Schefflera Arboricola: my botanical nemesis

Most mornings, I walk into my front room with a hot cup of coffee, take a look around at the beautiful morning sunlight streaming in through the windows, embracing the eager green leaves who are pressing their little noses up against the glass to be the first little leaf to start photosynthesis for the day, and feel proud of both all my little green, and cream, and pink, and purple (we are a very diverse family) babies, but also of myself for keeping them alive this long.

Today, however, I feel like a bad plant mom.

Instead of praising my little heroes for making it through another night, I have been forced to confront the fact that there’s one I have been, well, avoiding.

Schefflera Arboricola. The dwarf umbrella tree.

I “rescued” this plant from a Walmart in Guelph one night after work. It was in a 10” pot, looked a bit sad, was losing a few leaves, and was dry as a bone. How dare they treat this innocent plant this way? If it hadn’t been such a great price ($11!) I probably would have let the abuse continue, but since I could afford it, I would be this plant’s saviour.

Look at me… so naive…

These first few optimistic moments of our relationship were indeed a high for us. Since then, things have been… strained.

Since the pot was beyond dry, I gave it a generous drink when I got it home, and placed it a few feet away from a south-east window in the guest bedroom of my home. I made sure the soil was draining (it drained out quite quickly, but wanting to be sure I didn’t over water it, I waited a while before attempting to water it again) and decided to just let it adjust to its new home and check on it in a few days.

Do you know how often I go into that guest bedroom? Not often enough to check on a problem child plant.

The next thing I know, my brother and sister-in-law are coming to visit and I’m rushing around trying to get the room relatively tidy for them to stay in. The number of leaves beneath the Schefflera was alarming, but at the time only because it was one more thing I had to clean up. I did make a mental note about the leaf loss, however, determined that I would do something about it when I didn’t have guests staying there.

It was only a couple of days later that I was able to really have a look at what was going on. I checked for pests and didn’t see anything… although I will admit that I have been extremely lucky so far and don’t have a lot of experience in that area. I checked the soil. It needed a drink, but everything I had read suggested that these plants were supposed to be quite tolerant of dry soil.

It came along with me for my first mass shower watering. It lost a TON of leaves during this process— I basically had to get a shovel to heave out the amount of leaf litter that was left behind in the bottom of my shower. If there had been pests, chances are the liberal dousing would have washed them away, and now I knew that the roots had actually had a chance to be soaked, which was a better method that the dump-and-go method I had tried before, which had resulted in most of the water running out along the edges of the rootball and directly out the bottom of the pot.

I placed him back in his place in the guest bedroom, and feeling smug, like I had solved all of the problems, I promptly forgot about him again.

So this morning, when I went into the guest bedroom to get an extra blanket (autumn mornings call for blankie cuddles with my coffee) and saw that my umbrella plant was surrounded by a circle of dead leaves, it has occurred to me that I suck.

Now I’m in trouble shooting mode. I’ve gone to the internet, but literally every directional advice given is counter-acted by a different article or blog. So far, what I’ve determined is:

It’s probably still recovering from the Walmart (and subsequently my bad watering techniques) drought.

It hasn’t been getting enough light (I’ve moved it into the hallway where I have a south-west facing window).

And that its not dying, because there is new growth (little baby umbrellas— so cute!).

Baby umbrellas!

Let me tell ya, for a plant that so many websites rave as being “easy to care for”, this schefflera has been the BANE of my plant mothering existence. Hopefully, the change in location (and probably temperature since that window gets quite warm) won’t send it into fits of another kind, but at least the more prominent location will mean I will have a better chance of catching any changes before its gone too far south.

Please share your Schefflera Arboricola care tips with me if you have any, or share your struggles with this species so we can wallow together in our failure.

I’ll keep you updated on poor Mr. Schefflera’s fate, and will try not to look at him too closely first thing in the morning when I give myself a smug pat on the back for keeping the rest of these little guys looking decent. If I tried that with him, I think he’d drop half his leaves just out of spite.

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