The striking umbrella plant (Schefflera arboricola) is named after the glossy leaflets that radiate like umbrella spokes from each stalk.
It’s generally unfussy and easy to care for, but over time it can tend to grow lanky and straggly. Don’t worry though if your plant is afflicted – pruning will help a leggy umbrella plant regain its compact shape.
Why has your umbrella plant grown leggy?
In most cases, a schefflera starts to look leggy and sparse because it has lost foliage. Leaf drop can happen for a few reasons, chiefly one (or more) of the following:
Simple old age
The older your umbrella plant, the more prone it will be to shedding its leaves. This starts at the bottom, leaving the lower stems bare.
Sudden shifts in temperature – whether hot or cold – can shock an umbrella plant into dropping its leaves. This tends to happen when a plant has been moved, but other factors can come into play.
Is your plant in a draughty area, or close to a radiator that’s recently been turned on for winter? Umbrella plants are happiest at a constant 60-65°F in summer; a little cooler (55-60°F) in winter.
Being too wet or too dry
Soil that’s too soggy, or alternatively drought conditions, can stress an umbrella plant and make it shed foliage. In general, the plant tolerates dry soil more than overwatering. Too much water can make leaves yellow and fall.
Lack of nutrients
Without regular feeding, a schefflera’s leaves can lose colour and drop. Ideally, these plants like a general liquid feed every two weeks from late spring to early autumn.
VERY IMPORTANT – If you have pets, dispose of fallen umbrella plant leaves as soon as you find them. The sap contains calcium oxalate which is toxic to cats, dogs and other small animals.
Not enough light
If you don’t see fallen leaves, your umbrella plant may be growing leggy because it lacks light. Though the plant adapts to semi-shade, its preference is for bright indirect light.
Are you keeping it in a very shady spot? It could be getting tall and leggy to seek out more sunlight. Find it a brighter place, out of direct sun, and turn it regularly to encourage even growth.
Pruning a leggy umbrella plant
To get your schefflera back to its compact, bushy best, it’s time to prune it back. You can chop it quite severely if the plant is very out of shape.
Don’t be afraid to go at it; umbrella plants take pruning in their stride and recover well. For peace of mind, propagate your stem cuttings in soil or water so you have a back-up plan!
Give your plant a good look all the way around and note where the leggiest stems are before you cut. Get a feel for the shape you would eventually like it to have.
How to prune a schefflera
Using a clean, sharp pair of pruners, trim off the tops of the leggiest stems. Aim to cut about an inch above a leaf node (where the leaf joins the stem).
Pruning schefflera plants this way encourages more outward-growing branches to flesh out the plant, rather than putting on more height. Be patient – it may take a little while to fill out but it will get there.
You can help it along by moving your umbrella plant outdoors when the weather allows in the summer. The higher light and humidity levels will boost new growth to help it bush out more quickly.
As an added bonus, wind buffeting the plant gives it something to brace itself against, helping to make it more robust.
You might also like: Pruning a calamondin orange.
Stop the plant getting leggy again
Once pruned into shape, good maintenance should help stop your umbrella plant growing leggy again. Make sure to give it plenty of light and nutrients to stop those enthusiastic stems growing out of control.
If needed, you can repeat prune a schefflera in late summer to tidy it up and keep it on the right track. Only a gentle prune this time – not as drastic as the first. And that should be all you need.
There’s no need to fret over a leggy umbrella plant. It’s just a little out of shape, which happens to the best of us! A good trim will spruce it up and encourage it to fill out. Plenty of bright indirect light and a regular feed should keep it in check.