13 Dwarf Umbrella Tree Care Mistakes to Avoid (Outdoor vs Indoor vs Australian)

Photo of the leaves and red flowers of Umbrella tree in an oval frame on green background.

The dwarf Umbrella tree is extremely popular as an indoor plant, but did you know that in certain countries, it’s a highly invasive species?

The umbrella tree is an invasive ecological weed commonly found in south-eastern Queensland, New South Wales, and on Christmas Island.17

Umbrella trees are native to both the tropical regions of the US as well as northern Australia and are known to cause harm to local ecosystems, so depending on where you live, you might want to consider these trees in one of your future planting projects.

They are however extremely popular as indoor plants, especially the dwarf umbrella tree variety.

There are 13 common dwarf umbrella tree care mistakes to avoid when trying to grow the plant, which includes mistakes made with the outdoor, indoor, and Australian varieties.1

Umbrella Tree

(Schefflera actinophylla)

Leaves of Umbrella tree image in an oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Schefflera
  • Genus: Schefflera
  • Leaf: Shiny, elongated oval shape, and a vibrant green hue. They hang delicately from a single stem.
  • Bark: Smooth, grey
  • Blossoms: Pink or white blooms in early spring
  • Native Habitat: Tropical Australia, New Guinea and Java
  • Height: 26 to 30 feet tall (8-9 m) outdoors, though it will generally top out at 8 to 10 feet (2-3 m) tall indoors
  • Canopy: Conical

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Dwarf Umbrella Tree Care Mistakes To Avoid

There are 13 main dwarf umbrella tree care mistakes to avoid when planting, growing, and caring for umbrella trees, both inside and outside the home.20

These mistakes are generally made with both indoor and outdoor umbrella trees, as well as the different varieties, including the Australian umbrella tree.

1. Incorrect Soil Mix

Indoor dwarf umbrella trees thrive in sandy potting soil – it won’t grow properly inside a container if the garden soil is used. Outdoor umbrella trees require well-drained soil supplemented with compost during the spring season.

2. Compact Soil

Both indoor and outdoor umbrella trees, including all varieties, need loose well-draining soil.

Overly compact soil will lead to constantly wet roots, which will lead to leaf drop and root rot.

3. Planting Incorrectly

Indoor dwarf umbrella trees must be planted inside a new, clean pot that is only just big enough for the tree to take root in. The pot must contain sufficient drainage holes. When repotting, the new soil should remain loose and well-draining.

Planting an umbrella tree in a pot that is too small, will prevent the tree from growing strong roots.

4. Inadequate Light

Umbrella trees grow best when they receive at least 4 hours of indirect light each day. When dwarf umbrella trees are planted outdoors, they should be partially shaded during hot months to prevent leaf burn.

5. Incorrect Temperature

Dwarf umbrella trees that grow indoors are kept inside all year round. If the temperature inside is too humid, the trees will start shedding their leaves.

The best indoor temperature for umbrella trees is 65 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Outdoor dwarf umbrella trees grow better when they’re partially shaded, and the temperature doesn’t exceed 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

In very cold climates, a dwarf umbrella tree should be heated from the bottom. Indoor plants will benefit from growing close to other plants, to increase humidity levels. Otherwise, a humidifier will greatly assist in keeping the humidity levels in the right range.

6. Drafts

Drafts and heating vents are detrimental to the growth of indoor dwarf umbrella trees. Indoor umbrella tree care includes keeping it away from areas inside where the temperature suddenly drops.

A fast drop in temperature will cause the tree to drop its leaves.

7. Overwatering

When an umbrella tree starts dropping its leaves, or if the leaves turn black, it is likely an indicator that the tree is not being watered properly.21

Dwarf umbrella trees should only be watered if the topsoil is completely dry.

Closeup shot of watering plants using watering can to avoid overwatering.

(Image: annawaldi31)

If the leaves have already darkened or dropped, it may be necessary to remove rotten roots and replant the tree in a new pot with new soil.

