Everything You Need to Know About Caring for Umbrella Plants

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In our opinion, the umbrella tree is one of the most elegant tall houseplants of all. Its drooping green leaves, arranged in circles, earned this stunning plant its well-suited name. With long, thin stems, the leaves protrude on their own to create a lush, vibrant arrangement hanging over its base.

Outdoors in their native habitats of Australia and New Guinea, these tropical trees can grow up to 50 feet high at maturity. Indoor plants can range anywhere from two to ten feet tall, but since they can be pruned to maintain a certain height, they’re a perfect choice for just about any space. Umbrella trees are a low-maintenance houseplant, and they grow to suit their conditions without trouble—so even a neglected plant should be able to flourish at a small size for quite some time. 

Since these plants can be toxic to pets, it’s best to grow them outside the reach of dogs and cats.

  • Botanical Name: Schefflera actinophylla
  • Common Name: Umbrella plant, Australian ivy palm, octopus tree, schefflera, starleaf
  • Plant Type: Perennial tree
  • Mature Size: 2 to 10 feet high
  • Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
  • Soil Type: Peat moss–based potting mix
  • Soil pH: 6.0–6.5
  • Toxicity: Toxic to pets

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Your umbrella plant will grow best in fast-draining soil mixed with peat moss to promote drainage. Overwatering is a common pitfall with these plants: Wait until the soil has completely dried out, then water the plant deeply.

Feed your umbrella tree a standard houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength every six months. It’s best to repot in spring. These plants survive being pot-bound just fine for quite a while (they just won’t grow as large and full). 

Umbrella plants grow best with lots of bright, indirect light. In front of an east-facing window is a great spot, but west- or south-facing windows can also work well. If your plant starts looking leggy, that’s a sign that it’s in need of more light. However, it’s best to avoid placing your plant in direct sunlight, which can damage the leaves. 

If you start to notice root rot, you’re likely overwatering your umbrella plant. Conversely, drooping leaves would indicate watering needs to be increased.

Your umbrella tree needs warm temperatures to thrive and grow tall. This species does best in temperatures between the high-60 and high-70 degree range, so choose a warm spot away from drafts or heating and cooling vents to display your plant.

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If you’re concerned about the eventual height of your umbrella plant outgrowing your space, you may also look for a dwarf umbrella tree, also known as dwarf Schefflera, or by its botanical name, Schefflera arboricola. This cute, bushy plant—featuring small, compact leaves consisting of round (rather than pointed) leaflets—requires the same care and conditions as its full-sized relative. They grow to only 5 or 6 feet tall.

In fact, dwarf umbrella plants have become such common houseplants that they may be even more associated with the name “umbrella tree” than the full-sized species. Variegated versions with bright green leaves splashed with yellow or cream are also available. 

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After pruning your umbrella plant—or if you’re eager to multiply your collection—you can use cuttings to propagate new plants. Be sure to propagate during the growing season in spring or early summer. Umbrella plants are easy to propagate using a few different methods, including stem cuttings and air layering (best for leggy plants). Here’s how:

Step 1: Gather a small container, clean pair of pruning shears, well-draining soil, plastic bags, rubber bands, and powdered rooting hormone.

Step 2: Fill the container with potting soil and water until evenly moist.

Step 3: Choose a healthy stem from the plant’s higher growth. Make a cutting at least six inches long, then remove each lower leaflet. Using a pencil or a chopstick, poke a hole a few inches deep into the soil.

Step 4: Dip the cut end of the stem in rooting hormone, then plant it in the hole (cut end down) and gently press the soil around the stem. 

Step 5: Tent the plastic bag over the container and ensure the bag doesn’t touch any leaflets (prop it with chopsticks if needed). Secure the plastic bag on the pot’s base with the rubber band to create a humid microclimate.

Step 6: Place the cutting in a warm place with bright, indirect light, keeping it out of direct sunlight. Remove the bag briefly every once in a while to let the cutting air out. Keep the soil evenly moist. 

Step 7: When you see new leaf growth, the cutting has rooted and can be cared for as usual. 

Instead of using plastic bags during propagation, you can also keep the cutting in a warm, humid place like your bathroom.

Step 1: Gather a clean pair of pruning shears, sphagnum moss, clear plastic, twine or twist ties, and rooting hormone.

Step 2: Cut a three-inch section of stem from the upper portion of the plant and remove the leaves.

Step 3: Peel back the outer layer of bark on the stem until you see the white cambium layer. This is where the new plant’s roots will grow. Apply a thin layer of rooting hormone to the cut surface of the stem.

Step 4: Moisten a handful of sphagnum moss, then wrap it around the cut. Wrap the moss in the plastic, covering it completely. Use the twist ties or twine above and below the moss to secure the plastic to the stem.

Step 5: Open the plastic each week and spritz the moss to keep it damp. Look for new root growth in the moss and new leaf growth above the wound in the stem. This may take several months. 

Step 6: Once the plastic is full of new root growth, make a downward-angled cut just below the root ball. Transplant your new umbrella tree into an appropriately sized pot with fresh soil, and care for it as usual. 

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Umbrella trees are easy to care for, but they’re susceptible to root rot and spider mites. Here’s how to handle these issues if they affect your plant:

Umbrella plants have specific watering needs, and root rot is the most common issue when it comes to keeping your plant healthy. If you accidentally overwater your plant, the roots will start to decay pretty quickly. Fortunately, root rot is easy to treat: Simply remove the infected roots and repot your plant in fresh soil.

These tiny pests are usually the result of extra-dry air. Make sure the area around your plant is always moist and humid to keep these bugs at bay. To remove them, spray your plant down thoroughly with water, then apply neem oil each week until the infestation has cleared.

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Repot your umbrella plant in spring during the growing season. Use a pot with a drainage hole to prevent root rot and be sure to use loose, fast-draining commercial soil (adding peat moss is optional). If your umbrella tree is looking leggy, prune back overgrown limbs with a pair of clean, sharp gardening shears. Be sure to wear gloves, as the sap from the stems can irritate skin. This will cause the plant to create new growth and look fuller.

Yes. These low-maintenance plants require only a few simple care steps and proper growing conditions to thrive.

Your umbrella tree can thrive outside if you live in a tropical area, or USDA hardiness zones 10 through 11. Colder zones may experience too much frost for this species to survive winters outdoors.

Outdoors, these plants can grow up to three feet per year. As houseplants, umbrella trees grow much slower and reach an average of five to six feet tall.

Umbrella trees have been known to live several decades indoors, averaging about 25 years.

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