Schefflera is a big tropical plant genus that has two species that form stunning tropical houseplants. The bigger version is called the Schefflera actinophylla, or the umbrella tree or umbrella plant. It has shiny, long, oval-shaped green leaves that will droop from the central stalk to look like an umbrella. A mature umbrella plant can have 12 to 16 leaflets per stalk, and an immature plant usually has four to six leaflets. Schefflera arboricola or the dwarf umbrella plant, has glossy, smaller leaves with creamy variegation. The size is the biggest difference between the two.
The umbrella plant is hardy to zones 10 to 12, so this plant usually gets grown indoors for the majority of the year in cooler climates. In warmer months, you can take it outdoors to thrive in the sunshine with your other tropical plants. You have to grow them outside to encourage them to flower and display their tentacle-like, long, white, red, or pink flowers. Plants you grow inside will rarely produce flowers.
This fun-looking tropical house plant can help add height to a room along with very attractive foliage.
This is a very fast-growing plant, especially if you plant it outside under the correct conditions. In fact, they can add three feet every year. Indoor plants are much slower-growing, especially if you put them in a smaller container. If you’re planting it in a warm climate garden, you should plant them in the fall or spring when the weather isn’t extremely hot.
All parts of the umbrella plant are toxic to humans and very toxic to cats, dogs, and horses. So, you want to exercise care with this plant. We’re going to outline everything you need to know about growing it below.
Umbrella Plant – Quick Care Guide
|Bloom Time:||Summer when planted outdoors – rarely indoors|
|Botanical Name:||Schefflera spp.|
|Common Name:||Umbrella plant, umbrella tree|
|Flower Color:||Pink, red, or white|
|Hardiness Zone(s):||10 to 12|
|Mature Size:||4 to 6 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet wide indoors, 25 feet tall outside|
|Plant Type:||Broadleaf evergreen|
|Soil pH:||6.0 to 6.5 – slightly acidic|
|Soil Type:||Moderately moist and rich|
|Sun Exposure:||Indirect but bright|
|Toxicity:||Mildly toxic to humans and very toxic to pets|
Umbrella Plant Care
The umbrella plant is a very unique-looking specimen that is native to southern China and Taiwan. The houseplant variety is commonly called the dwarf umbrella tree or the octopus tree because it’s much smaller than what you’d find growing out in the wild. This is a great plant to have in your office or home because they’re very low-maintenance, help to clean the air, and are patient.
Also, these plants offer a very pretty look for your space and the leaves tend to grow into a flower shape. They come in solid green coloring or variegated yellow and green coloring. However, you have to set up certain conditions to keep them happy, and we’ll outline what they are for you below.
You should fertilize the umbrella plant twice a week for the growing season. You can use either two applications of slow-release pellets or a single application of liquid fertilizer. These plants are very heavy feeders, and they do well when you give them extra nutrients.
A strong layer of compost with fertilizer will give this plant the nutrients it needs to thrive in your home.
Umbrella plants enjoy being in a space that offers indirect, bright sunlight. So, this means that they’ll grow best if you put them near a bright window. It won’t like being in direct sun for hours at a time though. Too much direct sunlight can burn the leaves. Just like several other houseplants, it’s possible to train them to survive in lower lighting conditions. However, this tends to make the plant look more sparse and grow much more slowly.
Also, just like many other plants that prefer higher amounts of light but can survive in lower lighting, it will grow toward the nearest light source. You can rotate the plant every month to keep the umbrella plant from growing sideways.
This plant grows in tropical, lush forests and jungles in Taiwan and southern China, so they like a well-draining but rich soil mix. At the same time, the soil has to retain a lot of moisture between watering sessions. Look for a mix that has one part perlite and two parts peat moss. You can mix it with a well-rotted compost or aged manure to inject additional ingredients. You want a texture that mimics rich forest loam that is quick-draining and fluffy. Umbrella plants like balanced pH levels, but you’ll need a slightly acidic base since using peat moss will encourage a bushy habit with strong growth.
Temperature & Humidity Needs
The umbrella plant isn’t horribly picky when it comes to the humidity and temperature levels in your home. It does well in normal household temperatures that range between 60-degrees Fahrenheit and 75-degrees Fahrenheit. Just like variegated pothos, variegated umbrella plants will grow very well in slightly higher temperatures and more light. Solid green cultivars do better in lower light conditions.