8. Over Fertilizing

Umbrella trees do not need a large amount of fertilizer. Overfertilizing these trees will cause leaf drop.

If a dwarf umbrella tree shows signs of overfertilization, the soil should be flushed and drained. If there is no improvement, the tree should be repotted in new soil.

9. Improper Pruning

Over-pruning can have devastating effects on dwarf umbrella trees. Pruning too much of the tree and making incorrect cuts will allow pests and diseases to infiltrate the tree’s system. Over-pruning also means less foliage to create food for the tree.

10. Incorrect Propagating

The main benefit of plant propagation for homeowners is the cost savings aspect. Proper propagation ensures a full garden of healthy plants and trees.

Improper propagating will prevent new plants from growing. Therefore, it is essential to take care when cutting and propagating new stems.

A four-to-six-inch section of the stem should be cut at the tip of a leaf node. The stem shouldn’t be too thin – the diameter should at least be the same as that of a pencil.

Trimming the bottom leaves from the cut section will encourage branching.

The cutting should be planted immediately to avoid drying out. It should be placed into a prepared hole in the soil service and watered slightly.

It should receive indirect natural light and high humidity as it starts to grow. New cuttings usually start to sprout roots within 4 weeks.8

11. Incorrect Repotting

If a dwarf umbrella tree is not repotted correctly, it will suffer transplant shock and likely die.

Pots, seedlings, and soil on table for repotting seedlings.

(Image: Riether, F.32)

When an umbrella tree is ready to be repotted, the soil in the existing pot should be moistened before the plant base is removed from it.

Overgrown roots should be untangled before the umbrella tree is replanted in a pot at least 1 inch bigger than the existing pot. Umbrella trees are usually re-potted every two to three years.

12. Incorrect Tools

Using the incorrect tools to prune your umbrella tree, will lead to incorrect cuts which could lead to disease.

Bypass pruning shears are one of the best tools to prune an umbrella tree as they don’t crush the stems the way other types of shears tend to do.

It is essential to clean and sterilize the shears between and after cuts, to prevent disease and pests from reaching and spreading inside the umbrella tree.

13. Nutrient Deficiency

Many plants can suffer from nutrient deficiencies, and umbrella trees are no exception.22 When a dwarf umbrella tree stops growing and its leaves turn pale, it lacks the right amount of nutrients to keep producing chlorophyll.

The best way to return the umbrella tree to a nutrient-rich state is to apply a balanced fertilizer once every 3 weeks when watering the plant. If the tree had recently been replanted, fertilization should only be done after eight weeks to allow acclimatization.9

Types of Umbrella Trees

The scientific name for an umbrella tree is Schefflera arboricola, and these trees form part of the Araliaceae family.

A variation of the umbrella tree, known as the dwarf umbrella tree (or dwarf umbrella plant), shares several characteristics of the full-size umbrella tree including glossy deep green leaves, and roots that are very invasive and can block plumbing pipes and damage structural foundations.

An image showing the seeds, flowers, and leaves of an umbrella tree accompanied by an illustration of the full grown tree.

The name, umbrella tree, whose canopy resembles that of an open umbrella, refers to five distinct types of trees:

  • Schefflera actinophylla (Australian umbrella tree)
  • Magnolia tripetala (Umbrella magnolia)
  • Terminalia catappa (Singapore almond)
  • Musanga cecropioides (African corkwood)
  • Polyscias murrayi (Pencil cedar)

‘Koya-maki,’ or Sciadopitys verticillate is the Japanese umbrella tree. It is one of Japan’s five sacred trees and they grow very slowly – taking almost 100 years to reach a mature size.

Related Reading: How Many Trees Are in the World?

Alpine Umbrella Tree

The Alpine umbrella tree is a relatively new variation of the existing umbrella tree. It is also known as the Alpine Junior (Schefflera ‘Alpine Junior’), and unlike traditional umbrella trees which grow upright and expand in a circular fashion, the Alpine umbrella tree grows only upward.

