Schefflera is a genus of tropical plants also known as the umbrella plant or umbrella tree. It gets its common name from the way its leaves droop outward from a central stalk, making it appear like the plant has a bunch of umbrellas hanging from it.
Because these are tropical plants native to parts of Asia and Australia, they do not do well in colder climates. They can still be grown outdoors, however, provided you take them indoors before the first frost.
One of the most common problems encountered by Schefflera owners is when their plants’ leaves turn brown, which usually means there is an environmental factor causing the plant stress.
The most probable causes of browning Schefflera leaves are not enough water, too much water, poor drainage, low humidity, mineral buildup in the soil, overfertilization, too much sunlight, and pests.
In this article, we will discuss all these different causes, as well as how to fix each one. So, if you are currently struggling with this problem and wish to learn more, just keep reading.
Why are my Schefflera’s leaves turning brown?
Not enough water
Insufficient water can be detrimental to any plant. Although it will not die if you forget to water it occasionally, consistent underwatering will affect its health in the long run.
If you notice your Schefflera’s older leaves turning brown, there is a good chance that it is due to underwatering – the plant will prioritize new, healthy growth over older leaves when it is dehydrated.
If the plant looks dry, touch the soil in the pot; if most of the soil feels dry, simply water it generously. Keep watering until you see excess water flowing from the pot’s drainage holes.
Keep in mind, however, that you must not overcompensate by watering the plant more often than necessary, as that will lead to overwatering, which is even more damaging to the plant.
The best way to check if your Schefflera does need to be watered is by touching the top two inches of soil with your fingers. If the soil is dry, water the plant, but if the soil is still damp, wait one or two days before checking it again.
Too much water
If the browning leaves on your Schefflera are also feeling somewhat mushy, overwatering is the likeliest cause.
Overwatering causes the main root system to rot, which ultimately damages the entire plant. When the roots cannot dry out between waterings, they will drown in the waterlogged soil. They then become susceptible to opportunistic pathogens, like bacteria and fungi, that cause root rot.
The plant will be unable to obtain nutrients from the soil due to its compromised roots; it will become unstable and its leaves will droop, turn brown and eventually fall off.
If you think your Schefflera is overwatered, refrain from adding any more water to the soil. Place the plant in a sunny spot with good air circulation to help the soil dry out faster, and do not water the plant again until the soil has dried out.
If you suspect root rot, unpot the plant carefully and wash off as much soil as you can from the roots. Inspect them for sections that have turned brown or black; these are rotten and will need to be removed. Use sterile scissors to prune away these rotten sections until only healthy, white roots remain.
Let the roots air-dry while you prepare the pot. You can reuse the old pot, but discard the old contaminated soil and wash the pot with soap and water. If the old pot does not have drainage holes, use a new one that does.
Fill the pot with fresh, well-draining soil, place the plant in the middle and cover the roots with more soil as needed.
Prevent overwatering in the future by knowing when your plant needs water. To do this, touch the top two inches of soil and, if the soil is dry, you can water the plant. If it is still damp, wait one or two days before checking it again.
Closely related to overwatering is the problem of poor drainage. This could be due to the soil or the choice of pot.
Water will flow more easily through the soil if you add a small amount of perlite to the mix.
Adding a few small stones or pebbles to the bottom of your pots is another simple step that ensures the drainage holes are not clogged with soil or other loose debris.
Although clay or terracotta pots can be a little more expensive and breakable than plastic containers, the benefits of using them go far beyond their aesthetic appeal. Because the clay from which they are made is permeable, some of the moisture in your soil will be able to evaporate through the sides of the pot.
Plastic pots retain all of the moisture poured into them, but they can still be used if they have adequate drainage holes. You can even poke or drill some extra holes yourself. Drainage holes allow excess water in the soil to escape and help lessen the chances of overwatering.
Low humidity can contribute to the development of brown leaves on your Schefflera.
In the absence of sufficient humidity in the air, the leaves may become limp, droop and turn dry, brown, and crispy.
Increasing the humidity around your Schefflera can be done in a number of ways, including:
- Mist the plant with water a couple of times per week. The water should be fresh and at room temperature so the plant does not get temperature shock.
- Place the Schefflera pot over a water pebble tray, so that as the water evaporates, it moistens the air around the plant.
- Place your Schefflera in the bathroom or kitchen, as these are the most humid rooms in a house.
- Use a humidifier to maintain a consistent humidity level in the room where your plant is kept. You can set it on a timer to run on a set schedule, and some even have a built-in humidity monitor that automatically adjusts to maintain the desired humidity level.
Mineral buildup in the soil
If the tips of your Schefflera’s leaves are beginning to turn brown, the plant might be experiencing the effects of a mineral salt buildup in the soil.
Sodium, chlorine, fluoride, and other minerals found in tap water can accumulate in the soil over time to form these mineral salts. The buildup can damage the roots and affect their ability to absorb water and nutrients. Eventually, the plant will weaken and the leaves will turn brown from poor health.
To minimize the presence of these minerals in the soil, use distilled or rainwater on your Schefflera. If you do not have access to either option, you can still use tap water, but leave it to stand in a covered container overnight to let the minerals dissipate.
Your Schefflera does not require regular fertilization and will thrive even if it is not fed during its growing season.
If you do decide to fertilize it, however, do so no more than once a year, during the active growing season. Any more often is likely to damage the roots due to a mineral salt buildup, as discussed above.
Fix an overfertilized Schefflera by flushing its soil with water, which gets rid of the mineral salts as well as any excess fertilizer that the plant has not used up.
Pour water into the soil continuously until you can see it flowing out of the pot’s drainage holes. Let the excess water finish dripping, and then repeat the flushing process four more times.
Flush the soil like this once a week until the plant shows signs of recovery.
Too much sunlight
A Schefflera that receives excessive sunlight will also have browning leaves.
This happens when the light is strong enough to cause the moisture in the leaves to evaporate faster than the plant can replenish it.
Schefflera thrive in medium to bright, indirect sunlight, but they can also tolerate bright direct sunlight. The amount of light they need varies depending on the season, humidity levels, and temperature, so it is best to move your plant to a shadier location during the spring or the beginning of the summer, such as under a large tree or on your porch.
Unfortunately, any brown sunburnt leaves will not return to their original green color, so if their presence bothers you, just prune them off.
Healthy Schefflera plants are highly resistant to pests, but if your plant has already been weakened by some other issue, you should be on the lookout for pest infestations.
Specific bugs, such as spider mites and mealybugs, will feed on the nutrients and moisture in your plant’s leaves, causing the leaves to become dry and discolored.
Pests reproduce and multiply quickly if not controlled. Eradicate them as soon as possible by dabbing them with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol or neem oil. Repeat this treatment every three days until all of the pests are gone.
The Schefflera, or umbrella plant, is a popular houseplant with leaves that hang downward off a central stalk, just like an umbrella. It is a tropical plant native to parts of Asia and Australia and is a relatively low-maintenance plant to care for.
One of the most common problems encountered by Schefflera owners is when their plants’ leaves turn brown. The most common causes of this are underwatering, overwatering, poor drainage, low humidity, mineral buildup in the soil, overfertilization, too much sunlight, and pests.
Image: istockphoto.com / soniabonet