How to Revive a Dying Umbrella Plant (Schefflera)

Does your umbrella plant look as though it is dying? Don’t Fear! Usually, in my experience, they can be saved as long as we can identify why it is dying and how to create the optimal conditions for umbrella plants to grow…

Overwatering and low humidity are the most common reasons I see for a dying umbrella plant. If the soil is too damp, the leaves start to droop and turn yellow, whereas if the humidity is too low, the leaves start to droop, turn brown, and drop off.

Whilst overwatering and low humidity are most often the causes of dying umbrella plants, here is a table summarizing other reasons for dying umbrella plants…

Symptoms of a Dying Umbrella Plant:Reasons Your Umbrella Plants are Dying:
Umbrella Plant Drooping Leaves:Drooping leaves are usually the first sign of drought stress from underwatering or low humidity. The stress of repotting or moving the umbrella plant can also cause a drooping appearance, as can cold temperatures and draughts.
Umbrella Plant Losing its Leaves:Dramatic fluctuations in temperatures from indoor heating contrasted with cold draughts are the most common reason. Cold shock, overwatering, underwatering and a lack of light are also causes.
Umbrella Plant Losing Leaves in the Winter:Not enough light and cold temperatures. Umbrella plants are often dormant in Winter which makes them susceptible to overwatering and can result in the plant losing leaves.
Umbrella Plant’s Leaves Turning Yellow:Damp soil due to overwatering and poor drainage are the most common causes. Too much fertilizer and temperatures cooler than 50°F (10°C) are also causes of yellowing leaves.
Umbrella Plant’s Leaves Turning Brown:Drought stress due to low humidity, underwatering, high indoor temperatures, and too much direct sunlight.
Umbrella Plant’s Stems Turning Brown:Fungal infection which is caused by overly damp soil due to overwatering and poor drainage.
Umbrella Plant Leaves Turning Sticky:The sticky substance on the leaves is honey due cause by an insect infestation.

Umbrella plants usually die because they are living in conditions that are significantly contrary to their natural environment.

To revive dying umbrella plants, recreate some of the conditions of the natural environment with indirect sunlight, increase the humidity with regular misting of the leaves, maintain a temperature range of 65°F and 75°F (18°C and 24°C), and only water when the top inch of the soil feels dry.

Keep reading to learn why your Umbrella plant is dying and how to implement the solutions to save your dying Schefflera plant…

Umbrella Plant with Drooping Leaves

  • Symptoms: Drooping leaves or stems. Sometimes the plant droops to one side.
  • Causes: Low humidity and drought stress, overwatering, stress from repotting, and cold shock.

The first thing to note with drooping umbrella plants is that the leaves typically have a drooping appearance naturally, so there may not necessarily be anything environmentally wrong with your Schefflera that is causing the drooping appearance!

I would also note that umbrella plants are naturally semi-epiphytes in their native New Guinea, which means that whilst they have terrestrial roots in the soil, they also have ariel roots and climb up trees like ivy.

If they do not have a supporting structure, a large umbrella plant can grow tall and droop over to one side under its own weight as it looks for something to climb.

Again, this may mean there is nothing wrong with the plant per se, but it could perhaps benefit from a mossy coir pole (which is available from garden centers), and the umbrella plant’s ariel roots attach to the structure, and it can regain its shape.

Mossy pole used to support plants are ideal for umbrella plants.
Mossy poles used to support plants are ideal for umbrella plants.

Top Tip: Mossy poles are available from garden centers, and I highly recommend them as they do a great job of recreating the surface of a tree that an umbrella plant would naturally climb.

Drooping leaves and foliage can also occur due to low humidity and underwatering or overwatering and compacted soil.

Umbrella plants are native to humid tropical environments and prefer mild to warm temperatures of 65°F and 75°F (18°C and 24°C) with around 10 degrees cooler at night and high humidity with relatively most yet well-draining soil.

