How to Grow Schefflera (Umbrella Plant)

Schefflera plant on a table

The Spruce / Kara Riley

Schefflera is a genus of tropical plants including two species that make wonderful tropical houseplants. The larger Schefflera actinophylla (sometimes called the umbrella plant or umbrella tree) 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. Other than the smaller size, it looks very similar to the taller cousin.

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 outdoors to display their show of long red, white, or pink tentacle-like flowers.

Schefflera plants are fast-growing plants, especially if planted outdoors, where they can add 3 feet per year. Indoor plants are slower-growing, especially if you keep them somewhat confined in a smallish pot. If you are planting a Schefflera in a warm climate garden, they are best planted in spring or fall when the weather is not blazing hot.

Botanical Name Schefflera spp.
Common Name Schefflera, umbrella plant, umbrella tree
Plant Type Broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree
Mature Size 4–15 feet tall, 3–6 feet wide (indoors); up to 50 feet tall outdoors
Sun Exposure Bright, indirect light
Soil Type Rich and moderately moist
Soil pH 6.0 to 6.5 (slightly acidic)
Bloom Time Summer (outdoors)
Flower Color White, pink, or red (indoor plants rarely bloom)
Hardiness Zones 10–11 (USDA)
Native Area Australia, Taiwan, Hainan
Toxicity Mildly toxic to pets and humans
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Watch Now: How to Grow the Schefflera Plant (Umbrella Plant)

Schefflera Care

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.

closeup of schefflera arboricola
The Spruce / Kara Riley
closeup of schefflera actinophylla
The Spruce / Kara Riley

Light

Schefflera prefers 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 a slightly acidic pH is ideal. Avoid planting in an outdoor 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 a 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 fairly high humidity and tropical temperatures; it will suffer in temperatures lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. 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 it occurs. If the plant loses all if its leaves, you can attempt to save the plant by moving it outdoors in the spring and watering 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.

Is Schefflera Toxic?

Like some other plants in the same family, Schefflera plants contain insoluble calcium oxalate crystals in the from of raphides. While not a poison, per se, these crystals can cause severe irritation in the mouth and intestinal tract, sometimes lasting as long as two weeks. All parts of the plant should be considered toxic. Poison control agencies categorize this as a plant with minor toxicity and one that can cause dermatitis reactions.

Symptoms of Poisoning

Chewing any parts of this plant will create a stinging, burning sensation, so it's fairly rare for humans to eat enough to experience serious problems. In pets, symptoms include drooling, vomiting, mouth pain, and lack of appetite. There is also the potential for long-term kidney damage.

Varieties of Schlefflera

Of the many species in the Scheffler genus, two are common houseplants:

  • Schefflera actinophylla: The most common Schefflera, it has oval leaves that grow up to 10 inches from a central stalk. It can be quite a large 50-foot specimen outdoors, but indoor potted specimens usually top out at 15 feet.
  • 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. It can grow as high as 25 feet outdoors, but houseplants are normally kept to no more than 6 feet.

Potting and Repotting

Repot the plants annually, or as needed. You can slow the growth rate and prevent plants from getting too large by prolonging the period between repotting and allowing them to get somewhat rootbound.

Propagating Schefflera

In the right conditions, Schefflera can be propagated by cuttings.

Cut off a 6-inch section of stem at a 45-degree angle, and remove all but four or five leaves at the top of the stem. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone, then plant the cut end into a container filled with potting soil. Cover the pot with a loosely secured plastic bag to hold in humidity, then place the pot in bright indirect light.

Check the container every day to make sure the soil remains moist, watering when necessary. Check for roots by lightly tugging on the stem. After about a month, if good roots have formed, you can remove the bag and continue growing the new plant. If roots don't form (success can be sporadic), discard it and try again with a new cutting.

schefflera actinophylla
The Spruce / Kara Riley
schefflera arboricola
The Spruce / Kara Riley

Pruning

Your Schefflera may 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.

Article Sources
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  1. Schefflera Production Guide. Mid-Florida Research & Education Center

  2. Schefflera arboricola. Missouri Botanical Garden

  3. Poisonous Plant Guide, Umbrella Tree. Utah Poison Control Center

  4. Schefflera. American College of Veterinary Pharmacists