The Schefflera, also known as Umbrella Tree, is a popular houseplant due to its distinctive foliage and easy-care nature. Hailing from the tropical rainforests of Taiwan and South China its glossy leaves splay out like the ribs of an umbrella (hence the name).
There are two main varieties of Schefflera that are typically grown as houseplants:
- Schefflera arboricola, also known as the dwarf umbrella tree, is smaller in stature and leaf size with a bushier growth habit.
- Schefflera actinophylla or the Australian umbrella tree, is larger and can grow up to 50 feet tall in its native environment. This variety features larger, glossier leaves and is often grown as a statement plant in homes and offices.
General Schefflera Care
Despite being relatively low-maintenance, Schefflera plants do have specific needs and preferences when it comes to lighting, watering, temperature, and feeding. Luckily for many, they fall quite down the middle in terms of their care needs and adapt well to the natural environment found in many homes.
Bright but indirect light is best, followed by moderate watering, room temperatures and monthly feeding during summer.
However, no plant is entirely immune to problems as there are so many factors that are often os out of our control. Scheffleras can sometimes fall victim to common houseplant pests and diseases, which can compromise their health and appearance if not addressed promptly. Therefore, regularly inspecting your plant and taking swift action at the first sign of trouble will help you successfully fight any issues that come along.
The Schefflera is characterized by its vibrant green, glossy leaves that grow in circular clusters, resembling the spokes of an umbrella. It’s from this unique growth pattern that the plant derives its common name. Native to Taiwan and South China, the Schefflera thrives in warm, humid climates, making it well-suited for indoor cultivation.
One of the key characteristics of the Schefflera is its resilience. This plant is capable of withstanding a variety of environmental conditions, making it an excellent choice for beginner plant owners or those with less than ideal growing conditions.
They are also known for their air-purifying qualities, contributing to a healthier indoor environment – just another reason to have them around!
Here’s a summary of the origin and main elements of a Schefflera Plant:
- Native to: Taiwan and South China
- Common name: Umbrella plant
- Family: Araliaceae
- Growth habit: Shrubs or small trees
- Leaf appearance: Glossy, vibrant green, umbrella-like clusters
- Size: Varies depending on species, from small tabletop plants to large indoor trees
- Resilience: Can withstand a variety of environmental conditions
Schefflera Light Requirements
Schefflera plants thrive in bright, indirect light. In the wild, the Schefflera is accustomed to receiving dappled sunlight filtered through the lush canopy of tropical rainforests.This means it’s not a plant that enjoys direct sun exposure, particularly in summer.
Direct sunlight can scorch its leaves, leading to unsightly brown patches. Instead, a brightly lit room with ample indirect light is ideal for this houseplant. In winter, sometimes you can get away with more direct sunlight as the sun is weaker so you might want to think about moving your plant around depending on the seasons.
Tip tip: Rotate the plant every few weeks to make sure all sides are receiving equal amounts of light. This prevents the plant from growing lopsided and leaning towards the light.
Artificial lighting can also be a good choice for times when there isn’t enough natural light. Fluorescent or LED lights can be super useful and a great investment for plant parents. However, it is important to remember that artificial light should not replace natural light completely, but supplement it.
The Perfect Temperature
Generally, the Schefflera plant prefers a temperature between 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit (15-24 degrees Celsius). It can tolerate a maximum temperature of around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius), but continual exposure to such high temperatures can lead to dry patches forming on the leaves and the stems wilting over time.
Here are some practical tips to maintain the perfect temperature for your Schefflera:
- Avoid placing your Schefflera near air conditioners or heating vents as these can create hot or cold drafts that can adversely affect the plant.
- Keep the plant away from windows that receive direct sunlight as the intense heat can cause leaf scorching.
- In cooler seasons, ensure your Schefflera gets enough warmth by placing it in a room that maintains a consistent temperature within the plant’s preferred range.
Watering your Umbrella Plant
Proper watering is critical for the health of your Schefflera and too much or too little water can create quite severe problems. The aim is to achieve a balance that allows the root system to take in as much water as it needs, without creating waterlogged soil.
Frequency of Watering:
Generally, a mature Schefflera should be watered once the top 1-2 inches of soil dry out. This usually means watering once a week in the summer and once every two weeks during the winter months, but it can vary based on the specific conditions in your home.