If the humidity is too low and the soil is too dry between each watering, the umbrella plant droops as a sign of stress.

Umbrella plants prefer high levels of humidity (as much as 80% relative humidity) but can adapt to humidity of around 30%-40% as long as they are kept out of any drying air currents from air conditioning or draughts from open windows and doors. (Most rooms in our homes have a lower humidity than 40% apart from the bathroom).

Temperatures cooler than 50°F (10°C) at night are much colder than your umbrella plant would typically experience in its native habitat and also create an unfavorable environment that can contribute to a drooping appearance and even cause leaves to drop off.

The top half inch of soil should dry slightly between each bout of watering then the soil should be given a good soak to be evenly moist. If the soil is too dry or too damp, the umbrella plant droops.

Umbrella plants need to have aerated soil so that oxygen can reach the roots for respiration. Too much moisture and dense, compacted soil excludes oxygen, which prevents root respiration, causing the leaves to droop.

Umbrella Plants Leaves Dropping or Dropping off After Repotting

What I often find is that umbrella plants often droop after repotting, which is usually due to transplant shock; however, there can also be issues with overly compacted soil or the soil lacks an aerated, porous structure after repotting.

Umbrella plants (like most houseplants) should ideally be repotted in the Spring. Repotting Outside of Spring can cause the leaves to droop or even drop off.

How to Save it…

  • Increase the humidity around your umbrella plant by misting the leaves or using a humidifier. Increasing the humidity is imperative in dry climates and to counteract drying air currents such as air conditioning, forced air, or any convection currents from heating. You can also place the pot on pebbles in a tray of water to create a consistently humid environment. I would personally recommend using a humidifier or placing your umbrella plant in a bathroom.
  • Water the umbrella plant with a good soak so that the soil is evenly moist. Water generously so that excess water trickles from the drainage holes in the base to ensure the moisture has properly infiltrated the soil. Pick up your pot after watering to ensure it is reassuringly heavier. If it feels somewhat light despite watering, then place its pot in a basin of lukewarm water for 10 minutes, ensuring that the root ball is submerged. This ensures the soil absorbs moisture properly rather than running off the surface. I do this every month or so in the Summer, just to be on the safe side.
  • Only water umbrella plants when the first inch of the soil feels somewhat dry. Whilst both under and over-watering can cause drooping leaves, umbrella plants can cope much better with underwatering than overwatering. I personally use my finger to reliably detect whether the top inch of soil feels somewhat dry before watering again with a good soak, and with this balance of soil moisture, my umbrella plant has thrived.
  • I would recommend repotting your umbrella plant in the Spring with a well-draining soil mix to mitigate issues with overwatering. I personally use a mix of approximately 70% normal potting soil to 30% perlite, which allows for good drainage and creates air pockets in the soil which allows oxygen to circulate around the roots, allowing for root respiration.
  • Avoid temperatures cooler than 50°F (10°C) and be mindful of anything that can cause fluctuations in temperature and humidity, such as indoor heating or open windows.

If you are repotting your umbrella plant, then be careful not to compact the soil firmly around the base of the plant as this pushes oxygen out of the soil, which interferes with the root’s respiration and decreases the rate of drainage, both of which can cause the umbrella plant to droop.

The best time for repotting is in the Spring, as this is when the plant is most resilient to stress.

If you have repotted the plant outside for Spring, I recommend increasing the humidity and following the best watering practices, and ensuring the plant has the optimal temperature range, and I would expect to see the plant recover in the following weeks.

Why is My Umbrella Plant Losing Its Leaves?

  • Symptoms: Umbrella leaves suddenly drop, or the leaves turn yellow or brown and drop off.
  • Causes: Temperature fluctuations, cold shock, overwatering or underwatering, and a lack of light.

By far, the most significant cause of an umbrella plant dropping leaves is cold shock. Umbrella plants are native to warm tropical climates with consistent temperatures, and they do not respond well to cold temperatures, even if the exposure to cold is relatively brief.

