The Q&A Archives: soiless schflerra

Question: I was recently in a retail establishment and saw a small scheflerra which was somehow mounted on a rock with absolutely no soil and the rock was sitting in water. Apparently the roots were extending down into the water but no one there knew how this whole thing had been accomplished. It didn't appear to be artificially attached, i.e., by glue of whatnot. Any ideas on how this could have been accomplished.

Answer: The roots of the plant are trained to cling to the lava rock (the plant is supported until the roots are able to hold itself in place). As long as the rock is kept moist, the roots are happy. You can do the same thing. You'll need a dwarf schefflera (SCHEFFLERA ARBORICOLA) and a lava rock. Immerse the rock in water to thoroughly saturate it, then set the plant on top, gently supporting it with soft string (tie the roots over the rock in a criss-cross pattern). When the rock is dry (pick it up and it will feel lightweight) immerse it again to drive out the air and saturate the rock. Keep doing this until the roots grow long enough to encircle the rock. At that point you should be able to remove the string and the plant should be firmly attached. Here are guidelines for keeping your lava rock schefflera alive:

WATER & MOISTURE. Saturate the entire rock planting under water for at least 30 minutes and keep it on damp (not wet) gravel. As the air bubbles out, water is rushing in. When taken out, water drains out and air rushes back in. It's this water and air exchange that keeps the plant healthy. Water again before the rock is dry. This could be once per week during cooler weather or twice per week when air conditioning and interior heating is turned on. These are tough plants but must be kept evenly and slightly moist at all times.

Potted plants should sit in water as deep as the rim of the pot and the water allowed to enter through the drain holes. Leave it in the water for about 30 minutes or so to assure that all media in the pot is totally saturated. Notice how heavy it is right after it's been watered. Towards the end of the week, place the center of your open palm firmly against the media surface. If it feels wet, wait a day or two before watering. Water when it feels slightly cool but before it feels warm-dry. Notice how light the plant is when it needs water. In a short time, you'll know when to water just by picking up the plant. Dwarf Schefflera can adapt to being a bit overwatered, but do not allow this plant to completely dry out or it will die.

LIGHT REQUIREMENTS. This is a proven durable houseplant. It can survive for a long while in lower light conditions, but will become weaker and weaker and will eventually die if it's too dark. The more light the better. If your light levels are poor, consider setting up an optimum high-light area, have several plants, and rotate plants in the low light area.

TEMPERATURE, HUMIDITY & OPTIMUM GROWTH. Provide warm weather (70?F to 85?F), bright sunny days, and a lot of moisture in the air. The closer that you can come to duplicating these conditions, the better your growth. In cold climates or cool weather, be sure the plants are not in an area getting icy blasts or that the buildings are heated at night and over the weekends. In very dry areas, to increase humidity, consider using a baking pan filled with clean gravel or pebbles. Keep water in the pan below the top of the gravel and place the plant on the gravel. Dwarf Schefflera loves humidity and the more humidity you can provide, the more aerial roots!

FERTILIZING. Do not fertilize for the first few months. Plants need time to adjust to their new homes and indoor plants grow at only a fraction of the rate as outdoors because of lower light levels. If you use outdoor plant fertilizer, you'll burn the roots and kill the indoor bonsai. Use a water soluable houseplant fertilizer and dilute to half-strength. Feed once every 3-4 weeks by immersing the lava rock in the fertilizer solution.

Good luck with your garden!

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