Amount of Water:
When watering your Schefflera, thoroughly soak the soil until water runs out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. However, never let the plant sit in standing water. If necessary, empty the plant saucer after watering to prevent waterlogging.
Schefflera plants prefer rainwater or distilled water over tap water, as they can be sensitive to chemicals like chlorine often found in municipal water supplies. This only tends to be an issue for them if you live in a hard water area though so it’s worth checking that.
Signs of Overwatering and Underwatering:
Overwatered Scheffleras may show signs of yellowing leaves and leaf drop, while underwatered plants tend to have leaves that curl inward or dry up. Adjust your watering schedule as necessary if you notice these signs.
Finding the Right Humidity Level
Schefflera prefer a humidity level ranging between 40% and 60% mimicking their natural habitat in tropical rainforests. This can be measured using a hygrometer, an inexpensive and convenient tool for any plant enthusiast (often it will have a thermometer built in as well which is great for monitoring temperature fluctuations at the same time as humidity).
If your home has quite dry air, there are several ways to increase humidity around your Schefflera plant:
- Misting: Regularly mist your Schefflera’s leaves with a spray bottle filled with room-temperature distilled or rainwater. This not only increases the humidity but also helps to keep the leaves dust-free.
- Humidity Tray: Place your pot on a tray filled with pebbles and water. As the water evaporates, it increases the humidity around the plant. Ensure that the pot is sitting on the pebbles and not submerged in the water to prevent root rot.
- Grouping Plants: Group your Schefflera with other plants. As plants transpire, they release moisture into the air, thus creating a microclimate with higher humidity.
- Humidifier: Use a humidifier in the room where you keep your Schefflera, particularly during the winter months when indoor air tends to be dry.
While Schefflera enjoys a humid environment, it’s important to prevent excess moisture which can contribute to fungal diseases.
Signs of Incorrect Humidity Levels
If the leaves start turning brown at the edges, or if the plant starts dropping leaves, this could indicate that the air is too dry. On the other side of the humidity spectrum, if the leaves become yellow and quite soft, it may be a sign of too much humidity.
Fertilizing your Schefflera
Schefflera plants do not require high amounts of fertilizer, but the use of an all-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer is generally recommended. This should be applied at half-strength every 4 weeks or so during the growing season. A 10-10-10 NPK (see below) is the ideal balance.
- Nitrogen (N): This is crucial for your Schefflera’s leaf development as it promotes healthy, vibrant green growth.
- Phosphorous (P): This nutrient aids in root development, helping your plant to establish a strong foundation.
- Potassium (K): Essential for overall plant health, potassium aids in water regulation and disease resistance.
During the dormant winter months, stop fertilizing your Schefflera completely. It uses this time to rest and prepare for the next growth cycle and environmental factors such as temperature and humidity aren’t always as ideal during winter. Over-fertilizing can lead to salt build-up in the soil, which can damage the plant’s roots. This is why we always recommend that you water your Schefflera thoroughly after each fertilization to help distribute the nutrients evenly throughout the soil.
How, Why and When to Prune your Schefflera
Why Prune your Schefflera
Pruning is essential for your Schefflera for a few key reasons. Firstly, it controls the size of the plant, preventing it from becoming too large for its container or indoor location. Secondly, it encourages the development of a robust and bushy growth habit as it can activate growth hormones in the stems. Lastly, by eliminating dead or diseased branches, pruning can help prevent the spread of diseases and pests.
When to Prune your Schefflera
The ideal time to prune your Schefflera is during its active growth period, typically in the spring and early summer. This is when the plant can recover quickly and easily (pruning can be a little stressful for plants). Pruning at a time when the plant is already growing vigorously ensures that the cut areas will promptly heal and new growth will occur quickly.
How to Prune your Schefflera
Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to help you get the process nailed down:
- Prepare the Tools: Since Schefflera plants can be sensitive to diseases, make sure your pruning shears are disinfected before use.
- Identify the Branches: Look for branches that are dead, diseased or dying. These are ideal candidates for pruning.
- Make the Cut: Cut the unwanted branches at the point where they join with a main branch or stem. Be careful not to damage the main stem.
- Shape the Plant: If you want to control the size of your Schefflera, trim back the longest branches. This encourages the plant to grow in a more bushy manner.
