How to grow and care for umbrella plant

Umbrella plant. Getty images

The umbrella plant is popular for its large leaves that are held on a long stem, with five long leaves spanning out like the canopy of an umbrella. There are two species of umbrella plant, Shefflera, that make good house plants – Shefflera arboricola and Shefflera actinophylla. These are both easy to grow and low maintenance, being able to cope with a bit of neglect when it comes to watering. These house plants are fast growing, reaching up to 3m, with evergreen foliage that will make an impact in the corner of a room. The most common one found online is Shefflera arboricola, which is native to China and its cultivar ‘Nora’, which is more compact than the species, reaching only 1.5m tall. There is also ‘Gold Capella’, which has yellow margins on its leaves.

This house plant doesn’t flower indoors, but provides impact from its stature and foliage. Be aware that the sap from this plant can be a skin irritant and the plant is also mildly toxic to humans, so keep children away from it. It’s also toxic to dogs, cats and horses.

How to grow umbrella plant

Grow umbrella plant in a spot that gets bright, indirect light for the best results. Keep it out of direct sun and in a room that doesn’t get too cold. It does best with temperatures above 12ºC and benefits from some humidity as its native habitat is South East Asia.


How to plant umbrella plant

When repotting your umbrella plant, use a standard, peat-free house plant compost. It will need to be repotted every two to three years. Make sure the pot is big enough to support a tall plant, so that it doesn’t tip over.


How to care for umbrella plant

Schefflera arboricola, Umbrella plant. Getty images

This is a fast growing house plant, so you may need to prune it to keep it at a manageable size.

Be careful not to overwater umbrella plants as this can cause the roots to rot. If you notice that the plant has yellowing leaves or is dropping leaves, you may be overwatering. Water once the compost is dry on the top – around a third of the compost should be dry. Stick your finger in to check it’s dry beneath the surface. Water less often in winter. Mist the leaves regularly to increase humidity or stand on a tray of moist gravel.

Feed once a month with a general purpose liquid fertiliser.


How to propagate umbrella plant

Planting cutting of Schefflera arboricola. Getty images

Umbrella plants can be propagated by taking cuttings or by sowing seed. Cut a long shoot, around 10cm long, near the main stem so that you don’t leave a snag. Insert the cutting into a small pot filled with a soil-based potting compost mixed with equal parts grit. Keep half the stem above the level of the compost. Water and place a bag over the top of the pot until the cutting has rooted. You can also take cuttings and place them in water to develop roots.


Pests and diseases

Mealybugs on orchid foliage

Umbrella plants can be affected by pests such as spider mites, mealy bugs and scale insects but are generally disease free. Any problems with the leaves, such as yellowing or dropped leaves are more likely to be due to a problem with watering or temperature.

Mottled leaves, leaf loss and a fine webbing over the leaves could be spider mites – remove affected leaves and increase humidity.

Sooty mould and sticky honeydew may have been caused by mealy bugs. Remove affected leaves immediately. You may consider spraying with an organic spray based on fatty acids if the problem persists.

Scale-like insects clustered around stems and leaves, as well as sticky honeydew and sooty mould are scale insects. Try picking the insects off with your fingernail or use a soap spray if necessary.

Advice on buying umbrella plant

  • You may find umbrella plant in garden centres with a large house plant section but it may be easier to find online
  • If your space is limited, consider a more compact variety such as ‘Nora’
  • Always check plants for signs of pests before buying. Umbrella plants can be susceptible to spider mites, mealy bug and scale insects. 

Where to buy umbrella plant

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