The plant does fine if the humidity levels are lower in your home, but if you’re fighting a pest infestation, it can be beneficial to mist the plant’s foliage to help boost the relative humidity levels. You can also place a humidifier in the room to prevent pests.
When it comes to watering the umbrella plant, you have to be very careful about not overwatering it. The only tricky aspect to caring for this plant is that, while it prefers the soil to be on the moist side, it won’t handle soggy soil. Finding this delicate balance can be very tricky at first, and it’ll depend a lot on the temperature and the time of year as this dictates how quickly the soil dries out.
A good rule of thumb is to water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. A lot more tolerant houseplants will stand to have the top three or four inches of soil dry out without any damage, but the umbrella plant won’t. If you forget to water it and the soil dries out too quickly, it’ll forgive and keep growing. However, if you make a habit of this, the plant will show wear and tear. In the winter, cut the watering back to half of your normal schedule.
The watering is part of this plant’s care. It has a learning curve to it, and it can take a while to get the balance right so you don’t overwater or underwater it.
Pruning Umbrella Plants
You may have to prune your umbrella plant occasionally, especially if it’s not getting enough light and it’s reaching. Cut off portions that you think are looking leggy or overgrown. This plant will rebound very quickly from pruning, and it’ll reward you for this process. You’ll get a bushier and fuller plant after it starts to come back after you prune it.
Propagating Umbrella Plants
Propagating your umbrella plant isn’t a huge process, and this forgiving plant is actually relatively easy to propagate. The following steps will help you successfully propagate a healthy plant. You want to propagate your umbrella plant in the spring months. This will help keep the current plant bushy while giving you new plants. You can propagate them using cuttings.
- Get a sharp pair of pruners and cut off a six-inch section from the plant’s stem at a 45-degree angle. Remove everything but four or five leaves from the top of the stem.
- Dip the end of your cutting in rooting hormone before putting the cut end into a container filled with potting soil.
- Cover the pot very loosely with a secure plastic bag to hold in the humidity before putting it in indirect, bright light.
- Check your container every day to make sure that the soil stays moist, and water when it starts to dry out. Lightly tug at the stem to check for root development.
- After a month or so, the roots will have formed and you can remove the plastic bag and keep growing your new umbrella plant. If the roots don’t form, you can discard it and get a new cutting.
Potting and Repotting Umbrella Plants
Repotting this plant on an annual basis or every two years is most likely more than enough as it grows very slowly indoors.
Repot your umbrella plants as needed or annually. If they’re too big for the current container, they require a bigger pot and new soil. You can allow them to get slightly rootbound to slow the growth rate and prolong the period between needing to upgrade the pot without damaging the plant.
If you choose to repot your umbrella plant, you want to remove it from the current container and gently loosen up the roots. You can soak them in water to help this process along. To repot it, pick out a larger plastic or clay container that has plenty of drainage holes, fill it with a peaty well-drained mix, and plant your umbrella tree.
Umbrella Plant Growth Patterns
This is a very fast growing plant. With attentive care from you and a little TCL from your fertilizer, the umbrella plant can outgrow the pot in a single growing season. However, they are usually happy to be in pots that are small when you compare it to the plant’s size. When you repot it, size up to a pot that is a size or two larger than the current pot.
Umbrella plants can be compact and short or tall and skinny, and they’re perfect for going on table tops or in rooms with higher ceilings. It will grow tall by itself as long as you care for it, up to six feet or more. It can also adopt a climbing tendency as it grows. The best fertilizer blend to encourage this strong growth is a 20-20-20 blend.
To keep the umbrella plant on the short side, all you have to do is cut off the new growth at the top of the plant. This will force your plant to create more shoots down the main stem to give a bushier and fuller look. However, even when you keep encouraging new growth, this plant rarely gets over two feet wide.
Common Problems for the Umbrella Plants
Even though umbrella plants are easy to grow inside, they can have a few issues you’ll have to deal with. The first issue that you have to watch for, especially if you have pets running around, is that this plant is toxic to them. So, if they happen to ingest leaves from this plant, they will get sick. A few other concerns that can impact your umbrella plant include:
In low light conditions, you’ll want to make a point to rotate your plant once a week or so to ensure that it grows straight. If you don’t do this, the plant will get crooked as it starts to grow toward the light source. Once the plant grows crooked, there’s no way for you to straighten out the stem.
Remember that the umbrella plant grows best in warm planting zones. So, if the leaves start to drop, it could be too cold. If the temperature is fine, there could be other changes in the environment, like wind. The leaves will usually drop off the bottom, so it’s not the end of the world as you’ll get a more umbrella-like look.