Indoors it is essential to keep the umbrella plant above 50°F (10°C) and keep maximum temperatures below 75°F (24°C) to prevent the leaves from dropping, so do not locate your umbrella plant directly next to any sources of heat.

I find that umbrella plants can turn both yellow and brown due to cold temperatures before dropping off but typically turn brown before falling if the temperature is too high, with drought stress (low humidity and dry soil) being a significant contributing factor.

Again, overwatering and underwatering are also likely to be the probable causes of dropping leaves if your watering is irregular.

Umbrella plants also prefer bright, indirect light rather than full sun. If they are located in too much shade, then the plant is likely to initially droop in appearance, and the leaves then fall off.

Why is my Umbrella Plant Dropping Leaves in the Winter?

Umbrella plants typically drop their leaves in Winter for 2 reasons:

  1. The temperature has either dropped below 50°F (10°C) or exceeded 75°F (24°C) due to indoor heating.
  2. Watering too often whilst the umbrella plant is dormant.

Umbrella plants are typically dormant in Winter with a significantly reduced rate of growth due to fewer hours of light and lower light intensity.

During its dormancy, the umbrella plant’s roots draw up moisture at a much slower rate.

This means the soil can remain damp for much longer, and you need to adjust the watering accordingly.

If the roots are in damp soil for too long, then the leaves may start to curl and turn yellow or brown and drop off due to a lack of root respiration.

The other factors that you need to consider are high or low temperatures.

Cold draughts in Winter from open doors and hot air currents from indoor heating can cause sudden fluctuations in temperature and humidity, which can cause the leaves to drop.

How to Save it…

The good news is that an umbrella plant can regrow its leaves in the Spring and Summer as long as you address the cause of the environmental stress that resulted in the leaves dropping in the first place:

  • Keep the temperature between a consistent range of 65°F and 75°F (18°C and 24°C) with around 10 degrees cooler at night. This means keeping the umbrella plant away from any draughts from cold windows and doors and away from any sources of indoor heating. Increasing the humidity with a humidifier or by misting the leaves regularly, particularly in Winter.
  • Locate the umbrella plant in an area of bright indirect. This is imperative because the umbrella plant needs the energy from bright light to regrow its leaves in the Spring, so find a nice, bright spot, but avoid direct sunlight in the afternoon as this is likely to scorch the leaves brown.
  • Reduce how often you water your umbrella plant in the Winter. It is important to maintain higher humidity levels in Winter due to the drying effects of indoor heating on the air. However, I would check the soil more judiciously in the Fall and Winter, as the top inch is likely to dry out more slowly. I personally also periodically pick up the pot to asses the weight after watering and only water when the pot is noticeably lighter. Remember, overwatering is a bigger threat to umbrella plants than underwatering, so if unsure, test the soil’s moisture first before watering.

Once you correct the conditions that have caused the leaves to drop, then the plants should recover and regrow their leaves.

I recommend using a diluted liquid houseplant fertilizer at half strength in the Spring once a month to ensure the umbrella plant has the nutrients required to regrow its leaves, as regrowing leaves is a resource-intensive endeavor for a houseplant.

Wear I used to live in an apartment in New York, it used to be too dimly lit for my umbrella plants in the Winter, which would cause them to lose their leaves and generally look unwell, so I used a grow light to help supplement the natural light, (with my other houseplants) to keep it looking good year round.

If the roots have been in damp soil for too long, then it’s likely the roots have rotted off at which point it is likely to difficult to save the plant.

Umbrella Plant Leaves Turning Yellow

  • Symptoms: Leaves turning yellow and drooping or even curling. Some leaves may turn yellow before dropping off.
  • Causes: Low temperature, overwatering, poor drainage, and excess fertilizer.

Most often, the reason I see an umbrella plant’s leaves turning yellow is because the temperature is too low. If the temperature drops suddenly, then the leaves typically drop off, but if the leaves are turning yellow, then it is likely the plant is slightly too cold, often at night.

