Ask a Question forum: Schefflera arboricola losing leaves and not drinking water

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Name: Amanda
Los Angeles, CA (Zone 10b)
Region: California
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ggiantppanda
Jul 5, 2017 2:20 PM CST
I have had a dwarf umbrella plant in my shop for approximately 8 months. Up until recently (the last three weeks or so) it was growing beautifully, producing new umbrellas regularly and looking very healthy.

The shop has floor-to ceiling north facing windows which provide bright, but indirect light and several smaller south-facing windows. The plant is about 36" tall with 8 distinct "arms" and we have it in an 8-gallon pot. The pot itself doesn't have any drainage holes, but I've never had an issue with water-logging. I was watering it once a week, about 1/2 to 1 gallon of water, which the plant was responding to, and allowed the soil to dry between waterings.

Now the leaves on two arms have turned droopy, gone a dark brown color, and are falling off. The arm is almost entirely bare, except for a few umbrellas at the top. Interesting, this arm has still produce new growth since the problem started. The soil has felt wet to the touch for the last three weeks, so I haven't watered it, but still doesn't appear to by drying out.

I had a schefflera at home and had this same problem, but it began immediately after purchasing and potting, and killed the plant swiftly. Any guidance you can offer would be much appreciated. Thanks!
Name: Cheryl
Texas (Zone 9a)
Region: Texas Greenhouse Plant Identifier Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Plumerias Ponds
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ShadyGreenThumb
Jul 5, 2017 2:30 PM CST
The first thing that alerted me was the lack of drainage holes. A plant need good drainage. What you feel on the top of the soil may not be what's happening below it. Assuming you have checked for pests, Have you unpotted your plant to see what is happening at the bottom? I would transplant immediately into a pot with good drainage. Schefflera are good drought-tolerant plants. They don't need much water. It could be a simple thing as over watering in a non-draining pot. Mine are large, 4 ft and 7 ft tall and live outside. They get water every 10 days or so.

You can root the bare branches quite easily btw. Keep us posted.
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[Last edited by ShadyGreenThumb - Jul 5, 2017 2:31 PM (+)]
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Name: Lin
Southeast Florida (Zone 10a)

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plantladylin
Jul 5, 2017 2:45 PM CST
1/2 to 1 gallon of water each week ... in a container with no drainage?? That is a tremendous amount of water with nowhere to go and will definitely cause rot. The lighting situation sounds good for your Dwarf Umbrella Tree (Schefflera arboricola) but that is way too much water for any plant without proper drainage. I'd definitely unpot the tree to see what is happening below the surface. If there are still viable branches that are not soft from rot, you can take cuttings to root for new plants but I'd recommend using a container with drainage holes so that excess water is not standing around the plant roots.
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Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
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tarev
Jul 5, 2017 4:15 PM CST
Hello Amanda, over and underwatering oftentimes manifests the same on most plants. Based on your description I think your Schefflera has already taken its toll from too much salt not being flushed out. It will affect the roots and with no good drainage, it may have also gradually rotted out the roots.

So to save your plant, I would suggest you repot immediately in a container with drainage holes and use potting soil with added perlite for additional aeration at root zone. Those roots needs to breathe and water needs to drain very well. The plant is quite drought tolerant, but during summer time it needs stepped up watering since our very dry Cali weather has such poor humidity levels. Warm season is active growing time for this plant so all the more it needs frequent watering.

I grow my Scheffleras outdoors also in a container but with drainage holes. It gets part sun and shaded by city trees during the hottest time of the day.

Good luck, hope your plant recovers.They respond well once cultural growing conditions are corrected.
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Jul 5, 2017 5:10 PM CST
When a plant is over-watered, it does well right up to the moment the roots drown.

There is a close relationship between roots and plant top; one can't live without the other. Roots need oxygen. A pot without drain holes will not dry properly and the roots will smother. Then the leaves fall off and the plant dies.

I'm sure the roots on your plant are toast. Your best chance is to take cuttings to re-root and hope they have enough stored energy to grow new roots.

