Everything You Need to Know About Growing and Nurturing Umbrella Plants at Home
Schefflera (AKA Umbrella plants) are relatively large shrubs or small trees that make great statement pieces as house plants. They’re also commonly called parasol plants or octopus tree. While they can survive in less than perfect conditions, they won’t look their best or last long without proper care. Here we’ll take you through everything your need to know about Umbrella Plant Care including how to plant, water, fertilize, prune, and propagate your Schefflera at home.
- Umbrella Plant Care – The Essentials
- About Umbrella Plants
- Umbrella Plants Meaning & Symbolism
- How to Grow Umbrella Plants at Home and Indoors
- Umbrella Plant Care
- Common Problems, Pests & Diseases, and How to Treat Them
- Essential Tools for Umbrella Plant (Schefflera) Care
Umbrella Plant Care – The Essentials
Umbrella Plants need to be kept in bright indirect sunlight where the ambient air temperature remains between 60F and 75F throughout the day and night, year-round. Use a soil mix comprising two parts peat moss to one part perlite and one part compost. Water with filtered or rainwater only when the soil is dry and fertilize every 6 weeks during spring and summer only.
About Umbrella Plants
Origins and History
The common name umbrella plant most commonly refers to trees and shrubs in the Schefflera genus. The plants are native to warmer and more tropical parts of the world like Australia, Java, some parts of China, New Guinea, and Taiwan. They can grow outdoors only in the warmest climates, so many cultivars are primarily grown as houseplants.
Genus and Species
Schefflera arboricola is the species most commonly sold as a dwarf umbrella plant as an indoor plant, with colorful cultivars available like ‘Gold Capella’, ‘Compacta’, and ‘Green Gold’.
Schefflera vs Heptapleurum – what’s the difference?
The entire Schefflera genus has undergone many name changes over the decades and centuries since its initial discovery about 150 years ago. Heptaplerum is a common synonym for the name, especially in the case of the dwarf umbrella. Heptaplerum arboricola is identical to Schefflera arboricola.
Are Umbrella Plants Toxic?
This tropical plant contains high levels of calcium oxalate in its leaves, roots, and bark. This forms sharp crystals that can irritate the mouth, throat, and stomach of any children or pets that eat the plant.
It’s also not safe for enclosures of parrots or reptiles, despite different species named umbrella trees being safe for these uses. Keep your Umbrella tree from the Heptaplerum or Schefflera genus where pets and kids can’t reach them.
Uses & Benefits for Umbrella Plants
Due to their toxicity, Umbrella plants aren’t generally used as food or medicine anywhere in the world. They’re primarily used for their attractiveness and beauty. Schefflera plants are ranked 16 out of 28 in NASA’s study on air quality improvements from house plants, so they’re worth adding for a healthier home.
Umbrella Plants Meaning & Symbolism
Most of the larger umbrella plants are simply used as shade trees. However, smaller dwarf umbrella plants tend to be associated with good luck and wealth. The tree is particularly symbolic in China, where it’s commonly used to bring wealth and energy into a household through the practice of Feng Shui.
The curved finger-like leaves and cup-like shape mimic an open hand held out to receive something, so it’s not surprising it’s earned that kind of symbolism. Some Eastern religious groups also use it as a symbol of ordered and methodical energy due to the clustered arrangement of its leaves.
How to Grow Umbrella Plants at Home and Indoors
Schefflera Plant Growth Expectations Indoors
Even the dwarf Umbrella tree can grow up to 25 feet when planted outdoors in the right climate, while other Schefflera species can reach 80 feet or more. Indoor Umbrella plants stay much more compact naturally, reaching a maximum height of 4 to 6 feet in most cases. It can reach 2 to 3 feet in width depending on how it’s pruned and allowed to spread. It is one of the larger indoor shrubs or trees, but it’ll easily fit in most homes and offices.
Small Umbrella plants that are only a foot or two tall will take five or six years to reach their full height. This should provide you with a good amount of time to find the final placement for the full-sized plant.
What to Do to Prepare For Planting
Make sure the spot you choose for the plant can handle its mature height of up to 6 feet. Umbrella plants need loose and well-draining soil to keep them from developing root rot.
Tailor the pot to the size of the plant’s root ball, aiming to give it just about an inch or two of space on all sides. Oversized pots may seem like they’ll save you time, but the Umbrella plant won’t grow as well when buried in a huge amount of soil.
