Plant ID forum: Help identifying houseplant and problem with it

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Name: Rod
Harrogate, North Yorkshire, En
Rod
Jan 26, 2016 12:29 PM CST
Hi, my name is Rod and I live in North Yorkshire in England. I wonder if anyone can identify our largest houseplant we have had for several years and I would appreciate advice on it.

It seems to be losing quite a few leaves lately and not just individual ones but complete stems with several leaves have dropped off, and it doesn't look as well as it did. How often should we water it? we have always only watered it every few weeks, but given it a bit more since it didn't look so good.

I hope someone can advise me since we don't want it to die off!

Many thanks

Rod

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Name: Debbie
Manitoba, Canada (Zone 3a)
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DebbieC
Jan 26, 2016 12:44 PM CST
Welcome! Hi Rod! I believe your plant is Schefflera, aka Umbrella Tree. Could your plant been subjected to a cold draft or blasts of hot air from heating vents? They may shed their leaves for that reason, or if they are moved about( they don't like that). You also have to be careful with watering; they do not like to be overwatered. Make sure the top inch of the soil is dry, use your finger as a gauge, before watering thoroughly. They appreciate some humidity in the winter months and be sure to check for pests. Good luck!
Name: Lin
Florida (Zone 9b)
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plantladylin
Jan 26, 2016 12:45 PM CST
Hi Rod, Welcome to All Things Plants!

Your houseplant appears to be Dwarf Umbrella Tree (Schefflera arboricola) but I'm not sure why it's losing stems and leaves. It could be due to a number of things; not enough moisture in the soil, dry heat, poor light. Hopefully those who grow this one as an indoor plant will pop in with suggestions!
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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Jan 26, 2016 1:06 PM CST
One way to guess whether over-watering (or under-watering) is a problem is to check the weight of the pot before and after watering.

if the pot never gets relatively light, maybe it is holding more water than is good for the root hairs. They will run low on oxygen if the mix in the pot is too fine and too wet. Water displaces air from small and medium-sized pores in the soilless mix, then CO2 can't diffuse out and O2 can't diffuse in fast enough. Root hairs start to drown, and the plant may look like it has too little water.

It's good to know how heavy or light the pot is when it is pretty dry. You can remove much of the excess water from a pot with fine, water-retaining mix by setting the pot down on a folded-over towel. The towel has to TOUCH the soil mix through the holes int he bottom.

If the towel gets soggy-sopping, you can wring it out and continue draining water, or drape one end of the towel DOWN so it dangles BELOW the bottom of the pot. Water will flow from the pot to the towel, then DOWN and drip away, so more water can drain from the pot.

If the towel became sopping, listen closely to see if you can hear the root hairs giving thanks as a little oxygen reaches them for the first time in days!

Another test is to try to gently ease the root ball out of the pot far enough to see whether the "root ball" is a dense-packed, root-bound mass of coarse white roots. If it is, you may need to pot up to a bigger pot), or even do some root-pruning IF Umbrella Tree is something that can take root pruning.

But ask someone who knows them well before root pruning! A photo of the root ball would be informative.

If you try to see the root ball, and you don't find many roots, it MIGHT have a serious case of root-rot.

Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
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tarev
Jan 26, 2016 1:21 PM CST
Agree..it does look like a schefflera. I would check the soil as suggested.

Oftentimes, tropicals grown indoors do slow down during winter time. So the plant drops the leaves it cannot sustain and will just keep what it will be able to handle. And I think if you can reposition the plant a bit further away from the window. The window might be getting too cold for it. But leaf drop means a lot of things, so check the condition of the roots and soil. Adjust further watering if it is still damp. If it looks damp, don't water. A skewer will also help you see if it is staying damp below soil line.

[Last edited by tarev - Jan 26, 2016 1:22 PM (+)]
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Name: Rod
Harrogate, North Yorkshire, En
Rod
Jan 26, 2016 3:11 PM CST
My thanks to Debbie, Planladylin, Rick and Tarev. You have given me plenty to think about and I agree it could do with a bigger pot. It's quite lose and wobbly so maybe a bit of Growmore would be a good idea? I can check the roots when we get a bigger pot.

Many thanks once again, you have been very helpful and it is much appreciated.

