I enjoy running marathons, hiking in the mountains, gardening, and pampering my cat.
The dwarf umbrella tree, Schefflera arboricola, is an evergreen shrub native to Southeast Asia. Its popularity as a houseplant and in landscaping in tropical climates is augmented by its tolerance of unfavorable conditions (including lack of water and sunlight).
It can grow to around five feet in height, but with proper trimming and care, can remain small in size and be a wonderful bonsai plant. Their leaves can come in two different colors: solid green or a variegated variety, with yellow or white patches on the leaves. The variegated type is the most popular for bonsai.
How to Care for Your Dwarf Umbrella Plant
Despite their natural hardiness, umbrella plants will die just like any other houseplant if neglected.
These plants favor moist soil but will not do well if their soil is routinely oversaturated. Wilting leaves are an obvious sign that the plant requires watering, but if the leaves begin to turn different colors and drop, the plant is getting too much water.
- Test your soil by digging a small hole about the length of your index finger in the soil about four inches away from the base of the plant.
- If the soil is damp in the bottom of the hole but not at the top, water evenly within the next few days.
- Water more frequently in spring and summer, but scale back your watering during the plants’ dormant season in winter.
- It is also a good idea to mist your plant regularly with distilled or filtered water if you live in a dryer climate as they prefer more humid and moist conditions.
They do not require any special soil and can be potted with any standard quality potting mix.
- Pot your umbrella tree in a container with a drainage hole at the bottom and line the bottom with rocks or a mixture of peat and sand to help aid with the drainage of excess water.
- Blooming starts from early to late summer, its most active growing phase during that time. If it is not placed near a source of bright sunlight for the majority of the day, you can fertilize it with high-quality liquid fertilizer—once a week throughout the growing period.
They are light lovers and prefer bright lights, but as with many plants, can suffer from heat damage and dehydration in direct, hot light. Luckily, they are very adaptive to different light sources and will thrive in a variety of light levels if allowed time to adjust. It can be stressful for the plant if it is suddenly placed in a different environment without being allowed sufficient time to adapt.
They normally remain in good health but are also prone to infestations of mites, mealy bugs, and other insects.
If you discover spots on the underside of the leaves or other signs of infestations, spray with any common pesticide as directed.
Pruning Tips for Umbrella Plants
Umbrella plants need little pruning if allowed to grow to full-size, aside from the regular removal of dead stalks and leaves. If you are growing outdoors, it can be easily pruned to a desired size with shears.
However, if you are growing as a bonsai, they are among the easiest plants to use for those just beginning the art. You will just need to be aware of how to properly prune your plant. It is recommended you start with a young, small plant.
Pruning is used to encourage heavy branching of the plant, so you should prune your plant around areas where you want thicker foliage, and trim to shape as desired. It is somewhat difficult to prune the umbrella plant into traditional bonsai shapes, but it is easy to trim and preserve at a miniature size.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: What causes drooping leaves?
Answer: Often drooping leaves indicate that there isn’t enough water in the leaves, or that there is too much water (in my experience, the leaves droop more when underwatered— it’s hard to overwater in a pot with good drainage). Test the soil for this, and if that’s not the issue, consider the amount of light the plant is getting. Drooping leaves generally aren’t a sign of bugs.
RHINO0108@YAHOO.COM on June 19, 2020:
my unbrella plant is 7 ft high indoors what should i do
shirl on November 16, 2017:
I have a umberlla plant , always had it in side it was not doing to good where it was then i put it out side and it is doing good ir even got bigger
I would like to know is it ok to live it out side in the winter, i always have it as a house plant.
ang on July 24, 2017:
hi there i have an umbrella plant in my kitchen by sliding door it love it there i have even cut it in half and it started growing for where i cut it.all i want to no is what do i feed the plant with i had never feed it but must need some kind of plant food thanks
Renae on February 04, 2017:
I have a schefflera that I've had for about a year. It was a small cutting when I got it. It took it about 6 months for it to reach a foot in height and has basically stopped growing for the last 6 months. It's just a stick with a bunch of leaves on the top. It's healthy and green with perfect leaves.....just not growing or branching. The only change I've noticed is the stem has turned from tender green to woody brown. It's in a standard 6" pot. Should I repot to something larger? Feed it?
tracey. grant on January 03, 2016:
my 30yr old umbrella plant (indoors) has been dropping its leaves more than usual. its not over or under watered and there is no infestation, what can i do, im quite fond of my plant???
Sunny on November 17, 2015:
We have a 7 foot tall schefflera plant and it became too top heavy and broke halfway. We just immediately planted it in soil 2 weeks ago but it's not looking happy at all and may be dying. What can we do? I'd hate to lose that branch because it's about 3-ft. tall.
Mary branum on September 29, 2015:
Can you get a start off of the trimming if so how do you go about it
Debbie in Minnesota on April 25, 2015:
Can u separate a large overgrown umbrella tree? Or just repot it? Debbie in Minnesota - it's indoors in a sunroom
Shanna (author) from Utah on January 26, 2015:
Lisa- Definitely go with a roomier pot. They grow fast and need space for the root system.
