The schefflera plant is also called the umbrella plant because of the formation of its long, glossy, oval leaves: the way they droop gracefully from their stalk makes them resemble an opened umbrella.
This plant is native to Australia and southern Asia, and feels at home right next to your other tropical plants. They can be grown outdoors, but are only hardy to USDA zone 10.
One of the most common problems encountered by schefflera owners is yellowing of their plant’s leaves. This change in color is triggered by one or more environmental factors that are causing the plant stress.
The possible causes of yellowing leaves on a schefflera are too much sun exposure, too much water, low temperatures, low humidity, too much fertilizer, pests, and natural aging.
In this article, we will discuss each of these causes and what you can do to resolve them. So, if you are experiencing this problem with your schefflera, just keep reading to learn more.
Why are the leaves on my schefflera turning yellow?
Too much sun exposure
Sunburn is the most serious threat to delicate houseplants such as the schefflera: direct sunlight on the leaves can cause them to scorch and develop brownish spots.
If you suspect that your plant is exposed to excessive direct sunlight, you should move it to a shadier spot as soon as possible. Remove it from near any window that receives direct sunlight, making sure that it is at least two to three feet away.
Too much sunlight can also dry out the soil in the plant’s pot, so if the soil looks and feels dry, be sure to water it. Trim away the affected leaves, with your hands or a sterile pair of scissors, to prevent further damage or simply to preserve the plant’s aesthetic.
To prevent yellowing leaves in the future, make sure that the plant does not get more than four hours of indirect light per day. If you keep it indoors, choose an east-facing window because this provides indirect light in the morning and is shady in the afternoon.
Once a month, rotate your plant to ensure that it grows evenly on all sides.
Too much water
Overwatering is another common cause of yellowing schefflera leaves. You can overwater a plant by watering it more often than necessary, giving it too much water per watering, using poorly-draining soil or a pot with no drainage holes, or not adjusting your watering habits to changes in the weather, season or climate.
An overwatered schefflera will end up sitting in soggy soil, which stresses the plant’s roots.
The roots need to dry out between waterings so that they can absorb oxygen, without which the plant will die. They will also be unable to properly absorb nutrients when the soil is constantly waterlogged, and one of the first signs of a nutrient deficiency is yellowing leaves.
After too much time spent in waterlogged soil, the roots will drown and start to rot. They will also be vulnerable to opportunistic pathogens in the soil that will make the root rot spread more aggressively to the rest of the plant, until the entire plant is affected and may even die.
If you think that your plant is overwatered, stop watering it until all of the soil has dried out.
If you suspect that it has developed root rot, you will have to unpot it to check the roots. Remove as much soil as you can from the roots and inspect them closely. If there are brown and black sections, these are rotten; remove them with a sterile pair of scissors until only the healthy, white roots remain.
Half-fill a new pot that has drainage holes with well-draining potting mix. Place the plant in the middle of the pot and cover the roots with more soil as needed.
Avoid overwatering your plant in the future by checking the moisture in the soil before you water it. Feel whether the top two inches of soil are dry and, if so, water the plant. If the soil is still damp, however, wait one or two days before checking it again.
The schefflera plant grows best in a warm environment with temperatures ranging from 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures below 60 degrees will cause its growth to stall and result in yellowing leaves.
If the room where you keep the plant is air-conditioned, this cold air can cause the leaves to turn yellow. The same can happen if you leave the plant outside during the winter months, exposing it to freezing temperatures and cold drafts.
If you suspect that the yellowing of your plant’s leaves is caused by low temperatures, look for a new spot for your plant where the temperature is stable and within the plant’s preferred range.
If you keep the plant outdoors, take it inside before the frost starts, and keep it there until spring.
The room where the plant is kept should have good ventilation and sufficient lighting.
Keep it away from doors or windows that lead outside, because the cold winter air can make its way through cracks in the doors and windows and this will affect your plant.
