Umbrella plant or umbrella tree is the name given to two species of popular houseplants within the Schefflera genus, Schefflera actinophylla, and Schefflera arboricola.
What is Umbrella Plant?
The most common umbrella plant or umbrella tree, Schefflera actinophylla, can grow up to around 50ft in outdoor cultivation but may still grow up to around 15ft tall indoors.
It has leathery leaves with 5 or more leaflets, radiating around a central stem and when mature, may produce dull red flowers in erect panicles which are then followed by black fruit. But note that these plants rarely bloom at all when grown indoors.
Schefflera arboricola is a smaller option. Though it can grow up to 25ft or so tall outdoors, inside it will tend to be kept no more than 4-6ft in height. There are numerous cultivars boasting variegated foliage or other unique characteristics.
Where to Grow Umbrella Plant
Umbrella plants do need careful placement to thrive. So you will need to think carefully about where you will grow one of these plants.
They will only survive winter outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 10-12, and so in cooler climes, are kept indoors year-round, or at least during the coldest part of the year.
Though they can be kept indoors in a suitable spot year-round, you will find it is often easier to place them outside for a while in summer.
Umbrella plants need plenty of bright but indirect light.
It will be easier to provide them with the bright but not direct sun that they need by moving them outside onto a patio, perhaps, during the summer. But you can keep your plant indoors as long as you have a bright enough location within your home.
Remember, the light should be bright but indirect or filtered – don’t place an umbrella plant in full, direct sun during the hottest part of the day as when the sun is too intense it can scorch the leaves.
Temperature & Humidity Requirements
Umbrella plants are tropical species, which like heat and humidity. They will not tend to thrive where temperatures drop below around 15 degrees Celsius so should ideally be kept above this temperature at all times. Temperatures between 15 and 24 degrees are best for these plants.
It is important to make sure that you do not place an umbrella plant where temperatures will fluctuate too much. So avoid placing them too close to heat sources or where cold draughts might be experienced.
You should also ensure that moderate humidity is maintained, as the plants will struggle if conditions get too dry. Mist leaves regularly, group your umbrella plant with other houseplants, and/or use pebble-filled water trays to raise humidity where necessary.
Soil/ Growing Medium
A loose and moist yet well-drained growing medium is essential to grow umbrella plants indoors. Select a peat-free growing medium with a slightly acidic pH and add grit or sand for drainage. A loam or soil-based potting mix is ideal.
Planting Umbrella Plant
Take care to choose a container for your umbrella plant that is large enough to accommodate the root system of the existing plant with just a little space around the sides. Make sure it has adequate drainage holes at the base to avoid waterlogging.
Caring for Umbrella Plant
Umbrella plant care is not complex, as long as the basic environmental conditions are in place. But there are still some things to think about when growing these as houseplants in your home.
It is important to water frequently throughout the growing season, but not to overwater. Wait until the soil in the container feels dry to the touch before you give it a good thorough watering once more.
Water early in the day when possible, and try not to water from above and splash the leaves. This can help reduce the chances of problems like leaf spot from arising.
Umbrella plants are not only large in size but also quite heavy feeders. So they will appreciate being fed regularly with a balanced, organic liquid plant feed throughout the growing season.
For best results, feed up to twice a week through spring and summer with a good quality compost tea or similar. Reduce or hold off feeding in the winter.
Leggy plants that have not received enough light will benefit from some pruning to return them to good health and make them fuller and bushier in form. These plants will tend to rebound well after pruning.
Usually, however, pruning will not be required except to simply take off any dead or damaged material each spring.
In the spring, you may also wish to take cuttings at the same time, as this is the easiest method of propagation for these plants.
Certain diseases such as leaf spots and pest problems can sometimes arise when growing umbrella plants indoors. Aphids and other sap-suckers can sometimes become a problem, or their secretions can cause the formation of sooty mold.
But many of the problems arise from the growing conditions or improper care. For example, yellowing leaves are often caused by excess water or too much light. Brown spots are often caused by a lack of water.
Repot umbrella plants when their roots fill their existing pot and they have grown too large for their current container.
You can allow them to become somewhat root bound to slow their rate of growth and prevent the plants from becoming too large but it is important to make sure that drainage is not affected.
Choose a new container just a little larger than the previous one, and make sure it is a suitable one with good drainage holes at the base.
With the right placement and care, your Schefflera should live for 25 years or more.