Growing Umbrella Plants: How to Care for Schefflera


The umbrella plant has been a popular houseplant for many years… and with good reason. It’s easy to grow, can be pruned to the size you want and grows fairly quickly.

Also called the dwarf umbrella plant or umbrella tree, this plant is characterized by having groups of leaves that fall gracefully from a central stem. 

There are 2 very closely related species that are commonly grown as houseplants, Schefflera arboricola and Schefflera actinophylla. These are very difficult to distinguish, even for botanists.  It’s quite common for plants to be on sale and just called Schefflera, rather than have the full Latin scientific name.

They can grow to an impressive height of around 6’ (1.8m) as a houseplant but are easy to prune to a more manageable size.

large umbrella plat in a pot

These plants are native to Taiwan and Hainan and other tropical areas.  In the wild they can grow to a height of 10-15’ and sometimes can be found growing on other plants as epiphytes. They produce small red flowers in the summer, but these are very rarely seen when grown indoors.

The leaves are typically a dark green colour and can be quite glossy.  But if you want a plant that is more eye-catching, there are variegated cultivars available.  These have yellow or cream patches on their leaves and can look quite spectacular.

variegated umbrella plant

This plant is great as an air purifier and can remove toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde – perfect if you are concerned about indoor air quality.

Light requirements

Umbrella plants prefer bright, indirect light but can adapt to a variety of lighting levels. If they are placed in direct sunlight for too long, their leaves will be burnt.  Lack of light will result in spindly growth and your plant will look ‘leggy’.

If you’re lucky enough to live in a warm region such as Florida or Southern California, you can place your plant outside during the summer. If you do so, just make sure it’s not in the full sun for long periods. Choose a covered patio area or a place that’s shaded by a wall.

Watering

Getting your watering correct is one of the key areas for having success with your Schefflera. They like to have moist soil but don’t allow them to become overly wet. Use a pot that has drainage holes and check they’re not sitting in water in their pot saucer.

A simple way to ensure you’re watering correctly is to allow the top inch or two of soil dry out between watering. You can reduce the amount of watering during the winter, when growth slows down.

Being a tropical plant, Schefflera do like humid conditions, so misting the plant occasionally will be beneficial.

Temperature

The temperature range of umbrella plants is well suited to most homes. Just be careful not to let them get cold in winter. Their preference is for a temperature of 60-70oF (15-24oC).

Soil

Pot your Schefflera in a well-draining houseplant compost.  You can add sand to aid with drainage in the proprtions 2 parts compost to one part sand. Instead of sand, you could also add perlite to aid with drainage instead.

Repot every 2 years or when the plant becomes rootbound. They can grow quite tall, so a heavy pot can help prevent the plant from toppling over.

Special requirements

Feed with a half strength liquid fertiliser every month between spring and autumn, to ensure your plant gets all the nutrients that it needs.

Dust the leaves occasionally with a damp cloth to keep it looking at its best.

These plants can grow quite quickly, so be prepared to wield your pruning secateurs. Don’t be afraid to prune them quite hard, as they will grow back. 

Propagating

Umbrella plants are one of the more difficult species to propagate. One method that that has the best chance of success is by taking stem cuttings. This is best done in spring and you can do it at the same time as you’re pruning.

Remove a cutting that is about 6 inches (15cm) long, using a clean pair of secateurs or a pruning knife. Place the cutting in moist compost and roots should start to appear after 2-3 weeks.  Ensure you keep the compost moist at all times by watering or placing in a tray of water.

propagating an umbrella plant

Pests and problems

These plants are not known to frequently suffer with specific problems. Like other plants they may occasionally be subject to scale insects, mealy bugs or spider mites.  These can be controlled by using an insecticidal soap and ensuring that the humidity around the plant is high enough to deter these pests.

Occasional yellowing of the leaves is quite normal, and these can just be removed at their base.

Toxicity

The umbrella plant contains calcium oxalate which is toxic to both humans and pets. If ingested, it can cause respiratory, gastrointestinal and kidney problems. Symptoms of poisoning can include tremors, vomiting and nausea. Take special care if you have pets or small children.

umbrella plant from above

Questions about growing umbrella plants

Why are my umbrella plant leaves turning black and dropping?

This could be a sign that the plant is being overwatered. Cut back on the watering and allow the top inch or two of soil to dry out between watering.

How often should I water my Schefflera?

In the growing season you can give your plant a good soaking and then wait until the surface soil has dried out before watering again. This is likely to be every 1-2 weeks. In winter you can reduce the amount of watering. Don’t allow your plant to stand in water.

Should I mist my Schefflera?

These plants are native to tropical and subtropical regions, so increasing the humidity by occasional misting is a good idea.

How do you make a Schefflera bushy?

There are two important points here: position and pruning. First, ensure that your plant is positioned where it’s getting sufficient light.  If there’s inadequate sunlight, your plant will become ‘leggy’. Once positioned correctly, you can prune to take the height out of the plant.  This also encourages new side shoots to grow and will create a more bushy plant.

About the author 

Paul - Better Houseplants

Loves orchids and foliage houseplants. Always trying to be a better plant parent. Let's get growing!

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Just getting started? Make sure you see our guide to the 'Best Houseplants for Beginners'