This post shares umbrella plant care tips to help your umbrella plant thrive! Taking care good care of an umbrella plant is easy. While it’s not exactly a plant of steel, it isn’t difficult to master the necessary care routine. Learn how.
Umbrella Plant Care
The umbrella plant (schefflera) is a unique-looking houseplant that’s native to Taiwan and southern China. The houseplant version is typically referred to as an octopus tree or a dwarf umbrella tree because it’s smaller than what would grow in nature (the Schefflera actinophylla).
Umbrella plants are excellent choices for homes or offices because they are lower maintenance, patient, and help to clean the air around themselves. They’re also really pretty–their leaves grow in the shape of a flower. They come in both solid green and variegated green-and-yellow varieties. I’ll note the care differences between the two in this post as well.
Want more plant care tips? You’ll also love my guides on how to take care of monstera plants, how to take care of rubber plants, caring for peperomia plants, caring for ZZ plants, and how to care for philodendron.
Umbrella Plant Light Needs
Umbrella plants enjoy bright, indirect light. What does that mean? Near a bright window is great. It doesn’t like direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time, though. Too much direct sunlight will burn the leaves. Like many patient houseplants, you can train it to survive in rooms with less light. It will just grow more slowly and potentially look a bit more sparse.
Also like many plants that prefer higher light but can survive in lower light levels, it will grow toward the nearest light source. You can spin the plant slightly every month to keep your umbrella from going crazy and growing sideways.
Growth Patterns, Repotting, & Pruning
The umbrella plant is a faster grower. With good care and a bit of TLC in the form of fertilizer, your umbrella plant can quickly outgrow its pot in a growing season. However, they are generally happy in pots that are small relative to their size. When repotting, size up to a pot that is just slightly larger than the one your umbrella plant is in now.
Umbrella plants can be tall and skinny or shorter and compact–perfect for both rooms with high ceilings or a table top. It will grow tall on its own as long as you take great care of it. Up to 6 feet or more, in fact! As it grows, it can also adopt climbing tendencies. Feed your plant a regular ol’ houseplant fertilizer as recommended during the growing season. The best blend is a typical 20-20-20 fertilizer.
To keep your plant shorter, simply cut off the new growth at the top of the plant. This will force the plant to create more shoots down the main stem, creating a bushier look. However, even if you continue to encourage lower growth, the plant won’t get too bushy. At most, it will remain under 2 feet wide.
How much water does an umbrella plant need?
When it comes to watering your umbrella plant, I’ll get on my “don’t overwater!” houseplant high horse again. The only tricky thing about this guy is that, while it likes soil a bit on the moist side, it doesn’t like soggy soil. Finding that balance can be challenging and does depend a lot on the time of year and temperature conditions (i.e., how quickly the soil dries out).
Generally a good rule of thumb is to water when the top inch of soil dries out, unlike a lot of slightly more tolerant houseplants that can stand to have their top few inches of soil dry out. If you forget to water your umbrella plant and the soil dries out quickly, it will be quick to forgive and forget. But don’t make a habit of it! It might start showing some wear and tear. You can cut your watering way down—typically about in half—in the winter.
Umbrella Plant Care: Temperature & Humidity Needs
The umbrella plant isn’t a terribly picky house guest when it comes to temperature and humidity (unlike some other plants—looking at you, fiddle leaf fig). It generally does well in normal household temperatures, and by that I mean between about 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Like variegated pothos varieties, variegated umbrella plants really thrive in higher temperatures and with more light. Solid green varieties handle lower light better.
The plant itself does fine with lower levels of humidity, but if you’re dealing with any pest problems, it might be beneficial to start misting the plant’s foliage to increase humidity. Or put a humidifier in the room. This can help with pest prevention.
Umbrella Plant Propagation Tips
I’ve not tried to propagate an umbrella plant yet. To propagate an umbrella plant, you need to remove a growing tip during its active growth season. I suspect the easiest way to propagate it would actually be to divide an existing plant at the root system and repot it separately. You’d definitely want to do this during the spring or summer so it has sufficient time to rebound from a bit of shock.
Common Problems With Umbrella Plants
1. Pest infestations
Umbrella plants are unfortunately quite vulnerable to pest infestations, specifically scale. For a while, my mom had a beautiful umbrella plant in her office that was leaving gross sticky residue all over the counter. We had no idea what it was from. Come to find out that it was scale!
Scale insects leave a sticky substance all around where they are setting up camp. This stickiness can then attract nasty stuff like mold and turn into a sooty mess. I’ve heard that scale can be hard to get rid of, but honestly, my mom just moved the plant and it went away.
Spider mites and gnats can also be problematic. Since some of these pests thrive on dry conditions, misting the plant’s leaves or upping the humidity levels can help prevent them from moving in. Insecticidal soap can help get rid of them. (See my post on how to get rid of spider mites, which has a lot of tips you can use for other pest infestations.)
2. Crooked plant
Remember earlier how I said that, in low light conditions, you’ll want to rotate the plant every week or so to ensure the plant grows straight? If you don’t it will become crooked as it grows toward the light. Unfortunately, once the plant is crooked, there’s no straightening the main stem.
3. Leaves falling off
Leaves falling off? It might be too cold. Or, if the temperature is fine but are other changes in the environment around it (like wind), it might throw a fit by dropping leaves. It isn’t the end of the world—the leaves will usually drop from the bottom, which can lead to a more “umbrella tree” like look.
But if you want the plant to stay full, you want to avoid this. The umbrella plant is like the fiddle leaf fig—the leaves sadly won’t grow back. If your leaves remain attached but look sad and like they are about to fall off, you’re probably over or under watering.
Are Umbrella Plants Toxic to Pets?
Like a lot of houseplants, umbrella plants have calcium oxalate crystals in their sap. This can cause irritation if ingested. It’s best to keep this plant away from kids and pets if they try to eat your plants. This is a leafy plant that I have to keep away from Henry, one of our cats. He loves a good fresh leafy salad bar. (And barfing afterward.)