How to Grow and Care for Schefflera "Umbrella Plant"
Schefflera is a large genus of tropical plants that includes two species that make wonderful tropical houseplants. The larger Schefflera actinophylla (sometimes called the umbrella plant or umbrella tree) features long, shiny, oval green leaves that droop gracefully from a central stalk, resembling an umbrella. A mature Schefflera might have 12 to 16 leaflets from a single stalk, while an immature Schefflera is more likely to have four to six. Schefflera arboricola (sometimes called dwarf Schefflera) features smaller, glossy leaves, sometimes with creamy variegation. Other than the smaller size, it looks very similar to its taller cousin. Hardy only to USDA zone 10, Schefflera pants are usually grown indoors for most of the year in cooler climates but can be taken outdoors for the warmer months, where they will thrive alongside other tropical plants. However, Schefflera plants typically have to be grown outdoors to display their show of long red, white, or pink tentacle-like flowers.
Schefflera plants are fast-growing plants, especially if planted outdoors, where they can add 3 feet per year. Indoor plants are slower-growing, especially if you keep them somewhat confined in a smallish pot. If you are planting a Schefflera in a warm climate garden, they are best planted in spring or fall when the weather is not blazing hot. All parts of the Schefflera plant are mildly toxic to humans and more seriously toxic to pets.
Schefflera are not difficult plants to grow if they receive plenty of indirect light, warmth, and humidity. In very cold climates, bottom heat might be necessary. Leggy Schefflera can be pruned to encourage a fuller plant.
Schefflera prefers bright, indirect light. In the summer, move potted plants outside where they will receive bright light but not direct sun, such as under a patio cover. A Schefflera plant that gets leggy or floppy might not be receiving enough light. Never place a Schefflera in direct, full light because the intense sun can burn the leaves.
Plant Schefflera in a rich, loose potting media with moist compost. A well-draining, sandy loam soil with a slightly acidic pH is ideal. Avoid planting in an outdoor location where the soil becomes too wet or waterlogged.
Water weekly during the growing season and spray the leaves frequently. You can wait until the soil in the pot dries out and then thoroughly soak the soil when you water. Cut back on water during winter. Often, people will overwater a Schefflera plant, and doing so will eventually kill it. Yellow and dropped leaves are a sign that you might be watering too much.
Temperature and Humidity
Because it is a tropical plant, Schefflera requires fairly high humidity and tropical temperatures; it will suffer in temperatures lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not expose these plants to drafts or dry heating vents. An underwatered or cold Schefflera will begin to drop leaves quickly, so take leaf-drop seriously and correct the issue if it occurs. If the plant loses all of its leaves, you can attempt to save the plant by moving it outdoors in the spring and watering generously.
Feed Schefflera plants twice a week during the growing season with liquid fertilizer, or use two applications of slow-release pellets. They are heavy feeders and will benefit from the extra nutrients.
Your Schefflera may need to be pruned occasionally, especially if it is not getting quite enough light. Cut off what you feel is overgrown or appearing leggy. Schefflera houseplants rebound quickly from pruning and will reward your efforts. The result will eventually be a fuller and lusher plant.
It's best to propagate Schefflera in the spring: Doing so keeps your current plant from being too bushy, and offers you new plants. Schefflera can be propagated by cuttings.
- Using sharp pruners, cut off a 6-inch section of stem at a 45-degree angle, and remove all but four or five leaves at the top of the stem.
- Dip the cut end in rooting hormone, then plant the cut end into a container filled with potting soil.
- Cover the pot with a loosely secured plastic bag to hold in humidity, then place the pot in bright indirect light.
- Check the container daily to make sure the soil remains moist, watering when necessary. Check for roots by lightly tugging on the stem.
- After about a month, if good roots have formed, you can remove the bag and continue growing the new plant. If roots don't form (success can be sporadic), discard it and try again with a new cutting.
Common Pests and Diseases
Both bacterial leaf spot and alternaria leaf spot affect Schefflera. These diseases can easily be remedied by avoiding overhead watering, not watering in the evening, and if these tricks don't work, applying a copper fungicide.
Indoors, Schefflera are prone to problems with aphids, which leave a honeydew excretion that leads to sooty mold; treat for aphids with a spray of insecticidal soap. Outdoors, the plant is susceptible to several pests, including mealybugs, spider mites, and scale insects.