Kind regards

Rod
Thank You!
Name: Cheryl
Kingwood, Texas (Zone 9a)
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ShadyGreenThumb
Jan 26, 2016 3:27 PM CST
Your schefflera could probably use a larger pot. It appears to be tall in relation to the size of your pot. They trees are quite drought tolerant so is best to err on the side of dryness. If you would like, you can trim that trunk to the bottom where the foliage starts as it will not produce leaves again on the bare stalk. Your tree will bush out from the bottom again if given enough soil in your new pot. You can easily root the cuttings and have new trees! Welcome! Let us know how it goes! FYI These are nice Feng Shui plants to encourage good fortune in your life. Have this plant in a beautiful pot by the front door especially the South entrance to encourage all rich things to enter your home.
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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Jan 26, 2016 3:57 PM CST
By the way, welcome to ATP, Rod! Also, I'm just talking from general knowledge of drainage. I'm not familiar with tropical or or indoor "trees". Any advice from the KNOWLEDGEABLE people above should be trusted ten times more than my suggestions. Hopefully, I may say something that resonates with things you've observed or give you an idea for what to do to put into practice some ideas from other people.

>> It's quite lose and wobbly so maybe a bit of Growmore would be a good idea?

I don't fully understand. But first, when leaves are still green, think twice before fertilizing.
Indoors, think three times before increasing fertilizer.
If you're having soil or moisture trouble, and the plant may be stressed already, think four times before fertilizing.

If you don't know what's wrong, and there is even a tiny chance that excess fertilizer and salts may NOT have been flushing out of the soil with each watering, as water comes out the bottom of the pot and is removed from the saucer so slats don't build up in the soil, don't fertilize again until you CAN flush the pot successfully.

If you see any crusty white stuff anywhere, including on the soil mix surface or in a ring-around-the-saucer, think about hard water and/or salt buildup. Flush if you can safely, and check pH if you can.

If the root ball is loose and wobbly in the pot, the only thing I can think is "totally, 110% root-bound, and soil mix shrinking as it dries out". Am I hearing that right?

In that case it would be very dry and "light" compared to a water-logged pot. If so, you might be able to see the root ball by just leaning the pot over and (usually a bad idea) tugging very gently on the stem. Better if you can push the soil ball from below.

If there is a gap between the wall of the pot and the soilless mix, watering from above will just run off the ball and out of the pot without moistening it.

If so, the classic solution is to water the pot by lowering it into a sink full of water or a big bucket. If the root ball is immersed, it will eventually soak up some water in the room between the roots. the plant might still have trouble absorbing the water through dried-out-dead root hairs, but at least there will be some water to be absorbed.

Let's say the pot and plant are too big to easily move to the sink or tub. I have an idea that might let you water-by-immersion right where the plant is, or MIGHT be a good way to totally soak your living room carpet. I've never tired this, but I DID almost work out how to bottom water trays of seedlings in a tub, if you don't mind calling the plumber to unclog the drain every time you bottom-water.

1 Get a really tough big plastic bag like a contractors' bag with 4 mil plastic. Tip the pot and work the lip of the bag under the pot, bunching it up under the pot, then tipping the other way and pulling the bag up until the pot and plant sit in the bottom of the bag.

2. Try to bind up the bag by wrapping and then tying something stiff around it, like carpet fragments. (That's just to keep the bag from flowing away from the pot when you add water.

3. Pour water into the bag as deep as you can without it falling apart and flooding the living room. Try to get it almost as deep as the soilless mix.

4. Let the root ball soak in the water for 3-5 minutes, to totally soak the mix.

5. ************ FIRST, ********* figure out a way to get the excess water back out of the bag, before trying this cock-a-maimie scheme.

6. Get the excess water out and remove the bag. heft the pot to tell how much water it absorbed compared to the dry state. Now you know how heavy it is when water logged.

7. Watch the saucer for an hour or more so you catch it before it overflows, as some water drains back out FREELY.

8. Heft the pot within an hour or two of being water-logged. Now you know how heavy it is when saturated with "perched" water, but the largest pores have drained out into the saucer and been replaced with air.

9. If curious, now place to pot on folded towels and wait many hours. Replace the towel when soaked. repeat until the towel stops absorbing noticeable amounts of water.