The Schefflera plant is toxic to humans and pets as it contains calcium oxalate crystals, which are found in all parts of the plant. When ingested, these crystals can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including:
- Mouth irritation: The plant’s toxicity can cause mouth and throat pain, often accompanied by increased salivation and difficulty swallowing.
- Stomach upset: Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are common symptoms if larger amounts of the plant have been consumed.
- Skin irritation: Contact with the plant’s sap can cause dermatitis in extreme cases which is characterized by redness, itching, and blisters.
Repotting a Schefflera
When to Repot
The Schefflera plant typically requires repotting once every two to three years. Repotting is due when the plant outgrows its pot and requires a larger space to spread its roots and continue expanding.
One of the main indicators that your Schefflera needs repotting is when you notice roots coming out of the drainage holes or when the growth of the plant seems to stagnate during the growth period.
Choosing the Right Pot
When selecting a new pot for your Schefflera, choose a container that is one size larger than its current one. If the pot is too big, your plant can become unstable which is a severe issue for tall plants such as a Schefflera.
The new pot should also have ample drainage holes to prevent waterlogging and allow any excess water to flow out of the pot.
To repot your Schefflera, follow these steps:
- Prepare the New Pot: Begin by placing a layer of drainage material, such as pebbles, at the bottom of the pot. This promotes water drainage and prevents root rot.
- Remove the Plant: Carefully remove the Schefflera from its current pot. A gentle tap to the bottom of the pot can help loosen the root ball. If you need to pull the plant out, pull the main stem, rather than the leaves as they can break easily.
- Inspect and Prune the Roots: Inspect the roots for any signs of disease or rot. If you find any, prune these parts away with a clean, sharp tool.
- Place the Plant: Position the plant in the center of the new pot, spreading its roots out over the drainage layer.
- Add Soil: Fill the pot with a well-draining soil mix, making sure not to pack the soil too tightly around the roots.
- Water: Once the plant is securely in place, water it thoroughly to help establish it in its new home.
Schefflera Care FAQs
Are Schefflera plants toxic?
The sap inside your Schefflera’s leaves is mildly toxic to humans and pets. Try to wear gloves if repotting or handling your Schefflera and keep it out of the way of your pets or children.
How often should I water my Schefflera?
Schefflera plants don’t need to be watered a huge amount and will not mind at all if you forget every so often. They don’t like their roots to be sitting in water so just make sure you check your Schefflera’s soil before watering.
Can Schefflera plants tolerate direct sunlight?
Schefflera plants can deal with some direct light but keep them away from intense light during summer as it can dry out and burn the leaves. They can adjust to lower light levels but you will notice the growth is slower and more spaced out.
Are Scheffleras easy to care for?
Schefflera plants are relatively easy to care for as they are quite adaptable to a range of environments and are quite forgiving when it comes to watering habits.
Are Scheffleras good beginner houseplants?
Schefflera plants are one of the best beginner houseplants as they don’t require constant care and attention. They adapt well to a range of watering and care habits and adjust nicely to most homes.
How tall do Schefflera plants get?
Schefflera plants aren’t quite slow growers but can reach about 8 feet (2.4m) high.
Common Problems with your Schefflera
Why is my Schefflera losing leaves?
Dropping leaves on your Schefflera may be due to shock. If you have recently moved or repotted your Schefflera don’t be alarmed if a few leaves drop off.
Also pay attention to the light levels as insufficient sunlight be also cause your Schefflera to lose some of its lower leaves as it focuses its energy on producing new growth.
You can find out more in our journal post about why your Schefflera is losing leaves.
Why are the leaves on my Schefflera drooping?
Drooping leaves are usually an indication that you are watering your Schefflera incorrectly. Check the moisture in the soil to see whether it is soggy or dry and adjust your watering accordingly.
We have written a guide on drooping Schefflera leaves with more information.
Why are my Schefflera's leaves turning yellow?
If you notice that your Schefflera’s leaves are turning yellow, this is probably due to watering issues.
You may be either over or underwatering your Schefflera so check the soil moisture and adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
Why are my Schefflera's leaves turning brown?
Brown leaves on your Schefflera can be quite a complex issue as there are many things that may be causing this. We have written a whole post on this to help you diagnose why your Schefflera is developing brown leaves.