The Alpine umbrella plant grows in low-light conditions and is popular for purifying the air in small indoor spaces.2

Dwarf Umbrella Tree

A dwarf umbrella tree, also called the Hawaiian umbrella tree, is an evergreen tree often depicted in tropical paintings. The species originates from Taiwan and is shade intolerant. While it is popular as an indoor potted plant option, this dwarf umbrella tree can be invasive when rooted in forests and bushland.3

Several other tree species also come in ‘dwarf varieties,’ including dogwood tree, willow tree, mulberry tree, and magnolia tree.

Dwarf Umbrella Tree Scientific Name

The dwarf umbrella tree is scientifically known as the Heptapleurum arboricola.18 When planted in tropical climates, this tree can grow to heights of up to 25 feet but will not exceed 6 feet when planted in a container and kept indoors.

Dwarf Umbrella Tree Poisonous

The dwarf umbrella tree produces oxalates inside its leaves and stems which are poisonous by nature and can result in irritation should it encounter skin.

Photo of an old woman showing her hand while applying ointment.

(Image: PeachMoon33)

The irritation could grow into a rash that would persist for several days.

Furthermore, eating the leaves and stems of the plant can result in detrimental health issues – much in the same fashion as ground glass would do. If too much of the plant is ingested, vomiting might occur as well as burning and numbness of the mouth.

It is advised to contact a local poison control center if copious amounts of the plant have been consumed by either a person or an animal.4

Dwarf Umbrella Tree: Cats (Toxic)

Umbrella trees are toxic to both cats and dogs, as the oxalates will likely poison them if they consume the leaves.

Cats in particular are susceptible to poisoning by all types of umbrella trees, including the indoor dwarf umbrella tree. It is advised to avoid growing umbrella trees in an area frequented by pets.5

Dwarf Umbrella Tree: Water

When dwarf umbrella trees are grown indoors, they usually don’t produce the bright red flowers that bloom on outdoor umbrella trees.

When watering the tree, it is important not to overwater as this will lead to root rot and ultimately the death of the tree. The dwarf umbrella tree should be watered once or twice every two weeks and rotated once a month as it continues to grow toward natural light.

Dwarf Umbrella Tree: Pruning

Dwarf umbrella trees grow rapidly and require regular pruning, especially when they’re recovering from a disease.19 It is best to prune dwarf umbrellas during late winter or early spring when new growth emerges.

Before pruning a dwarf umbrella tree, an inspection should be done to determine whether the tree is diseased or infected with pests. Damaged leaves and stems should be removed, and a soil change should be done if the soil is dry and damaged.

When pruning the tree, cuts should be made above the growth nodes where new leaves are emerging. This will assist in shortening the tree and encourage the spread of new leaves. Pruning branches that grow horizontally, will inhibit the width of the tree.6

Dwarf Umbrella Tree: Benefits

There are several benefits gleaned from indoor dwarf umbrella trees and other varieties of umbrella trees. They have an aesthetic value both indoors and outdoors. Indoors, Schefflera trees continuously purify the air, by filtering and removing toxins released by cigarette smoke.

Traditionally, the umbrella tree is believed to improve health when a ‘herbal tea’ made from the stem, roots, and leaves is regularly ingested. It is thought that the umbrella tree ‘healing drink’ improves circulation and relieves pain.7

Why Is My Schefflera Growing Sideways?

If a Schefflera starts growing sideways, it is usually due to insufficient light. Umbrella tree stems grow towards the light, therefore if the light source is at an angle, the tree will start growing that way.

Umbrella Tree growth chart showing full grown Umbrella Tree on a line graph with Umbrella Tree age on the x-axis and Umbrella Tree height on the y-axis.

Bringing the plant into bright, indirect natural light will encourage it to start growing vertically again.

How To Prune a Schefflera Plant: Video

This video includes step-by-step instructions on how to prune and care for a Schefflera plant:23

Australian Umbrella Tree

The Australian Umbrella tree, also known as the Queensland umbrella tree or Schefflera actinophylla is a multi-stemmed tree that grows to a height of 10m. The leaves are large and glossy and combined take on the shape of an umbrella.