Jackie- If your kitten was digging around in it (as my cats often do!), it's likely that she was burying waste, which can upset the Ph balance of the soil and cause your umbrella plant to die. I would completely change the soil and move it to a fresh pot. Don't give it too much sun. The waste in the soil might be burning the roots- you don't want to burn the leaves, too.
McNicolA- Those sound like flower buds! It's a sign that your plant is healthy.
McNicolA on January 20, 2015:
We have one at the office. It gets plenty of morning sun (about 4 hours for now, it being January) and its watered once a week. I moved it from being on my desk to being on the floor. There's more light there.
In the past month or so, it has grown what look like small pine cones (?). They're green like the stalk, but I just don't know what they are. Any suggestions?
Jackie Clemence on January 17, 2015:
I've had my plant for 30 years. We replanted it in the spring and moved it from the porch to the dining room. It seemed to love the move and has continued to produce more leaves and looked very healthy. A couple of months ago I noticed the soil had been disturbed, the prime suspect for this was the new addition to the family our kitten. The plant started to drop some leaves but then slowly started to pick up again. A couple of weeks before Christmas I discovered she had been digging in the tub, the soil appeared ok but since then every day the leaves are changing colour and dropping off. I don't want the plant to die any advice please?
Lisa on January 16, 2015:
Do umbrella plants prefer roomy pots or to be a little more cramped??
Chyenne on December 14, 2014:
So my umbrella plant has started to turn brown and drop leaves and its stocks. We have not moved it from it location since we started it and has never had that problem till now. I do water it once every two weeks allowing it to dry before all my waterings. What can i do differently?
kathleen on October 04, 2014:
Can my tree be kept outside for winter I live in Texas by the coast
Mark on September 21, 2014:
How do u start a cuting from your umbrella plant.
Beth on August 01, 2014:
Thank you so much for all the useful info!
carol on July 24, 2014:
my leaves are falling off of my umbrella plant.I noticed dark spots on the leaves that have fallen off. What should i do to save my plant.. PLEASE Help.... :(
Rita on July 18, 2014:
I have an umbrella tree that seems completely dead. There is only a few leaves growing on one small branch... the rest is completely naked of leaves. I have had this tree for more than 10 years and I don't know why I have no leaves. Is there something I can do about it? I may have had an infestation but I never noticed. Can someone please let me know if there is something I can do to revive this tree? Thanks for any advice you can provide.
Meg on May 28, 2014:
My partner just got me a little one from the store, it's obviously root bound, but I don't want to re-pot it until it's gotten used to our apartment. However, there two main trunks. D'you think they are the same tree, or were two planted in the same pot to increase chances of a good looking specimen?
Shanna (author) from Utah on March 02, 2014:
Kami-- aggressively trim the sides of the plant and it will grow upward.
kami on March 02, 2014:
We have an umbrella plant from my husbands grandma's passing. Its growing out instead of up. What should I do? I've already split it once, but I want something tall not fat. Please help ....
Beverley on January 14, 2014:
I have been given a 6ft tall plant can I trim top off it!
idigwebsites from United States on October 04, 2013:
I have these in my garden, but I didn't know they have a name, hehehe. They have one of my favorite foliage. Thanks for posting infos about this plant. :)
Shanna (author) from Utah on June 12, 2013:
Sorry guys! I'm currently abroad right now and I don't always get to these as fast as I should!
Fauchie- Theoretically, yes you can prune past the last prune point and it should be able to bud again. However, if you get too close to the trunk and the branch is too thick (the thicker the part of the branch is, the less likely it will bud) your chances of it budding again decrease. As long as you're pruning away from the trunk, you can prune beyond the last pruning point and it should be good.
Pietz123- 1990? That plant is older than me! I'm impressed. If there is sap on the plant, it's probably got an open wound somewhere which could be the result of some sort of pest. If the leaves also have brownish spots on them, then this also points to some sort of pest or disease. I would take a leaf or small cutting to your local plant/hardware store and ask them to recommend you some sort of treatment for it.
Carol- It's possible that your plant doesn't have the resources to sustain continuous growth upward. When your plant sends up other shoots and sprouts from the pot itself, it's usually a sign that the main part of the plant is in distress. If the main plant itself seems past saving, or if by pruning off the top two feet you would remove the vast majority of leaves available for photosynthesis I would recommend turning your care to one of the shoots.
However, if the main plant still seems relatively okay, I would cut off the stems coming from the plant and then look for problems with the main plant. Have the roots outgrown the pot? Dig down to see how compacted they are and consider a transplant. Be sure to break up the root ball. Check for disease or soil drainage problems. Once you address any possible problems, trim about a foot off of your umbrella plant from the top and hopefully the bottom leaves will grow back.
carol on June 12, 2013:
i have an umbrella plant...it has grown to about 3' and very large around...why are the lower leaves dropping off...many sprouts coming on..i am afraid to prune...i had one years ago and i killed it...i feed it once a month...water sparingly...there are about 6 main trunks coming out of the ground...does one prune the stems coming from the trunks or the trunks themselves...thank you
pietz123 on May 17, 2013:
My umbrella plant has been strong and healthy since 1990. Now suddenly it is dropping sap and the leaves have brownish areas. Any ideas on the cause and/or the fix?