Window sills can have their own micro-climate and get very cold at night, particularly if the umbrella plant’s leaves are in contact with the cold glass.

Overwatering, compacted soils, and pots with drainage holes in the base can all make the umbrella plant’s soil too damp to tolerate, which turns the leaves yellow.

Too much fertilizer can also be a cause of yellowing leaves for 2 reasons:

  1. Excess nitrogen can burn sensitive roots.
  2. Too much fertilizer applied too often can cause salts to accumulate in the soil, which prevents the roots from uptaking moisture, causing the leaves to wilt and turn yellow.

How to Save it…

The first thing to do to save the umbrella plant with yellowing leaves is to correct the underlying issue that caused the yellowing leaves.

  • Move the umbrella plant to an area with bright, indirect light that does not get below 50°F (and 10°C) degrees at night. This might mean moving the plant from a draughty, cold window sill to the other side of the room, where the temperature is likely to be a bit more consistent. I recommend ensuring the umbrella plant leaves are not in contact with the cold glass of a window, as this is one of the most common reasons I see for yellow leaves and one of the easiest to correct.
  • Ensure that you allow the top inch of soil to dry between each bout of watering. You can either test with your finger or push a wooden skewer into the soil (and then assess at what depth the skewer is damp, either still damp or dry) to see how much of the soil is dry.
  • I personally recommend using a skewer to assess the soil’s moisture rather than moisture meters, as I have found that moisture meters can be inaccurate, which can be the difference between life and death for your plants. Having worked in garden centers, looking after thousands of plants, I think moisture meters are typically a waste of money.
  • Make sure the water can drain efficiently by repotting the plant in a pot with drainage holes. Clay or terracotta pots are often better than plastic and ceramic pots as they are porous, and, therefore the soil dries more evenly.
  • Re-pot the umbrella plant with a well-draining potting mix (if the current soil is slow draining or compacted) in the Spring with around 30% perlite to 70% potting soil. You can substitute orchid potting mix for perlite, as they both create a good soil structure for umbrella plants, but I prefer orchid mix as it is similar to the growing conditions of the umbrella plant’s natural environment.

If you have used too much fertilizer, then it can be tricky to revive the plant, as excess nitrogen can burn the roots.

However, it may be the case the excess salts have accumulated around the roots, which can be resulted by placing your umbrella plant in a basin and running the faucet (tap) onto the soil (for 10 minutes or so), which can help to dissolve the excess salts and should allow the roots to draw up moisture again.

Once you have corrected the underlying issue then I would avoid cutting any yellow leaves off. Wait until the umbrella plants show signs of new growth before cutting any yellow leaves back to the base.

Whenever you see new growth on a plant, it is usually at its most resilient and can, therefore, withstand more shock to pruning or repotting.

My Umbrella Plant Leaves and Stems Are Turning Brown

  • Symptoms: Leaves can turn brown at the margins or turn brown entirely and drop off. Individual stems can turn brown and die back.
  • Causes: Too much sun can scorch the leaves, drought stress from underwatering, low humidity, and excess heat. Fungal infections cause the stems to turn brown.

Umbrella plants can tolerate some morning sun but their leaves tend to scorch brown if they are in direct afternoon sun. The optimal balance is bright, indirect light, so find a nice sunny spot for your umbrella plant.

If the edges of the leaves are turning brown, this indicates stress from low humidity. Umbrella plants are tropical and need higher humidity levels than the typical indoor environment.

Make sure your umbrella plant is not near any sources of indoor heating or air currents, as this can also sap moisture from the leaves and cause them to turn brown. Underwatering is usually also a compounding factor.

If the indoor temperature exceeds 75°F (24°C), then this is likely the reason the leaves are turning brown.

Consistently damp soils (caused by overwatering or compaction) can also promote the conditions for fungal disease, which turns the leaves and stems brown.

How to Save it…

To save the umbrella plant, you must emulate some of the conditions of the plant’s native environment.