However, if you want the plant to stay full, you don’t want it to drop leaves. The umbrella plant is very similar to the fiddle leaf fig in the fact that the leaves won’t grow back. If the leaves stay attached but look like they’re about to fall off, you could be over or under watering it.
Unfortunately, your umbrella plant is vulnerable to pest infestations, especially scale. If your plant gets infected with scale, it may look pretty, but it’ll leave a nasty sticky residue on whatever it touches. Scale pests leave this sticky substance all over when they start to infest your plant. The stickiness can attract mold and turn your plant into a sooty mess. It’s supposed to be hard to get rid of, but moving the plant to a new location can do wonders.
Gnats and spider mites can be a problem too. Since some of these pests love dry conditions, misting your plant’s leaves or increasing the relative humidity levels can cause them to move on. Insecticidal soap can help you get rid of these pests and save your umbrella plant too.
Certain pests can wreak havoc on your umbrella plant, so it’s important to monitor your plants, catch them early, and get rid of them before you have a full-on infestation.
A few yellow leaves generally isn’t anything to worry about as they periodically die off. You can remove any yellow leaves as you see them. When a lot of the bottom leaves start to fall off, it’s time to take a closer look. Is the soil wet or dry? When was the last time you watered it?
You’re looking to see if you’ve overwatered your plant. This is the biggest reason why yellow leaves form on the umbrella plant. Too large of a pot, watering too often, or no drainage holes can also contribute to yellow leaves. Allow the soil to dry out before you water it again, and you can use a moisture meter if you’re not sure.
If you’re positive that you haven’t overwatered the plant, another common problem is that your plant isn’t getting enough light. If you’ve moved your plant to a spot where it’s not getting enough light, it’s a good idea to move it to a sunnier location.
Important Umbrella Plant Care Tips
As the umbrella plant is a very low-maintenance choice that requires very little to thrive, the following care tips can help you keep it in top shape:
- Clean the Leaves – An indoor plant will slowly gather dust on the leaves, and this can harm your plant by slowing the photosynthesis process. Every month or two, get a damp, clean cloth and wipe down the leaves to get rid of the dust.
- Monitor for Pests – This plant is an easy target for aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, and scale insects. When you see these pests, you can pinch them off or treat the plant using natural pest control methods like neem oil or insecticidal soap.
- Prune Occasionally – This plant can easily grow wild and require pruning once a year or so. It’s actually common to use these plants as bonsai trees. Get a pair of sharp shears and remove any branches that look withered, old, or sick. Remove branches until you get the desired size and shape you’re after. New growth will sprout quickly.
- Repot Every Few Years – With the right growing conditions, umbrella plants can grow very rapidly and benefit from getting repotted when they get root bound. If the plant’s growth slows during the spring and summer months and the roots form a very thick mass, it can be time to upgrade the pot. Pick a pot that is a size or two larger than the current pot and give it fresh soil.
- Water Regularly – This plant is drought-tolerant, so they can handle shorter periods with low or no water. For the best results, water it when the top inch or two of soil feels dry to the touch. Avoid watering too much as it can lead to root rot.
Frequently Asked Questions
Even though this is a more relaxed plant, it’s common for people to have a few questions about it. We’ve rounded up the ones people ask the most and answered them for you below.
1. Can you grow your umbrella plant outside?
If you decide to grow the umbrella plant outside, it has to be in a tropical area in zones 10 to 12. Colder zones get far too much frost for this plant to do well, and it won’t survive winter conditions outdoors.
2. How quickly will umbrella plants grow?
Outside, these plants can easily grow three feet or more every year. They have a much slower growth habit as houseplants, and they usually top out at five to six feet tall.
3. How long can the umbrella tree live?
This is a long-lived plant under the correct conditions, and they’ve been known to survive decades. On average, they live roughly 25 years.
4. Are umbrella plants toxic?
Umbrella plants are toxic to both animals and humans due to the high amount of calcium oxalate crystals it contains. The sap can easily cause mild skin irritation, and ingesting the bark, leaves, or roots can cause nausea. You should wear gloves when you prune this plant and keep it away from kids and pets.
You now know how to take care of the umbrella plant and keep it healthy and thriving indoors. This tropical-looking house plant will grow for decades if you take care of it, and it can easily fill in a corner or empty space in your home with deep green or variegated leaves.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.