How to grow and care for Umbrella Tree Indoors

Houseplant, Umbrella Tree

Botanical name: Schefflera actinophylla
Family: Araliaceae

Umbrella tree also called Octopus Tree is one of the popular and easy to grow tree-like houseplants. It is an ideal specimen plant for large spaces. It gets its common name (umbrella Tree) from its large finger-like glossy leaflets radiating like umbrella spokes. The common name (Octopus Tree) is because of its spectacular, red-colored, tentacle-like flowers. If adequately watered and exposed to bright light, Umbrella Tree can grow to a height of 6 ft. As the plant ages, it loses its lower leaves and therefore becomes leggy. Cut back harshly to stimulate new growth. Pinch off the growing tips to encourage a compact and bushy growth.

Schefflera actinophylla is native to tropical rainforests in nothern and north-eastern Queensland coasts, Northern Australia, New Guinea and Java. It is also know by other common names like Australia Umbrella Tree, Queensland Umbrella and Amate.

Umbrella Tree is closely related to Schefflera arboricola (Dwarf Umbrella Tree), which is a more compact and smaller version of Umbrella Tree.

How to Grow Umbrella Tree

Light

Umbrella Tree prefers bright light away from direct sunshine to prevent sun burn on the leaves. It can alos tolerate some shade but the growth will be slower. Learn how to ensure your plant receives the correct light in this guide on understanding light for houseplants.

Water

Water Umbrella Tree liberally during the growing season and allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Reduce watering in cold weather to keep the soil slightly moist as growth is minimal. Avoid waterlogging as it can lead in root-rot. Learn more on how to water houseplants.

Temperature

Average warmth with a minimum of 120C is ideal for Umbrella Tree. Protect the plant from cold draughts. Find out more on temperature for houseplants.

Humidity

Normal household humidity is perfect for Umbrella Tree; normally the plant has no need for extra humidity. Mist the leaves frequently and clean them by damp-wiping with a soft cloth to get rid of dust and to keep them shiny.

Feeding

Feed Umbrella Tree with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer that contains micronutrients every 4 weeks during the growing period. Withhold feeding during the cold season as growth is minimal and feeding at this time may lead to fertilizer burn. Regularly flush out accumulated salts from the soil by running a stream of water through the soil until the water comes out through the drainage hole. Allow it to run for a few minutes and repeat several times. Learn more on how to feed houseplants.

Repotting

Repot Umbrella Tree every 2 years during the growing season when the plant becomes root-bound. Use rich and free-draining soil. A pot 1 size larger is ideal; Octopus Tree prefers to be root-bound. Ensure that the pot has drainage hole(s) as the plant does not like to be waterlogged. The plant can get top-heavy therefore use a heavy pot to prevent it from toppling over. For a large Umbrella tree that may be difficult to repot, replace the top 2-4 in. of soil with fresh soil annually.

Pruning

Pruning Umbrella Tree requires removal of dead and yellow leaves to maintain the plant neat and tidy. To encourage a bushy and compact growth, regularly pinch the growing tips; new growth appears just below the cut. If Umbrella Tree becomes leggy, cut it back to the desired height to encourage new growth to sprout below the cut. The foliage emanating from the pruning can be used for taking cuttings to propagate new plants.

How to Propagate Umbrella Tree

Propagate Umbrella Tree from seeds, stem cuttings or from stem-tip cuttings during the growing period.

How to propagate Umbrella Tree from seeds
Soak Umbrella Tree seeds in hot water for 12 hours before sowing them in order to increase germination rate. Sow the Umbrella Tree seeds twice as deep as their size in moist free-draining soil. Place the set up in a warm shaded place and maintain the soil moist through out until germination takes place. Once germination has occurred, ensure the soil remains moist at all times until the new plant is well established. Allow the plant to develop at least 2 sets of leaves before transplanting.

How to propagate Umbrella Tree from stem cuttings
Take a 6 in. Umbrella Tree stem or stem-tip cutting, ensure it has several leaf node as this is where new growth will come from. Strip off the lower leaves and stick about 2 in. of the cutting into moist free-draining soil. Cover the set up with polythene to create a greenhouse effect. Place the set up in a warm shaded place. Rooting should take about 3-4 weeks; new growth indicates rooting has taken place. Acclimatize the new plant to normal growing conditions by opening the polythene cover a little bit everyday for a period of two weeks. During this period, keep the soil barely moist. At the end of the two weeks, water moderately, apply liquid fertilizer monthly until a fine network of roots appear on the soil surface. The plant should by this time have developed 2-3 new leaves. From this point, the plant is ready for repotting and normal Umbrella Tree care can begin.

Common Problems in Growing Umbrella Tree

  • Yellow leaves
  • Waterlogging is the cause of yellow leaves in Umbrella Tree. Ensure that both the soil and the pot have adequate drainage to prevent unhealthy water retention in the soil.

  • Pale colored young leaves
  • The cause of pale young leaves in Umbrella Tree is inadequate feeding. Feed Umbrella Tree with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer that contains micronutrients every 4 weeks during the growing period. Learn more on how to feed houseplants.

  • Sudden leaf drop
  • Sudden change in growing conditions for Umbrella Tree will result in sudden leaf-drop. The plant needs to be slowly acclimatized to new growing conditions.

  • Yellow leaves and spindly growth
  • Yellow leaves and spindly growth in Umbrella Tree are due to too little light. Umbrella Tree requires bright light. Learn how to ensure your plant receives the correct light in this guide on understanding light for houseplants.

  • Drooping leaves
  • Drooping leaves in Umbrella Tree are due to underwatering is the cause; maintain the soil moderately moist and never allow the soil to dry out completely. Learn more on how to water houseplants.

  • Pests
  • Common pests in Umbrella Tree are Scale Insects, Mealy Bugs and Red Spider Mites. Isolate the affected plant and treat appropriately. Mist the leaves regularly to reduce infestation by these pests.

  • Diseases
  • The most common disease in Umbrella Tree is Root-rot Disease which is brought about by waterlogging due to poor soil drainage. The presence of the disease is indicated by yellowing of leaves, stems turning brown-black and gradual wilting of the plant.

Toxicity

Umbrella Tree (Schefflera actinophylla) contains "sharp" calcium oxalate crystals that are insoluble and damage cells and tissues of animals if ingested. This results in swelling of the exposed tissue and the digestive tract which may be fatal to both animals and humans.

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