  • As I mentioned, it is to keep the humidity high with regular misting or a humidifier and keep the pot away from any direct sources of heat. This can be more important in Winter when indoor heating saps moisture from the leaves and dries out the soil too quickly.
  • If the umbrella plant is turning brown or wilting and the soil feels dry, then submerge the root ball in a basin of water for 10 minutes or so to allow the soil to rehydrate properly.
  • If the leaves have been in too much direct sunlight, then move the umbrella plant to an area of bright indirect light. Once the leaves have been scorched brown, they do not turn green again and cannot photosynthesize, so snip back any scorched brown leaves.

If the leaves and stems are turning brown and you have been watering regularly, then overwatering or poor drainage is the cause.

In this case, I recommend reducing watering frequency so that the top inch of the soil dries between each bout of watering and ensure water can drain freely from the base of the pot.

Use a sharp pair of pruners to cut back any brown or black areas of the umbrella plant. I must emphasize it is important to wipe the blades with a cloth soaked in disinfectant between each cut to prevent the spread of fungal pathogens from diseased growth to otherwise healthy growth.

Why are the Leaves of My Umbrella Plant Sticky?

If the leaves of your umbrella plant feels sticky, this is because of scale insects, aphids or mealy bugs. The sticky substance is called honeydew which is the excretion of the insects after consuming the umbrella plant’s sap.

Scale insects can be so small that it is difficult to see, but the typically appear as a small brown lump on the stem or underside of the leaf.

Umbrella plants are particularly susceptible to insect attacks when in low humidity indoor environments, partly because as tropical plants they have a preference for high humidity.

A serious infestation can actually kill umbrella plants, so it is important that you deal with the problem.

Scale insects can be quite tricky to eradicate, depending on the the extent of infection.

The first step is to:

  1. Isolate your umbrella plant away from your other houseplants to prevent the insects spreading and harming the other plants.
  2. Use an insecticidal soap or neem oil and wipe every part of the umbrella plant, with a particular focus on the underside of each leaf.
  3. The insecticidal soap kills the insects and the larva, so apply it liberally with a cloth or cotton wool every 2 weeks or so to ensure you remove all the insects.

I personally recommend using neem oil (which is available online or in garden centers) as this is non toxic and therefore, does not harm any pets yet still does the job to eradicate all the types of pest that cause the umbrella plant to be sticky.

An insect infestation can reduce the vitality of your umbrella plant but as long as you effectively tackle the problem, and grow the umbrella plant in the right conditions, it should recover.

I would also recommend increasing the humidity around the plant (by misting or using a humidifier) as this can discourage insect infestations and replicate the umbrella plant’s preferred conditions.

Key Takeaways:

  • The reason for a dying umbrella plant is usually drought stress caused by low humidity, underwatering, and too much direct sunlight. Umbrella plants are native to humid tropical forests and usually droop and die back if the air is too dry indoors.
  • Temperature fluctuations are usually the reason umbrella plants drop their leaves. Umbrella plants prefer consistent temperatures between the range of 65°F and 75°F (18°C and 24°C). Indoor heating and cold draughts can cause the temperature to fluctuate drastically and result in the umbrella plant losing its leaves.
  • Typically the reason for umbrella plants losing their leaves in Winter is due to a combination of low light, cold temperatures, and overwatering.
  • Yellow leaves usually indicate the umbrella plant is overwatered. The leaves also turn yellow due to too much fertilizer and cold temperatures.
  • Brown stems indicate the umbrella plant is suffering from fungal disease which is caused by overwatering and poor drainage.
  • Sticky leaves are caused by scale insects that extract sap and excrete honeydew. The underside of the leaves often has brown lumps, indicating an insect infestation.
  • To save a dying umbrella plant, mist the leaves to increase the humidity, maintain a temperature range of 65°F and 75°F (18°C and 24°C), and only water when the top inch of the soil has dried.

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