How to Grow and Care for Umbrella Tree Plants
Updated: 21 Oct, 2023
Schefflera, a diverse genus of tropical plants, encompasses two exquisite species ideal for cultivating as vibrant houseplants. The grand Schefflera actinophylla, often known as the umbrella plant or tree, showcases lengthy, lustrous, elliptical green leaves that elegantly cascade from a central stem, evoking the image of an open umbrella. A mature Schefflera can boast anywhere from 12 to 16 leaflets emanating from a single stem, while a younger specimen is more likely to display four to six.
Thriving in USDA hardiness zones 10 to 12, Schefflera plants are typically nurtured indoors in cooler climates throughout most of the year, but can be relocated outdoors during warmer months, flourishing harmoniously among other tropical flora. However, to showcase their striking display of long, tentacle-like flowers in shades of red, white, or pink, Schefflera plants generally need to be grown outdoors. Indoor specimens seldom yield blooms.
Schefflera plants are known for their rapid growth, especially when planted in an outdoor setting, where they can achieve an impressive three-foot increase in height annually. Conversely, indoor plants exhibit a slower growth rate, particularly if kept in snug-fitting containers. For those intending to incorporate Schefflera into a warm-climate garden, the optimal planting times are during the milder seasons of spring or fall, when the weather is not excessively scorching.
|Schefflera, umbrella plant, umbrella tree
|4 to 6 feet. tall, 3 to 6 feet wide (indoors); up to 25 feet tall (outdoors)
|Bright, indirect light
|Rich and moderately moist
|Slightly acidic (6.0-6.5)
|White, pink, or red (indoor plants rarely bloom)
|Mildly toxic humans, toxic to pets
What is an Umbrella Tree plant?
An Umbrella Tree plant, scientifically known as Schefflera, is a tropical plant characterized by its distinctive, glossy, and often palmately compound leaves. These leaves are arranged in a way that resembles the shape of an open umbrella, which gives the plant its common name. There are two main species of Umbrella Tree plants: Schefflera actinophylla and Schefflera arboricola.
Schefflera actinophylla, also known as the umbrella plant or tree, features large, shiny, oval green leaves that cascade gracefully from a central stem. In contrast, Schefflera arboricola, sometimes referred to as the dwarf Schefflera, bears smaller, glossy leaves, occasionally with variegated patterns. Both species are popular choices for indoor houseplants due to their striking foliage and relatively easy care requirements.
Where to Grow an Umbrella Plant
While umbrella plants thrive in bright, indirect light, they can tolerate direct indoor light, albeit with slower growth and potential legginess in medium-to-low light conditions. While humidity is generally not a major concern, dry air can make them more vulnerable to pests like scale and spider mites.
For indoor cultivation, umbrella plants prefer temperatures between 55°F to 75°F (13°C to 24°C). In USDA zones 10-11, they can be grown outdoors year-round. It’s important to note that Schefflera actinophylla is a vigorous grower and is classified as an invasive species in Florida and Hawaii. Therefore, it’s crucial to check local regulations and restrictions before considering outdoor planting.
Caring for Schefflera is straightforward as long as they receive ample indirect sunlight, warmth, and humidity. In colder climates, providing bottom heat may be essential. To promote a more robust and lush growth, it’s advisable to trim leggy Schefflera plants.
Schefflera thrives in bright, indirect light. During the summer, consider relocating potted plants outdoors to an area with ample but filtered light, like beneath a patio covering. If a Schefflera appears stretched or droopy, it may be craving more light. Avoid placing it directly in harsh, full sunlight, as this can lead to leaf scorching.
When cultivating indoors, choose a well-draining, nutrient-rich potting mix for Schefflera. Outdoors, opt for a sandy loam soil that drains well and maintains a slightly acidic pH level. Avoid planting in areas where the soil tends to become overly saturated or waterlogged.
During the active growth phase, ensure regular watering and frequently mist the leaves. Wait for the pot’s soil to dry out before giving it a thorough soak. Reduce watering in the winter months, as overwatering can be detrimental to Schefflera. Keep an eye out for yellowing or dropping leaves, as they may indicate excessive watering.
Temperature and Humidity:
Given its tropical nature, Schefflera thrives in environments with elevated humidity and warm temperatures, with a minimum threshold of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Shield the plant from drafts and avoid placing it near dry heating vents. If a Schefflera is under-watered or exposed to cold conditions, it may shed leaves rapidly. If it loses all its foliage, consider moving it outdoors in the spring and providing generous watering.
To support healthy growth, feed Schefflera plants with liquid houseplant fertilizer twice a month during the active growth phase. Alternatively, employ slow-release pellets with two applications. These plants have a hearty appetite for nutrients and will benefit from the additional nourishment.
Types of Schefflera
Within the Schefflera genus, two species are commonly cultivated as houseplants:
- Schefflera actinophylla: This prevalent variety features oval leaves that can reach up to ten inches in length from a central stem. While it can grow into an impressive 50-foot specimen outdoors, potted indoor plants typically attain a height of around 15 feet.
- S. arboricola: This smaller counterpart, favored in domestic gardens, boasts clusters of one- to two-inch leaves. There is a variegated variation with creamy patches on its leaves. Outdoors, it can reach heights of up to 25 feet, but when kept as a houseplant, it is typically maintained at around six feet. Noteworthy cultivars include ‘Dazzle’, a variegated type with nearly white leaves; ‘Gold Capella’, featuring yellow and green variegation; ‘Trinette’, a plant with white and cream variegation; and ‘Dwarf’, characterized by dark green leaves and a height of only about four feet.