Australian umbrella trees can also grow indoors in a corner where bright natural light reaches them for a couple of hours every day.

Umbrella Tree Flowers

The Australian umbrella tree produces bright red tentacle-like flowers that grow above the foliage on long stems.

An umbrella tree in bloom, showcasing its characteristic long, red flower spikes, set against a clear blue sky.

(Image: Dick Culbert34)

The look of these flowers has led to another name for the Australian umbrella tree, namely the ‘octopus tree.’

The dwarf umbrella tree rarely flowers, but when it does, yellow-green flowers bloom on mature trees.10

Umbrella Tree Fruit

The Australian umbrella tree produces a dark red fruit that reaches a maximum length of 5cm. These fruits contain a single brown seed.

Umbrella Tree Seed Pods

Umbrella trees can be grown from cuttings or seeds. Seeds should be freshly planted and soaking them in hot water for 12 hours before planting will boost the success rate of germination to 97%.

Seeds should be planted in moist soil and kept out of direct sunlight. In the wild, seeds are spread by birds and usually take root in native bushland.

Umbrella Tree Berries: Is the Umbrella Tree Fruit Edible?

Umbrella tree berries grow from the aforementioned flowers and their colors range from yellow to red. When the berries are mature, they turn black.

While birds and small mammals usually consume umbrella tree fruit, it is inedible for humans.24

Health Benefits of Umbrella Tree Fruit

There are many benefits of planting trees, especially planting umbrella trees. Even though the umbrella tree is known to be mildly toxic to humans, its leaves and stems have been used for years to break fevers, detoxify the human body, provide relief for insomnia and cure nosebleeds.

Herbal preparations in Chinese medicine, made with umbrella tea leaves, stems, and roots, are believed to treat the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, numbness in the extremities, stomach pain, headaches, asthma, and swelling or pain in the throat.

Umbrella Tree Pruning

As mentioned earlier, it is necessary to regularly prune umbrella trees to keep them healthy.

Although indoor plants don’t need constant pruning, dying leaves and rot should be taken care of soon than later to prevent the disease from spreading.

Closeup shot of small green pruning tool on dried tree trunk.

(Image: Silvestrini, C35)

Stalks of indoor trees should be cut to a length of 7 – 10cm high which will encourage new growth.

Outdoor umbrella trees should be pruned during winter when the trees are dormant – all problem branches should be cut off, especially if they are infested with pests or diseases.

How To Prune an Umbrella Plant

In addition to proper watering and fertilizing, regular pruning will allow an umbrella tree to grow and stay healthy. There are several simple steps to follow when pruning an umbrella tree:

  • Determine whether the Schefflera has one stem or several. Multiple-stemmed trees have more options when it comes to shape and size, whereas single-stemmed plants usually grow straight up and stay thin.
  • It is essential to trim according to the natural growth pattern of the tree, rather than force it into an unnatural shape.
  • Consider the growth and look of the tree in the future. Promote growth in the direction the tree needs to fill out.
  • Remove brown spotted leaves during pruning.
  • Only clean, sharp shears should be used, to avoid unnecessary cuts or damage to the stem.
  • Reducing the height of a Schefflera plant is done by cutting an upright stem above a growth node. This will prevent rapid growth upwards.
  • Reducing the width of a Schefflera is done by cutting horizontal branches off above a leaf node.
  • If the umbrella tree is overgrown, all stems should be cut down to 6 inches from the base to reintroduce healthy growth.11

Notching Umbrella Plant

To keep an umbrella tree’s height while encouraging new growth, a technique called notching is implemented. Notching refers to adding a small cut in the trunk of a mature tree, which allows it to expand without interfering with the height.