What’s the Best Soil Mix for Umbrella Plants?
Since Umbrella plants grow in lush tropical forests and jungles in their native habitats, they prefer rich and well-draining soil mixes. Yet at the same time, the mixture needs to hold plenty of moisture in-between watering.
Look for a mix that is at least two parts peat moss to one part perlite. Feel free to mix in up to one part of well-rotted compost, fully aged manure, or another source of natural nutrients. Aim for the texture of rich forest loam that is fluffy and quick draining.
Umbrella plants generally prefer a relatively balanced pH level. However, a slightly acidic balance due to the use of peat moss will encourage strong growth and a bushy habit.
For more, see our comprehensive guide to the best soil mix for Schefflera plants.
How to Plant
Make sure the pot or vessel you use has plenty of drainage holes. There’s no benefit to putting rocks or other materials in the bottom of the pot, but do use a mix that is at least 1/3rd perlite for good drainage.
Look for the spot where each of the stems flares out just a bit and turns into roots. Aim to keep the soil right at this flare level and don’t bury the stems deeper since they can’t root that way.
Umbrella Plant Care: Light Preferences
Umbrella plants prefer indirect and medium light levels when grown indoors. They can handle direct sunlight outdoors, but indoor plants will quickly become burned and discolored if left too close to a window.
Try either a 75-watt equivalent plant light pointing indirectly at the plant or placement within a few feet of an Eastern or Northern windows. A sheer curtain in front of the window can prevent accidental sunburn as the sun moves. If you placed the plant too close to bright light, move it to a dark area after 3 to 4 hours of exposure.
Temperature and Humidity Preferences
As tropical plants that only survive outdoors in USDA zones 10 and up, Umbrella plants prefer warm temperatures. The plant really doesn’t appreciate temperatures below 60F and will have a detrimental impact on their overall health and well-being.
Freezing temperatures are definitely dangerous. Aim to keep the plant around 70F if possible for healthy growth and disease resistance. Don’t keep the plant too close to a heater or vent since dry air will also damage the leaves. Spray the plant a few times a week to keep it humid, especially in the winter.
Umbrella Plant Care
How To Water Umbrella Plants
Umbrella plants need plenty of water, yet they need to dry out thoroughly between waterings. Stick a finger into the pot and make sure the top two inches of soil are dry before soaking the plant until water runs freely through the holes.
Umbrella plants will generally need less water in the winter, but only if you use a humidity tray and a gentle mist regularly. Rainwater or distilled water is best in order to avoid mineral accumulation and salinity that’s often present in water sourced directly from the faucet.
How, When and Why to Fertilize Umbrella Plants
Umbrella plants don’t need a lot of fertilizer, but they do benefit from a weak dose of general houseplant food every 4 to 6 weeks during the growing season of spring and summer.
Skip every other month for fertilization over the winter since the plant will naturally grow slower. Liquid fertilizers are the easiest to dilute and apply to potted house plants, but slow-release granules or spikes can also work. Without occasional fertilizing, you’ll find the Umbrella plant failing to grow new leaves or put on height.
Pruning Umbrella Plants
These houseplants don’t strictly require pruning. If the plant stretches out too much and gets leggy from a lack of light or low humidity, try cutting back the stretched-out growth and leaving at least two to three healthy clusters of leaves lower on the plant.
This encourages bushy growth to emerge from what’s left of the stems. Spring and summer is the best time for pruning your Umbrella tree.
How to Propagate Umbrella Plants
Making new Umbrella plants is tricky, but it is possible if you take cuttings in the spring or summer during the strongest growth.
Cut an entire stem near the base where it meets the soil and dip the last half-inch in rooting hormone. Put it in a pot of peat moss mixed with perlite and cover it with a loose plastic bag to keep humidity high.
Keep it in indirect light and warmer than 70F and give it a few weeks to root. When you see fresh growth on the top of the cutting, you have a new rooted Umbrella tree to repot.
When and How to Repot Umbrella Plants
Aside from potting up a new cutting or plant, Umbrella plants only need repotting when they’ve truly filled the current vessel. Look for roots growing visibly at the drainage holes or along the edges of the pot. Use a pot that’s only about 1 inch larger so that the plant feels a little crowded at all times and use the right potting soil.