Fauchie on April 26, 2013:
I have an umbrella tree that is about 3' tall with a 1" trunk. It was very dense in foliage when I purchased it and is getting taller and more sparse. I would like to prune it back to encourage it to grow thicker again. My question is: If a branch has previously been pruned, and it back-budded from that point, can I prune it again, past this original prune point (closer to the trunk that the original cut), and have it back-bud successfully again from this point? Thanks in advance!
Shanna (author) from Utah on April 03, 2013:
Your point is valid. Umbrella plants are hardy and generally flourish in any range between 5 and 8 on the pH scale. A slightly more restricted pH (in the 5.6-7.8 range) is best for dwarf umbrella trees.
What other information could be added to increase the usefulness of this article? I appreciate your input.
E=MC2 on April 03, 2013:
Not to be rude but this was utterly useless. Please post what the soil acidity (on the pH scale) needs to be to grow an umbrella plant.
Pam on March 03, 2013:
I have an umbrella plant that's 3 ft tall and was wondering if I can prune it down and braid the trunk? It's more bushy right now and I want it more tree like.
Shanna (author) from Utah on February 27, 2013:
That's sweet of you to offer, but I'm not currently in a housing environment where I would have room for an umbrella plant.
joan on February 10, 2013:
Have one from a mutliple arrangement plantling., which I devided. It is now over 2 ft in feet , and prolific . Can't kill it, but would like to how to care for it . Do you want it?
Shanna (author) from Utah on February 07, 2013:
Woah! Sorry I've been so terrible with getting back to you all. There's no excuse besides being drowned in course work.
Cindy- I would prune from the top down. Pruning from the top forces the plant to grow more at the base. If you prune from the sides, the plant will tend to only grow taller.
Carol- Wow, that's an old plant! It may be getting smaller simply because it is getting older. I would take about five of the healthiest sections of your plants and make cuttings. Stick them in distilled water (tap water is fine, but distilled is always better if possible) with some plant food and crushed eggshells. It's a really good mixture for plants. When the roots grow, transplant each into top-notch potting soil and feed with plant food. Keep them in sunny spots. It could just be that through selective clippings throughout the years you've weeded out the parts of the plants that produced really big leaves. You've selectively bred your plant without realizing it!
e1ephant- It sounds like the plant is just tired and probably on it's last leg. Make a few cuttings of the healthiest branches and then drastically prune the plant back. I would say to cut about half of all it's leaves and branches. It seems so counter intuitive and even painful (I hated thinning out my garden and trimming for the longest time!) but it really encourages plant growth in the long run. If your plant doesn't come back from the trimming, it was probably just on it's way out. Such is life. :(
David- It's always a good bet to take a cutting or three before you begin pruning. It's a good just-in-case-I-murder-my-plant precaution. As the most leaves are at the top, I would highly suggest just lopping off the top one or two feet and rounding out your plant. Leave as much greenery as possible near the base and sides of the plant, but cutting off the top will stimulate growth lower down.
Andrew- Umbrella plants are pretty hardy plants. I would take a cutting and then do the same as I've suggest for pretty much everyone here. Often when you cut the tops off plants they send up new, fresh shoots straight from the roots and start fleshing out nicely.
General rule of thumb for all you umbrella plant lovers-- if it's an outdoor plant, trim in the fall heavily. Even indoor plants can benefit from regular trimming every fall. That way when Spring comes, the plant is ready to go!
Let me know if you have any other questions. I promise to be more prompt!
Andrew B on February 05, 2013:
Similar to the last 2 posts I've got an old umbrella plant that is about 6 feet tall. For as long as I can remember the only leaves have been on the very top. Is there a way to stimulate growth lower down? How hardy are the plants can I simply chop the top off and it will re-sprout? (might ttry to take a cutting first)
David K on January 29, 2013:
Similar to e1ephants above: I have inherited a 7ft umbrella plant, very lacking in greenery - just a few leaves at the top of the tall stem and a few here and there. I would like to know if and how to prune or stimulate leaf production - or is it best to take a cutting and try to start again?
e1ephants on January 27, 2013:
I have a 30 year old household umbrella plant, but it has become very straggly with any greenery only on the ends of long stems. What's my best course of action as I don't want to lose my plant? Have considered cutting the ends off and try rooting them to start new plants, but would really like to save the main plant if possible, and wondered if this action would be too drastic for its survival.
Carol Bagley on January 20, 2013:
My husband and I bought an umbrella plant the first week we were married, 34 years ago, still have the same plant via cuttings but the leaves are getting smaller and the plant isn't looking itself. Not looking forward to divorce as I've been warned about this plant dying, any tips appreciated.
Cindy on January 20, 2013:
My umbrella plant is now reaching the top of my ceiling. I am afraid to prune it but it sounds like it would be ok. Should I start with some of the lower branches? Or, should I start at the top and prune it from there.