You’re pretty sure you’re not neglecting this supposedly low-maintenance plant, so why the poor results?
Umbrella or Schefflera plants will tolerate less-than-ideal conditions up to a point, but they can start to suffer if things remain out of balance.
Why is my umbrella plant dying? The reasons an umbrella plant may be dying include sitting in soil that is too dry or overly saturated, exposure to poor light conditions, low humidity, and improper temperatures. Pest damage, potting issues, and nutrient deficiencies also contribute to their decline.
Umbrella plants are native to tropical Asia and need their indoor care to mimic their natural climate.
This is easier than it sounds once you pinpoint where your attention could be lacking.
We’ve broken down the top causes (and fixes) of umbrella plant decline, plus how to propagate them and more.
12 Reasons for Umbrella Plant Dying (& Solutions)
Could you have an unbalanced watering routine? Perhaps your soil mix is wrong? Let’s find out why your umbrella plant is waning and how to fix it:
When your plant sits in soggy soil, the leaves will turn yellow and the roots will drown to the point they can no longer absorb oxygen or nutrients.
Remove fully yellow leaves with clean pruning shears, and always check the soil surface with your finger before watering to ensure the top few inches have dried.
2. Not Enough Water
Without enough water to keep the soil moist, umbrella plant stems begin bending due to the loss of turgidity and the leaves will turn dry.
Drench the soil once weekly until the water drains fully through the pot holes and use a moisture meter (find one at a great price here) to check.
Amanda Switzer from Planterina warns that “watering should be more frequent if you have a terra cotta pot as the porous clay absorbs water much faster.”
3. Root Rot
Excessively moist soil can cause the fungal infection root rot, which inhibits nutrient uptake. Look for black, mushy roots and a pungent earthy smell.
Remove the plant from its pot, and cut off any diseased-looking roots immediately with sterile pruning shears.
Wash the remaining roots under lukewarm water to minimize shock, and repot in fresh soil.
4. Too Much Light
Overexposure to direct sunlight can scorch your Schefflera, causing the leaves to brown and growth to slow down.
Position the plant close to an east/north-facing window to provide bright, indirect sunlight.
Alternatively, place it at least 5 feet from a south-facing window (or closer if there’s a shade or a sheer curtain).
5. Not Enough Light
Without 4-6 hours of daily sunlight to help it develop its nutrients, your plant will develop leggy stems and smaller leaves.
Take your plant outdoors for 1-2 hours daily during the summer, rotate the plant to prevent uneven growth on one side, and consider supplementary lighting for darker homes.
6. Incorrect Temperatures
Umbrella plants are accustomed to a tropical 50-100°F range and will wilt, stop producing new leaves, and even hibernate when exposed to cold or heat damage.
Maintain a sweet spot of 70-90°F by keeping the plant away from drafty areas and air vents.
Adjust the room temperature accordingly by letting in air during heatwaves or using grow lights (this one is perfect as its height can be adjusted as your plant grows) over the winter to make up for lost daylight and heat.
7. Nutrient Deficiency
Scheffleras start exhibiting pale-green leaves or yellow veins if they lack the right amount of nutrients to produce chlorophyll, eventually causing growth to halt.
Apply a balanced (20-20-20 is perfect) fertilizer once every 3 weeks from spring to fall when you water, diluting the solution to half the recommended strength.
Wait 8 weeks after repotting before applying fertilizer to allow the plant to acclimate.
Uneven humidity and watering invite insects like scales (brown ovals) and mealybugs (cotton-wool-like specks or masses) to suck leaf and stem sap and drain your Schefflera of energy.
Remove bugs with a wet paper towel, and prune any leaves with excessive damage, like holes or lesions (white spots with black rings).
Kill larger infestations with a dish soap/water solution spray or a 50/50 water and rubbing alcohol mixture.
Poor conditions and prolonged pest damage can promote fungal infections on the foliage such as leaf spot (discolored spots) and sooty mold (gray/black powdery patches), which soon spreads.
Prune leaf spot-damaged leaves immediately. Sooty mold can be wiped clear with a damp cloth, (ensure the mold doesn’t drop into the soil).
Apply a natural fungicide to the remaining leaves, and review your temperature/humidity conditions.
10. Humidity Issues
Umbrella plants love high humidity of around 75%, but fluctuations can breed rot or foliage diseases and attract pests.
Keep your plant clear of vents altering the air moisture, and mist the leaves twice weekly during winter to maintain high humidity.
11. Incorrect Soil Mix
Average commercial potting soil doesn’t cut it – Scheffleras need a rich, well-draining mix reflecting their tropical substrate; otherwise, moisture retention and nutrient absorption suffer.
Brianna Yablonski from Petal Republic recommends a soil that’s: “two parts peat moss, one part compost, and one part perlite – this holds the right amount of water without getting soggy or compacted and provides a home for beneficial microbes.”
12. Needs Repotting
When umbrella plants outgrow their current container, the roots become crowded or “rootbound” in the pot, which stunts growth (look for roots circling in the soil or protruding out of the pot’s drainage holes).
Moisten the soil, and remove the plant base from the existing pot. Delicately untangle any overgrown roots and re-home your plant into a pot 1 inch larger than before. Repot every 2-3 years.
How To Propagate Umbrella Plant
The easiest way to create offspring plants from your parent umbrella plant is by taking stem cuttings in spring:
- Prepare a 6-inch nursery pot with a peat-based potting mix, and water well.
- Cut a 4-6 inch section of the central woody stem from the tip of the plant. Use a grafting knife/bypass pruners to make a clean cut.
- Trim off lower leaves on the cutting, leaving one complete set at the top.
- Dip the end of the stem cutting into rooting hormone before planting it in the center of the pot.
- Place the baby umbrella plant in bright, indirect sunlight under a humidity dome to encourage growth, and water only when the soil feels dry. Allow 4-6 weeks for root development.
4 Key Care Guidelines for Umbrella Plants
- Set a watering schedule: Check on the soil regularly so you can determine how long it typically takes to dry (and when it’ll need another drink!). Moist soil, not soggy or bone dry is key.
- Keep things warm and bright: An east/north-facing window will deliver the perfect amount of bright, filtered rays and warmth needed to promote healthy bushy foliage. Get a thermometer to help you stick to 70-90°F.
- Sustain tropical humidity: Not every climate has the natural humidity levels this plant loves, so do your best to attain 75% with weekly mists, humidifiers, pebble trays – or keep the plant in your bathroom!
- Prune and maintain: Overly dense canopies hide dead leaves/branches, which will decay and spread to the rest of the plant, so trim unruly stems and crowded leaf clusters periodically to maintain the shape and health of your Schefflera.
Why Is My Umbrella Plant Stem Turning Black?
A blackened stem can be caused by root rot or mold due to overwatering the plant in high humidity. Black stems accompanied by purple leaves could also indicate cold damage.
Check the roots for signs of rot and trim accordingly, keep your plant in a 60-90°F environment, and increase airflow.
Why Is My Schefflera Dying After Repotting?
This plant can experience temporary shock after being re-homed into a new, larger pot and will typically shed a few of its leaves or appear droopy due to the roots being disturbed.
This is perfectly normal, and your Schefflera should acclimatize after a few weeks in an ideal environment.
Wrapping It Up
Your umbrella plant can run into many health issues if you’re new to their care, but once you understand their needs, growing this lush, attractive plant becomes a joy.
Get the watering, temperature, and light levels just right, and you’ll greatly reduce the risks posed by other threats in its environment.