The umbrella tree (Schefflera actinophylla) is an easy to care for broadleaf evergreen grown for its foliage. Native to the rainforests in Australia and New Guinea, it grows up to 65 feet tall in its native area. Indoors, it gets up to eight feet tall but can be pruned to stay smaller.
The umbrella tree is a tall plant with stems surrounded by leaves, giving the appearance of an umbrella. The leaves are glossy and bright green, but a variegated variety has lighter green stripes on bright green leaves.
How to Care for the Umbrella Plant
Umbrella plants are suitable for beginners or people who are very busy because they are easy to care for. These plants grow moderately fast or fast, depending on how much light they get.
Always use a pot with drainage holes. Umbrella plants become top heavy as they grow, so use a heavy pot that will keep them from turning over. Place the pot on wheels for the larger plants so you can move it if necessary.
Because umbrella plants live in the understory of the rainforest, they need indirect light. Direct sunlight will burn the leaves. Instead, place the plant in medium to bright indirect light. It can tolerate lower light levels but won’t look as nice or grow as fast.
Use a general-purpose potting mix formulated for houseplants. Umbrella plants like the soil to be slightly acidic (6.0-6.5), so look for a potting mix with peat moss.
You should water your umbrella plant when the top half inch of soil is dry, usually every 7-10 days. Water the plant until water comes out of the drainage holes in the pot. Let sit for fifteen minutes, then empty the water out of the saucer under the pot. Otherwise, the roots will rot. Reduce watering in the winter or when the plant is in low light.
Although umbrella plants are from rainforests, they can grow well in moderate humidity. If the tips of the leaves turn brown, place the plant in a pebble tray to increase the humidity. To make one, take a saucer large enough for the saucer under the plant pot to fit in. Fill with pebbles. Pour enough water to almost cover the tops of the pebbles. Place the pot and saucer on the pebble tray. As the water evaporates, it creates a humid microclimate. Keep adding water so the pebble tray doesn’t go dry.
Umbrella plants prefer temperatures from 65-80 degrees. Keep nighttime temperatures above 60 degrees. Do not place your plant near heat vents, radiators, open windows, or air conditioners. Keep away from hot or cold drafts.
From spring to fall, fertilize your umbrella plant once a month with a water-soluble fertilizer formulated for house plants. Do not fertilize the plant in the winter.
Turn the umbrella plant a quarter turn once a week, so the trunk stays straight. Dust the leaves with a clean, soft cloth. Inspect the plant for pests and diseases. Pests like to hide on the underside of leaves, so look there, too.
As the plant grows, the lower branches will turn brown and die. Prune these off to keep the plant looking neat. Prune any dead or damaged branches. If the umbrella plant is too tall, you can trim off the top above the last leaves. Trimming the growth tip this way will also make the plant bushier.
Every 18-24 months, you will need to repot your umbrella plant. If you want it to continue to grow, go up 2 inches in pot diameter. Otherwise, remove the existing potting mix and replace it with new potting mix, then put the plant back in the same pot. If the roots are growing out of the drainage holes, you need to go up to a larger pot.
Propagating the Umbrella Plant
You can propagate the umbrella plant by air layering or with cuttings.
- Air layering takes four to six weeks but is more likely to result in a healthy new plant.
- Pick a place on a stem just below a leaf stem.
- Remove the leaves around the stem.
- Cut into the stem one-third of the way through but do not cut through it.
- Dust the stem with rooting hormone.
- Cover the stem with damp sphagnum moss.
- Wrap the sphagnum moss with plastic wrap. Seal with wire twisted around the plastic wrap at both ends.
- Keep the sphagnum moss slightly damp.
- Be patient; the roots may take up to three months to form.
- When the roots are about two inches long, cut the new plant away from the parent plant.
- Pot as usual.
Cuttings take three to six weeks but are more challenging to grow than by air layering.
- Cut a stem off the plant.
- Cut off a piece about two inches long.
- Strip the leaves off.
- Dust the cut edge with rooting hormone.
- Place the cutting cut side down in the potting mix.
- Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
- Place a clear plastic bag over the pot.
- Put the pot in a warm place with bright light.
- When roots form, remove the plastic bag from the pot.
Diseases of Umbrella Plants
Umbrella plants don’t have many problems with disease.
If the plant is overwatered, it can get root rot and die.
Alternaria Leaf Spot
Alternaria Leaf Spot can cause large dark brown spots to form on the leaves. Sometimes the spots are ringed in yellow. To prevent Alternaria leaf spot, do not get the leaves wet when watering the plant. Treat with a fungicide for indoor plants.
Bacterial Leaf Spot
On the underside of the leaves, small tan to yellow spots that are irregular and have a corky texture form. They turn dark brown when they get over ¼ inch big. Destroy your plant if it gets bacterial leaf spot.
Pests of Umbrella Plants
Umbrella plants are vulnerable to several pests.
Spider mites love hot, dry conditions. Misting your plant and watering it more frequently often drives them away. Spider mites are hard to see without a magnifying glass. They are usually red and have eight legs. Often, the webs they spin are the first indication of a problem. Because these mites suck juices out of the leaves, the leaves have a light-colored speckling. If spider mites are left unchecked, the leaves will turn yellow, and the plant will die.
Mealybugs are white-colored with a white waxy substance on them. Filaments extend from their bodies, and they look cottony. Mealybugs suck sap from the plant and produce honeydew, a sticky substance that covers the leaves. Sooty mold often grows on the honeydew. The mealybugs cause distorted growth and can cause the death of the plant.
Scale insects are covered with a hard or soft waxy covering resembling a shell. They also suck sap and excrete honeydew. Scale insects can cause distorted growth or the death of the plant.
Control of Pests
All three of these pests can be killed with neem oil. Chose a neem oil formulated for indoor plants. Be sure to cover all parts of the plant, including the underside of the leaves. You may have to spray your plants weekly for several weeks to kill all the pests.
Other Umbrella Plant Problems
There are a few other problems umbrella plants have.
Dead spots form on the leaves up to several days after being exposed to temperatures under 50 degrees. Therefore, keep the plant warm and away from air conditioning vents.
Leaves turn light green or yellow. They are spindly. The plant needs more light.
Brown leaf tips
The plant needs more humidity. Use a pebble tray or mist leaves in the morning, so they dry by nightfall.
Umbrella Plant Variety Notes
The ‘Amate’ variety of the umbrella plant resists Alternaria leaf spot and spider mites. It also has a compact growth habit.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, it is mildly toxic to humans and very toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.
Small umbrella plants are widely available at nurseries and online.
Yes, although seeds may have to be ordered from online vendors.
The umbrella plant is a fast to moderately fast growing plant, depending on light levels.
Umbrella plants rarely bloom indoors.
In conclusion, umbrella plants are easy to grow plants. They grow quickly and can tolerate a range of light conditions. Umbrella plants are readily available at nurseries and online.