Umbrella plant, also known as umbrella tree (Brassaia actinophylla, Schefflera actinophylla, or Schefflera macrostachya), is one of the most elegant tall houseplants out there. Its lush drooping leaves, arranged in circles, earned this stunning plant its name.
Outdoors in their native Australia, these tropical plants can grow up to 40 feet tall at maturity. Indoors, they typically range between two and six feet tall. They’ll grow to suit their conditions without trouble—so even a neglected plant should be able to flourish at a small size for quite some time.
If you’re concerned about the eventual height of your umbrella plant outgrowing your space, you may also look for a dwarf umbrella tree also known as dwarf schefflera or by its botanical name, Schefflera arboricola. This cute, bushy plant takes the same care and conditions as its full-sized relative, with small, compact leaves consisting of round rather than pointed leaflets. These plants grow to only three or four feet tall.
In fact, dwarf umbrella plants have become such common houseplants that they may even more closely associated with the umbrella plant name than the full-sized version. Variegated versions with bright green leaves splashed with yellow or cream are also available.
Best Growing Conditions for Your Umbrella Plant
Your umbrella tree does best with lots of bright, indirect light. In front of an east-facing window is a great spot. If your plant starts looking leggy, that’s a sign that its stems are growing long to try to reach the light source and it should be moved to a spot with better light. However, it’s best to avoid placing your plant in direct sunlight, which can damage the leaves.
Your umbrella plant will need warm temperatures to thrive and grow tall. They do best with temperatures that go up to the high 70-degree range and don’t drop below the high 60-degree range at night, so choose a warm spot away from drafts or heating and cooling vents to display your plant.
Since the leaves and stems are toxic, place your umbrella plant in a spot where pets and young children can’t reach.
How to Care for Your Umbrella Plant
Overwatering is a common pitfall with umbrella plants. Wait until the soil has completely dried out to water, and then be sure to water the plant deeply.
If you notice yellowing or dropping leaves, that’s a sign to cut back on watering. But it’s important to avoid the other extreme, too: wrinkling or curling leaves are a sign that your plant isn’t getting enough water.
Feed your umbrella plant with standard houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength every six months or so. These plants can be repotted during any season, although they survive being pot-bound just fine for quite a while—they just won’t grow as large and full.
When repotting, be sure to use a loose, fast-draining commercial soil when potting your umbrella plant. This will decrease the likelihood of root rot, which is caused by overly moist soil.
If your umbrella plant is looking leggy, prune back overgrown limbs with a pair of clean, sharp gardening shears (be sure to wear gloves, as the sap from the stems can irritate skin). This will cause the plant to create new growth and look fuller.
Pruning is also a way to spur additional growth if your plant is staying small due to lower light conditions.
Once you’ve pruned your umbrella plant—or if you’re just eager to multiply your collection to share with friends—you can use the cuttings to propagate new plants.
How to Propagate Your Umbrella Plant
Umbrella plants are easy to propagate using a couple of different methods. You can simply take stem cuttings from a healthy mother plant and root them in soil, or you can use air layering to grow a new plant from a leggy or overgrown specimen.
How to Propagate Umbrella Plant Via Stem Cuttings
To propagate your plant using stem cuttings, you’ll need pruning shears, a small plant container, well-drained potting soil, large clear plastic bags, rubber bands, and powdered rooting hormone, which can be purchased at nurseries and garden centers.
Step 1: Fill the small container with potting soil and water the pot so that the soil is evenly moist.
Step 2: Choose a healthy stem from the plant’s higher growth, making the cut so that the cutting is at least six inches long. Remove all except for the highest few sets of leaflets.
Step 2: Using a pencil or a chopstick, poke a hole a few inches deep into the soil. Dip the cut end of the stem in rooting hormone.
Step 3: Plant the cutting in the hole you made in the soil, cut end down, and gently press the soil around the stem.
Step 4: Tent the plastic bag over the container so that the sides of the bag are not touching the leaflets (you can prop it up with a few chopsticks inserted in the soil if need be). Use the rubber band to secure the plastic bag around the base of the pot to create a humid microclimate. You can also keep the cutting in a warm, humid place like your bathroom instead of using the plastic bag.
Step 5: Place the cutting in a warm place with good bright, indirect light, taking care to keep the cutting out of direct sunlight. Remove the bag briefly every once in a while to let the cutting air out. Keep the soil evenly moist.
Step 6: When you see new leaf growth, the cutting has rooted and can be cared for as usual.
How to Propagate Your Umbrella Plant Via Air Layering
Air layering is a great method to use with a tall, leggy umbrella plant. You’ll need a clean, sharp blade, sphagnum moss, a piece of clear plastic, twine or twist ties, and rooting hormone.
Step 1: Pick out a healthy stem in the upper portion of the mother plant’s growth. Remove the leaves from a three-inch section of stem.
Step 2: In this section, peel back the outer layer of bark until you see the white cambium layer. This is where the new plant’s roots will grow.
Step 3: Apply a thin layer of rooting hormone to the cut surface of the stem.
Step 4: Moisten a handful of sphagnum moss and wrap it around the cut. Wrap the moss in the plastic, covering it completely. Use the twist ties or twine above and below the moss to secure the plastic to the stem.
Step 5: Open the plastic each week and spritz the moss to keep it damp as needed. Keep an eye out for new root growth in the sphagnum moss and new leaf growth above the wound in the stem. This may take several months.
Step 6: When the plastic is full of new root growth, make a downward-angled cut just below the root ball. Transplant your new umbrella plant into an appropriately sized container with fresh potting soil and care for it as usual.