The Schefflera is a tropical plant, which means that it thrives in humid conditions. If it is kept in a room where the air is too dry, this can cause its leaves to yellow.
Dry air conditions can be due to the presence of a heater or a dehumidifier. These machines remove moisture from the air and will cause yellowing and drying of your plant’s leaves.
If your schefflera’s leaves turn yellow because of low humidity, you will need to take some measures to adjust the humidity level.
You can mist the plant’s leaves with water every once in a while, or you could place the plant’s pot on a tray of pebbles filled with water. As the water evaporates, it will moisten the air around the plant.
If you have other houseplants that like humidity, you can place your schefflera next to them so that together they can create a microclimate around one another.
You can also keep the plant in your kitchen or bathroom, because those are the most humid rooms in the average house.
If you have the means, you can also buy a humidifier, which will automatically regulate the humidity in the room where the plant is kept. This is ideal for plant owners that are always busy and might not remember to mist their plant or refill a water pebble tray.
Too much fertilizer
The schefflera only needs to be fertilized once a month during the growing season. In the fall and winter, fertilize it every other month, because it is not actively growing during this time and will not be using up as many nutrients and minerals from the soil.
Do not fertilize your plant more than necessary because this can lead to soil toxicity and root burn, symptoms of which include yellowing and browning of the plant’s leaves.
If you think that the yellow leaves on your plant are due to overfertilization, you need to flush the soil out with water. Drench it until water starts flowing out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot, and continue in this fashion for about five minutes. Then, let any excess water drain out before placing the plant back in its usual spot.
Even if you fertilize your plant properly – just once a month – it can still be a good habit to flush the soil every six months to help prevent any buildup of mineral salts.
Even though pest infestation is rare in indoor schefflera plants, it is important to know which pests, specifically, cause yellowing leaves.
Pests and insects are natural predators of houseplants, and they can deplete them of nitrogen and moisture, leaving them with yellowing leaves.
Some of the pests most commonly found on scheffleras are aphids, scale insects and spider mites.
Aphids suck the chlorophyll from the plant’s tissue, resulting in yellow mottling on the leaves.
Scale insects feed on leaves and fruits, and a heavy infestation can result in leaf yellowing and leaf drop.
Spider mites are common on outdoor plants during monsoon season, and yellow and brown spots on the leaves means that the infestation is severe.
If your schefflera has a pest infestation, move it to a part of your house that is far away from your other plants. It needs to be quarantined so that the pests cannot spread to your healthy plants.
To remove aphids from leaves and stems, spray the plant with an aphid-control pesticide or wipe it down with rubbing alcohol.
Wipe spider mites and scale insects off the plant with warm soapy water on a paper towel.
Neem oil can also be used to eliminate and control pest infestations. Put some on a cotton pad and wipe down the affected areas of the plant with it.
It is a good habit to inspect your plant’s leaves and stems for pests every time you water it. This will allow you to catch any infestation in its early stages. The smaller the infestation, the easier it will be to contain and eradicate.
Natural aging of the plant
Older schefflera leaves will turn yellow on the underside before falling off to make way for new growth. This is part of the natural life cycle of the leaves.
Natural yellowing should not be a cause for concern, as long as there are only a couple of yellowing leaves per month.
However, if your plant is losing more than a few leaves per month, this could indicate the presence of a more serious problem.
Prune away old and dying leaves, always beginning at the bottom and making your way to the top.
Maintaining the optimal living conditions for your plant will help to ensure that it ages naturally and not before its time.
The schefflera, or umbrella plant, is a beautiful houseplant with large, shiny leaves that droop gracefully in an umbrella formation. It is a relatively low-maintenance plant that does not need too much care and attention to thrive.
One of the most common problems in schefflera plants is the yellowing of their leaves. This is due to one or more environmental factors causing the plant stress.
The most probable causes of yellowing schefflera leaves are too much sun exposure, too much water, low temperatures, low humidity, too much fertilizer, pests, and natural aging.
Image: istockphoto.com / Bilal photos