10. Now heft the pot and see what the weight is when moist but NOT soaked and with minimal "perched" water.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Jan 26, 2016 4:07 PM CST
ShadyGreenThumb said:Your schefflera could probably use a larger pot. It appears to be tall in relation to the size of your pot. They trees are quite drought tolerant so is best to err on the side of dryness. ...


Thanks, Cheryl! I didn't know they prefer dryness. When I see anything at all tropical, I think "moisture-loving".

Rod, be very wary of taking ANY of my suggestions about soaking the root ball. If you don't KNOW that the soil can drain out adequately, (as in "water comes out the bottom ten seconds after I pour enough in the top"), over-watering is quite likely to kill many of the remaining root hairs.

And it doesn't count if the soil mix has pulled away from the pot walls and water pours right out because it runs OFF the root ball and never sinks in.

Does anyone know whether this plant can tolerate or might need root pruning? The single stem makes it look like a poor candidate for dividing the root ball.

I like your idea about taking cuttings and producing daughter plants that have better balance. Do they have to be tip cuttings, or is any old length of stem likely to develop roots?

>> Let us know how it goes!

Please please let us know? Right now it's all speculation and all we can do is clap our hands and wish really hard that Tinkerbelle gets better. It would be great to know what you see "under the hood" and whether the first thing, or second thing, or third thing that you try, works.

Good Luck!


Name: Jean
Prairieville, LA (Zone 9a)
Charter ATP Member Plant Identifier The WITWIT Badge Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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Moonhowl
Jan 26, 2016 4:08 PM CST
@Rod Welcome! Here is a bit more reading for you in addition to all the help from folks here.

http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/houseplants/schefflera/schef...


http://www.houseplantsexpert.com/umbrella-plant.html
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Jan 26, 2016 4:36 PM CST
Great links! Thanks, Jean. Now my ignorance of them is less comprehensive.

Sounds like "DON'T overwater, use little or no fertilizer and re-pot every 2 years".

When I see "re-pot", I think "do some root pruning and remove as much old mix as possible before replacing it with new, well-draining soilless mix". But it was pointed out to me recently that not all plants like or want root-pruning.

But it also sounds like they naturally drop lower leaves, and need periodic, serious stem-pruning if you want them to be bushy or less leggy.

It just occurred to me that one generic answer for "what's wrong with my potted ZYZ plant?" could always be "It's growing in a container and not many plants evolved to be happy in a small, plastic pot with no real through-drainage".

How can you make a potted plant feel like it's growing in the earth and not a tin can? Frequently give it fresh soil. One quick partial fix is giving it a bigger pot (pot UP) until that's impractical. Then you have to root-prune, remove old soil from the roots, and re-pot with well-draining, well-aerated, relatively coarse mix.
Name: Jean
Prairieville, LA (Zone 9a)
Charter ATP Member Plant Identifier The WITWIT Badge Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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Moonhowl
Jan 26, 2016 4:50 PM CST
Very welcome Rick. And I would add that when ever possible/feasible drag them outside once in a while to take advantage of a good soaking, cleansing rain; Even if it means having to use plastic and a towel when you drag them back in. Thumbs up
Name: Rod
Harrogate, North Yorkshire, En
Rod
Jan 27, 2016 5:05 AM CST
My thanks once again, to the very helpful response from Everyone. Moonhowl, I found those articles very good and worth reading.

Sounds like I need to get a bigger heavy pot and according to what I've read, a Peat mix in the soil seems to be a good idea.

Cheers

Rod Thank You!
Name: Dnd
SE Michigan (Zone 6a)
Dog Lover Daylilies Organic Gardener Houseplants Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Garden Ideas: Level 1
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DogsNDaylilies
Jan 27, 2016 6:08 AM CST
Rod, I'm glad you asked this, I've been concerned about leaf drop on my shefflera, too. I have two, and my dwarf Sheffer is doing great, but my 'tree' version is dropping leaves a lot (what I consist to be a lot). The difference, I think, is that some of the leaves on mine are becoming oddly malformed on the mature leaves. Maybe ours are experiencing different issues?
Name: Rod
Harrogate, North Yorkshire, En
Rod
Jan 27, 2016 8:18 AM CST
Hi DogsNDaylilies, the leaves that drop off look quite normal, but the remaining leaves on the plant look a bit droopy and lacking vitality. Maybe it's the time of year?

Hope your plant is ok. I'll get that bigger pot soon and some peat, and see how things go.

Cheers, Rod

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