Keep us posted.
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Name: Amanda
Los Angeles, CA (Zone 10b)
Region: California
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ggiantppanda
Jul 5, 2017 5:29 PM CST
Thanks for the input, everyone. I've unpotted the plant and am examining the roots. They don't appear to be rotten (no floppy, disintegrating sections) but the soil is definitely so so waterlogged once you get past the top few inches of soil. Headed out for perlite now. If I do want to attempt rooting the naked branches, what is the best way to go about that?

Thanks all!
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Jul 5, 2017 5:50 PM CST
Please post a photo of the roots. Thank You!
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

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Name: Carol
Santa Ana, ca
Sunset zone 22, USDA zone 10 A.
Charter ATP Member Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Orchids Region: California Plant Identifier
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ctcarol
Jul 5, 2017 6:04 PM CST
Ninety percent of the problems with potted plants are attributed to no drainage holes. There should be a regulation somewhere that the grower/vender has to specify that if you repot it has to be in a pot with drainage holes. Lord knows the government has plenty of other regulations for businesses. Even when you start researching a plant, that is rarely mentioned.
Name: Carol
Santa Ana, ca
Sunset zone 22, USDA zone 10 A.
Charter ATP Member Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Orchids Region: California Plant Identifier
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ctcarol
Jul 5, 2017 6:30 PM CST
Ok, That was a rant for the day. I guess it just boils down to the buyer needs to do some research before buying. I buy Phaleonopsis orchids , knowing I can't keep them alive for more that a couple of years. It's a choice I make. It's also not something I eat or drink, so the government doesn't care.
Name: Amanda
Los Angeles, CA (Zone 10b)
Region: California
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ggiantppanda
Jul 5, 2017 7:25 PM CST
You can see photos of the plant and roots below attached, Daisy.

Carol, I agree about the drainage holes. Nurseries, I find, often assure you it will be fine with just a bit of charcoal at the bottom of the pot. Everyone's part of the problem. We have the additional challenge of being a design shop, so it's always a battle finding a pot that is right for each plant, that also doesn't get water all over the floor (out through drainage holes, or seeping through a tray onto the floor), AND looks appropriately modern as well.

I brushed the waterlogged soil off the roots and repotted the schefflera in a better draining situation, and added some perlite and charcoal to the soil. Fingers crossed it perks up, it's one of my favorite plants!



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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
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DaisyI
Jul 5, 2017 8:19 PM CST
I hate to be the party pooper but the roots on your Schefflera are dead. Sighing!

You are going to have to re-root your plant.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

Webmaster: osnnv.org

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Tisha
Jul 6, 2017 8:35 AM CST
My scheffy is appox. 10 yrs old.
All my house plants are in a growing pot placed into a decorator/fancy pot that has a few inches of aquarium gravel keeping the growing pot (roots) out of overflow water.
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Name: Sally
central Maryland
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sallyg
Jul 7, 2017 8:04 AM CST
100% ditto to Daisy , and to Tisha.
For design, Amanda, I strongly recommend you develop a knack for finding pretty pots without holes, that are a good fit for standard nursery pot sizes. (can be a real challenge) Small to medium plants can be lifted out to water, then replaced. Like Tisha, you can water in place till you see it seep through. This is how I deal with most plants in the library, where leaking is 100% verboten. Also, I always use rainwater, so there is no mineral buildup. But I know it is a ticking clock as far as the health of the plant.
Beauty of it is, easy to switch out plants.

A half gallon is a LOT of water weekly.
A very common statement on plant help forums is "My plant has been fine in this pot for XXX years, why is it suddenly dying?"
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Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
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WillC
Jul 8, 2017 9:41 AM CST
The combination of an oversized pot, no drain holes and applying too much water have definitely caused the roots to rot, as Daisy has clearly indicated. Root rot is insidious because it starts to occur long before the upper portion of the plant starts to exhibit symptoms.

As for propagating your Arboricola, cuttings 3-4 inches long will root more readily than longer stemmed cuttings. I have had some success rooting them in plain water. You can also root them together in a small pot filled with a damp, porous potting mix with the whole apparatus placed inside a clear plastic baggy to create a mini-greenhouse.

Good luck!
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
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