The ideal time to propagate Schefflera is during the spring season. This practice helps maintain the current plant’s shape and gives you the opportunity to cultivate new ones. Propagating Schefflera can be accomplished through cuttings.
Begin by using sharp pruners to snip a six-inch section of the stem at a 45-degree angle. Retain only four or five leaves at the top of the stem, removing the rest.
Next, dip the cut end into rooting hormone and insert it into a container filled with potting soil.
Cover the pot with a loosely secured plastic bag to retain humidity, and then position it in an area with bright, indirect light.
Regularly monitor the container to ensure the soil stays moist, watering as needed. Gently tug on the stem to check for root development.
After approximately a month, if roots have formed, you can remove the plastic bag and continue nurturing the new plant. If roots do not develop (as success can be variable), dispose of the cutting and attempt the process anew with a fresh cutting.
Potting and Repotting Schefflera
It is advisable to repot the plants on an annual basis or when they have outgrown their current containers, indicating the need for fresh soil and a larger pot. Alternatively, you can slow down their growth rate and prevent them from becoming overly large by extending the intervals between repotting and allowing them to become slightly rootbound.
Should you opt for repotting your Schefflera, carefully remove it from its current container and delicately untangle the roots. You may find it helpful to soak them in water beforehand. When selecting a new container, whether it be clay or plastic, ensure it has proper drainage holes. Fill it with a well-draining soil mix enriched with peat.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Spider Mites: These tiny arachnids can cause discoloration and stippling on leaves. They are often found in dry conditions.
Aphids: These small insects feed on plant sap and can distort new growth. They can be green, black, brown, or red.
Mealybugs: These soft-bodied insects appear as white, cottony clusters, often found in leaf axils and crevices.
Scale Insects: They attach themselves to stems and leaves, appearing as small bumps. They can cause stunted growth and yellowing leaves.
Whiteflies: These small, white insects congregate on the undersides of leaves and can cause leaf yellowing and wilting.
Powdery Mildew: A fungal disease that appears as a white powdery substance on leaves. It thrives in humid conditions.
Root Rot: Caused by overwatering or poorly draining soil, it leads to rotting roots and wilting foliage.
Leaf Spot: This fungal infection creates dark spots on leaves. It can be caused by various pathogens.
Bacterial Leaf Spot: Caused by bacteria, it leads to dark, water-soaked spots on leaves.
Fungal Leaf Blight: This disease causes rapid wilting and browning of leaves, often affecting young shoots.
Prevention and Management:
Regular Inspection: Regularly check your plants for signs of pests or diseases.
Isolation: Isolate any infected plants to prevent the spread of pests or diseases to others.
Proper Watering: Ensure proper watering practices to avoid overwatering or waterlogged soil.
Good Air Circulation: Provide adequate air circulation around plants to discourage fungal growth.
Natural Predators: Introduce beneficial insects like ladybugs or lacewings to control pest populations.
Pruning: Remove affected leaves or branches to prevent the spread of diseases.
Neem Oil or Insecticidal Soap: These organic solutions can be used to treat certain pests.
Fungicides: In severe cases of fungal infections, consider using a suitable fungicide.
Common Problems With Schefflera
While Schefflera is generally low maintenance, there are instances where your plant may encounter some issues. Here’s how to identify and address common problems:
Potential Cause: Overwatering is often the culprit when Schefflera leaves turn yellow. Try reducing the frequency of watering to see if this improves the condition. If not, it’s possible that the plant isn’t receiving sufficient light. Consider relocating it to a brighter spot.
Brown Spots on Leaves:
Potential Cause: Brown spots on Schefflera leaves are often a sign of underwatering. To remedy this, ensure you water your plant more consistently during the active growing season. A recommended practice is to water deeply and allow the soil to thoroughly dry out before providing another thorough watering.
How do I choose the right location for my Umbrella Tree plant?
Umbrella Trees thrive in bright, indirect sunlight. Avoid placing them in direct sunlight, as it can scorch their leaves. They can adapt to lower light conditions, but their growth may be slower.
What type of soil is best for Umbrella Tree plants?
Well-draining, rich, and slightly acidic soil is ideal for Umbrella Trees. A high-quality potting mix with added perlite or sand for drainage works well.
How often should I water my Umbrella Tree plant?
Allow the top inch of the soil to dry out before watering. Then, water thoroughly, making sure excess water can drain away. Avoid letting the plant sit in standing water.
Do Umbrella Tree plants need fertilizer?
Yes, especially during their active growing season in spring and summer. Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half strength every 4-6 weeks.
How should I prune my Umbrella Tree plant?
Pruning is optional but can help maintain a desired shape. Trim back any leggy or overgrown stems using clean, sharp pruning shears. Remove any dead or yellowing leaves regularly.
Can I propagate my Umbrella Tree plant?
Yes, Umbrella Trees can be propagated through stem cuttings. Take a 4-6 inch cutting from a healthy stem, remove lower leaves, and place it in water or a well-draining soil mix until roots develop.
Are there common pests or diseases to watch out for?
Common pests include spider mites, aphids, and mealybugs. Regularly inspect the plant for signs of infestation. Treat with insecticidal soap or neem oil if necessary. Overwatering can lead to root rot, so be mindful of the watering schedule.
Growing and caring for Umbrella Tree plants can be a rewarding and enjoyable endeavor. By providing the right environment, including suitable light, well-draining soil, and proper watering, you can help your Schefflera thrive. Regular pruning and occasional fertilization can further promote healthy growth and maintain an appealing shape.
It’s important to be vigilant for common pests and diseases, taking prompt action if any signs of infestation appear. Additionally, remember that each Umbrella Tree may have unique preferences, so observing and adapting to its specific needs is key to fostering a thriving plant.