How to Grow Schefflera (Umbrella Plant)

Schefflera plant on a table

The Spruce / Kara Riley

Schefflera species are wonderful tropical plants. The larger schefflera (sometimes called the umbrella plant) features long, shiny, oval green leaves that droop gracefully from a central stalk, resembling an umbrella. A mature schefflera might have 12 to 16 leaflets from a single stalk, while an immature schefflera is more likely to have four to six. Schefflera arboricola (sometimes called dwarf schefflera) feature smaller, glossy leaves, sometimes with creamy variegation.

Schefflera plants are hardy only to zone 10. In cooler climates, they're grown indoors for most of the years and can be taken outdoors for the warmer months. Indoors, they will thrive alongside other tropical plants. However, this plant is unlikely to bloom inside. They typically have to be grown outdoor to display their show of long red, white, or pink tentacle-like flowers.

Botanical Name Schefflera
Common Name Schefflera, umbrella plant, dwarf umbrella tree, Australian ivy palm, octopus tree, and starleaf
Plant Type Broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree
Mature Size 6 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide (indoors)
Sun Exposure Bright, indirect light
Soil Type Rich and moderately moist
Soil pH Acidic to slightly alkaline
Bloom Time Summer (outdoors)
Flower Color White, pink, or red
Hardiness Zones 10, 11
Native Area Australia, Taiwan, Hainan
closeup of schefflera arboricola
The Spruce / Kara Riley
closeup of schefflera actinophylla
The Spruce / Kara Riley

How to Grow Schefflera

Schefflera are not difficult plants to grow if they receive plenty of indirect light, warmth, and humidity. In very cold climates, bottom heat might be necessary. Leggy schefflera can be pruned to encourage a fuller plant.

Indoors, schefflera are prone to problems with aphids, which leave a honeydew that leads to sooty mold; treat for aphids with a spray of insecticidal soap. Outdoors, the plant is susceptible to several pests, including mealybugs, spider mites, aphids, and an insect known as scale.

Light

Schefflera prefer bright, indirect light. In the summer, move potted plants outside where they will receive bright light but not direct sun, such as under a patio cover. A schefflera plant that gets leggy or floppy might not be receiving enough light. Never place a schefflera houseplant in direct, full sun because intense sun can burn the leaves.

Soil

Plant schefflera in a rich, loose potting media with moist compost. A well-draining sandy loam soil with an acidic to slightly alkaline pH is ideal. Avoid planting in a location where the soil becomes too wet or waterlogged.

Water

Water weekly during the growing season and spray the leaves frequently. You can wait until the soil in the pot dries out and then thoroughly soak the soil when you water. Cut back on water during winter. Often, people will overwater their schefflera plant and doing so will eventually kill it. Yellow and dropped leaves is a sign that you might be watering too much.

Temperature and Humidity

Because it is a tropical plant, schefflera requires humidity and tropical temperatures; it will suffer in temperatures lower than 60 degrees. Do not expose these plants to drafts or dry heating vents. An underwatered or cold schefflera will begin to drop leaves quickly, so take leaf-drop seriously and correct the issue. If the plant loses all if its leaves and you want to save the plant, move it outdoors in the spring, and water generously.

Fertilizer

Feed schefflera plants twice a week during the growing season with liquid fertilizer, or use two applications of slow-release pellets. They are heavy feeders and will benefit from the extra nutrients.

Potting and Repotting

Repot the plants annually as needed. A mature schefflera can grow into a small tree up to 12 or even 15 feet tall. However, it is more likely that an indoor plant in a temperate climate will stop growing at around 6 feet. Slow the growth rate by prolonging the period between repotting.

Propagating Schefflera

In the right conditions, schefflera can be propagated by leaf cuttings, but it is not easy. Use a rooting hormone and provide extra humidity and warmth. Expect a high failure rate, however, because these are tropical plants and can be difficult to work with. They can also be propagated by air-layering.

Varieties of Schefflera

  • S. actinophylla: The most common schefflera, it has oval leaves that grow up to 10 inches from a central stalk.
  • S. arboricola: This smaller version, popular in home gardens, has 1- to 2-inch leaves that grow in tight clusters; it is a variegated variety of this plant, with creamy blotches on its leaves.
schefflera actinophylla
The Spruce / Kara Riley
schefflera arboricola
The Spruce / Kara Riley

Toxicity of Schefflera

The leaves and sap of schefflera are toxic to dogs, cats, and humans, due to the presence of calcium oxalate crystals. Keep these plants away from dogs, cats, or children who might chew on them.

Symptoms of Poisoning

According to the ASPCA, dogs and cats that ingest the plant can experience:

  • Oral irritation, intense burning, and irritation of the mouth, lips, or tongue
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty swallowing

North Carolina State Extension reports that schefflera is mildly toxic to humans, and skin contact with the cell sap can cause irritation. Ingestion of the plant can cause the following symptoms:

  • Numbness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Tingling in the mouth
  • Vomiting

Pruning

Your schefflera may also need to be pruned occasionally, especially if it is not getting quite enough light. Cut off what you feel is overgrown or appearing leggy. Schefflera houseplants rebound quickly from pruning and will reward your efforts. The result will eventually be a fuller and lusher plant.