to a little brighter spot the variegation picked up a bit.
Occasionally turn your umbrella tree so that all sides are exposed to the brightest light. This is especially important if you notice one side of the tree is growing fuller than the other. Or, if like my plant below, you find the plant stretching towards the light.
Scheffleras like moderate to warmer temperatures. Home temperatures of 65 – 75 °F will keep them happy.
In warmer climates, both S. acinophylla and S. arboricola can grow outdoors, where heights can reach up to 50 feet. Just make sure the temperature doesn’t drop below 60 °F.
One other thing to note, S. acinophylla can be considered an invasive species, so keep this in mind if planting outdoors.
Your umbrella tree might like water, but it’s not so thrilled with soggy feet. In other words, good umbrella tree care means using well-draining soil. An all purpose soil with perlite or sand is a good choice.
Want to know a little more about soils? Check out my post on bagged soils. You’ll find it helpful
4. Maintaining Your Umbrella Tree
Overall, umbrella trees are easy houseplants and don’t need a whole lot to maintain their foliage.
Pruning is one of the biggest tasks with umbrella tree care. This is especially true if you want your Schefflera to maintain a certain height or look. Remember, these guys are fast growers. And indoors, where there’s less light, they can become leggy.
Luckily, Scheffleras like pruning. They rebound quickly, so don’t be afraid to prune aggressively.
Tip – if you’re a new plant parent, take pruning into consideration when purchasing an umbrella tree. If you don’t have the time or inclination for this task, then a Schefflera may not be the plant for you.
When pruning, start with removing anything leggy or overgrown, as well as any dead or dying leaves.
To make your plant thicker and keep its height manageable, cut off the top of the stalk, just above the node. This will encourage the plant to grow outwards, as well as upwards.
I’ve written an article on making your Schefflera fuller. It has some helpful pruning tips.
In general, plan on moving your Schefflera to a larger pot about once every two to three years, sooner if notice the roots breaking through the top or bottom of the soil.
When choosing a pot, look for one a size or two larger than its current container. These guys are tall growing, top heavy plants so make sure you use a sturdy pot.
Additionally, as your Schefflera grows, you may need to provide support for its trunk. My article on plant supports gives information on the different choices.
With their fast growth, fertilizing a Schefflera is not a must. However, if you’d like to give your plant a bit of a boost, or want to speed its growth further, you can use a balanced liquid fertilizer.
When doing so, dilute the fertilizer to half the recommended strength. Fertilize once a month during the growing season – spring through summer – when it’s producing new leaves.
5. Propagating Your Schefflera
The simplest way to propagate your Schefflera is to grow a stem cutting in soil or water. With either method, you’ll start by using a clean, sharp knife or pruners (link), to cut at least 4 to 6 inches of stem.
Just like with pruning, you’ll cut slightly above the leaf node. Since regular pruning is part of good umbrella tree care, a good time to propagate is in spring right after a pruning. Leftover cuttings make great propagating material.
Tip – Need a gift for a special occasion? Newly propagated plants can make fun, easy gifts!
Once you have your cuttings, remove the bottom leaves.
It’s important to not let the stem dry out. So, if you’re not rooting the cutting immediately, then wrap the stem in a damp paper towel. Keep the towel wet until you’re ready to root the cutting.
Rooting In Water:
Once your stem is ready, place it in room temperature water. Keep your plant in a moderately bright spot, but not somewhere with direct sunlight. Don’t be alarmed if initially it starts drooping. Give it a day or two and it will perk back up.
Once the plant starts growing roots – which can take several weeks – transplant it into a pot with well draining soil. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy.
Rooting In Soil:
Using fresh potting soil, poke a hole in the soil’s surface and place your cutting inside. Then, firm the soil around it.
You can also dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone before placing it in the soil. This can help stimulate root growth.
Baby Scheffleras like humidity. You can create a tent of plastic over the plant to help keep in the moisture. Make sure the plastic isn’t touching the leaves directly. And remove the tent for a period of time each day to give the plant some fresh air. Alternatively, you can use a humidity dome and tray.
Keep your potting soil slightly moist. It’s very important the mixture doesn’t become too soggy or too dry. And, as with water rooting, place your growing Schefflera in a moderately bright spot with no direct sun.
You should start to see new growth in a few weeks. Once you do, you can transplant your umbrella tree into a slightly larger pot.
6. Common Schefflera Pests & Problems
Overall, a Schefflera is pretty hardy and forgiving. But, as with any houseplant, good care means keeping an eye out for insects or signs of disease.
Spider mites and mealybugs are the most common pest problems with scheffleras. Signs of an infestation can include:
- leaves becoming pocked or discolored
- webbing between the branches
- sticky residue on leaves and branches
Whether spider mites or mealybugs or any other insect, the minute you notice a problem, separate the plant from your other plants. This will help prevent the pests from spreading.
You can start your treatment process by giving the plant a good bath or spray to help manually remove as many of the bugs as possible.
Keeping your humidity levels up with help with the spider mites – they don’t like it.
If you’re noticing a sticky residue and suspect mealybugs, you can use a cotton swab dabbed in rubbing alcohol to wipe down the leaves and stems.
There are a number of homemade as well as commercial options available to address pest problems. Start by contacting your local garden center for advice. And no matter what treatment route you decide to take, begin treating the problem immediately.
A Schefflera may develop leaf spots, which can be fungal or bacterial in nature. If you notice discolored spots on your leaf, remove the infected leaves. You may need to treat it with a fungicide.
You may be able to treat fungal infections with a fungicide, or bacterial infections with copper sprays. Local garden centers can help you identify the infection and suggest a potential treatment. If possible, bring in a sample of a leaf that’s showing signs of disease.
Fungus often thrives in moist conditions. Increasing the airflow and lowering the humidity or wetness on leaves will help lessen the chances of infection spreading.
I’ve written an article on reasons why Schefflera leaves develop brown spots. You’ll find it helpful if your Schefflera is discolored.
Root rot is another problem that can develop with your umbrella tree. Root rot can be caused by either overwatering or a fungus. You may see leaves yellowing and the plant just overall looking poorly or stunted.
In the case of root rot, you may need to remove the plant from the pot and inspect the roots. In general, roots should be firm and white. If the roots are mushy or black, that’s a good sign of root issues.
Just like with insects, treat root rot or any disease immediately. If left too long, you may not be able to save the plant.
Schefflera plants develop calcium oxalate crystals which can be mildly toxic to people and animals, particularly when ingested. On rare occasions, you can develop a rash by handling the plant, so when pruning you might want to wear gloves.
- Scheffleras make great houseplants, especially for beginners.
- Overall Scheffleras are easy to care for, with pruning being the most common task.
- Scheffleras like to be deeply watered, then allowed to dry out.
- Place your Schefflera in a bright spot with indirect sunlight.
- Watch for spider mites and mealybugs.
- Schefflera problems can include leaf spot or root rot.
- Treat any pests or problems immediately.
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