Common Umbrella Plant Problems, Pests and Diseases, and How to Treat Them
Signs of Umbrella Plant Problems
- Underwatered: Leaves drooping, drying out, and falling off soft or bending stems
- Overwatered: Leaf drop without drooping or drying, death from the tip down, black or brown roots
- Too much light: Light-colored or burned leaves, leaf drop, lack of growth
- Too little light: Lack of growth, undersized leaves, slow decline
- Cold temperatures: Sudden leaf and flower drop, discoloration from the tips of the leaves inward, lack of growth
Common Umbrella Plants Pests & Diseases
- Aphids: Look for white sticky deposits on the leaves. Treat with a houseplant broad-spectrum pesticide.
- Spider mite: Check for web-like material under leaves and around stems. Coat the plant in diluted horticultural oil on a warm day to treat, repeating as needed every few weeks until they’re gone.
- Leaf Spot: Beige or dark and discolored spots on the leaves that eventually kill them. Treat with a copper-based spray. Fertilize the plant more regularly and adjust its temperature and humidity to help it fight off these kinds of diseases.
- Sooty Mold: Gray to black powdery growth over the surface of the leaves, which interferes with light absorption. Wipe the leaves clean with a damp cloth and look for aphid infestations that can trigger this secondary problem.
Essential Tools for Umbrella Plant Care
It’s possible to take perfect care of your Umbrella plant with no special tools aside from a general-purpose houseplant fertilizer. Picking up a soil probe to measure moisture levels can help since these plants prefer to dry out between watering.
You can trust you’re not over or underwatering by checking multiple spots with a probe to see when it’s the perfect time to water. Since Umbrella plants can get large and need thorough soaking, try an oversized saucer that can handle the extra water or that doubles as a humidity tray.
Finally, some small secateurs or sharp shears make pruning and propagation much easier.
A Schefflera plant can live for years or even decades with the right care. Older plants that reach their peak height can still be renovated at any point with a thorough pruning and some timely fertilizer application. Spend a little time spritzing the plant each week to keep it humid and watch the temperature around it for the lushest and greenest growth. Enjoy!
Umbrella Plant Care FAQ:
How big do umbrella plants get?
Umbrella plants have been known to grow to over 80 feet in their native habitats. However, Umbrella plants grown indoors will typically reach 4 to 6 feet in height.
Do umbrella plants need sunlight?
Umbrella plants need moderate indirect sunlight to grow successfully. Avoid exposure to bright, direct sunlight as this can burn or discolor the plant’s leaves.
Why is my umbrella plant dropping leaves?
Drooping Umbrella plant leaves are typically associated with over or under watering of the plant. You’ll need to consider other factors present such as the relative dryness of the soil, signs the leaves are also shriveling or if fungal spores or infections are present on the stem or leaves to pin-point the exact cause.
Do umbrella plants like to be misted?
Very mild misting can sometimes be beneficial to boost relative humidity levels around the plant. Be careful though as the plant won’t enjoy the leaves to become saturated and stagnant water is a breeding ground for fungal infection, pests, and diseases. You’re better off investing in a humidity tray to place under the plant during particularly dry periods such as the winter months.
How do you prune an umbrella plant?
Umbrella plants typically don’t require extensive pruning. If the plant is becoming a little unruly you can cut back excess growth with sharp cutting shears or cutting scissors as neatly and closely to the stem.
Can I propagate an umbrella plant?
Making new Umbrella plants is tricky, but it is possible if you take cuttings in the spring or summer during the strongest growth. Cut an entire stem near the base where it meets the soil and dip the last half-inch in rooting hormone. Put it in a pot of peat moss mixed with perlite and cover it with a loose plastic bag to keep humidity high. Keep it in indirect light and warmer than 70 degrees F and give it a few weeks to root. When you see fresh growth on the top of the cutting, you have a new rooted Umbrella plant to repot.
Are umbrella plants toxic to cats?
Schefflera plants all tend to contain high levels of calcium oxalate in their leaves, roots, and bark. This forms sharp crystals that can irritate the mouth, throat, and stomach of any children or pets that eat the plant. It’s not safe for putting in enclosures with parrots or reptiles, despite different species named umbrella trees being safe for these uses. Keep Umbrella plants from the Heptaplerum or Schefflera where pets and kids can’t reach them.