Notching should be done for the first time when the tree is around 5 feet tall. Umbrella trees must have their base and root system firmly established in the soil before new growth is encouraged.12

Umbrella Tree Care Tips

Umbrella trees need specific care for them to thrive both indoors and outdoors. Steps for growing healthy umbrella trees include:

  • Placing or planting umbrella trees in the indirect natural night.
  • Use only loose, well-drained potting or planting soil.
  • Watering only when the soil is dry and cutting back on watering during winter.
  • Ensuring that the temperature doesn’t drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Using fertilizer sparingly.
  • Pruning stems regularly.
  • Propagating during the spring months.
  • Preventing and treating disease and pest infestations timeously.

Since you are one of those people who are into planting trees, you may be interested in seeing how your activities have impacted the environment. Use the footprint calculator to determine your actions’ potential negative effects as well as any contributing factors.

Following the result, many people turn to carbon offset organizations for assistance in reducing their carbon footprints. If you want to increase the scope of your environmental conservation objectives, opting for one of these offset providers can be a great choice for you.

How To Make Umbrella Plant Bushy

Umbrella tree growth can be enhanced by strategically pruning the tops of the highest stalks about 2.5cm. This strategy will ensure growth outward instead of only upward.13

Umbrella Tree Problems

Umbrella trees can suffer from several problems such as rot, pest infestation, disease, and nutrient deficiency.25

Problems with umbrella trees may be a justification for cutting them down. If you are concerned about how many trees cut down each year, then planting one of these types of umbrella trees might help you to addressing this concern. And since you are already aware of the tree’s possible issues, you can find a way to take care of them better.

While learning about the fun tree facts is interesting, expanding one’s knowledge by getting involved in carbon offsetting tree planting would be exciting. You were able to use what you had learned in this manner, as well as take a step toward realizing your objective, which is to protect the environment.

Umbrella Plant Only One Stem?

Some umbrella plants only have one stem, which causes them to grow thin and tall. There are fewer options when it comes to pruning when an umbrella tree only has one stem but cutting it at the correct height will allow for offsets to grow and branch out.

Umbrella Plant Dropping Leaves?

When an umbrella plant, including dwarf umbrella trees, is under stress, overwatered or not acclimating to a new pot, it will start dropping leaves.

Leaving an umbrella tree out of reach of direct sunlight, treating it for pests and fungus, and fertilizing when required, will bring the tree back to health.

Umbrella Tree Roots

Umbrella tree roots are highly invasive and can block plumbing pipes and joints and put pressure on building foundations.26

Therefore, umbrella trees should not be planted near foundations, but they are a viable choice for landscaping in parks and natural areas.14

Umbrella Plant Fungal Leaf Spots

Alternaria panax causes leaf spots on umbrella trees. Severely affected trees will drop leaves at a high rate. Treatment for leaf spots consists of keeping the foliage dry and removing infected leaves to curb the spreading of spores.

Close-up photo of an umbrella leaf that shows black spots which is the fungi.

(Image: Fong, E.36)

Xanthomonas campestris pv. Hederae is another pathogen that infects umbrella trees. Yellow lesions appear between the leaf veins and the lower leaf surface may become dark over time. Fertilizer and the removal of affected leaves will minimize the effect of bacterial leaf spot.

Umbrella Tree Fungus

Umbrella trees are also prone to powdery mildew, which is a fungal infection that causes powdery spots to develop on the leaves.27 Powdery mildew causes inhibited growth and malformation of leaves. The leaves eventually turn yellow and drop.

Inadequate air circulation, low light, and incorrect humidity levels are the main causes of powdery mildew.

Moving the tree away from other plants and into natural light will help prevent the spread of the fungus. Spraying a mixture of baking soda and water onto the leaves will help prevent future infections.

Umbrella Tree: Indoor Care Tips

Umbrella trees, including the dwarf umbrella tree, are popular indoor houseplants. They thrive all year round with proper care.

These trees grow best in a location where bright direct sunlight is limited to two hours per day.

Topsoil should be completely dry before the next watering and the trees should be fertilized lightly with every fourth watering.

Umbrella trees are usually re-potted every three years.

Umbrella Tree Indoor Light

Umbrella trees thrive in indirect light but can tolerate direct light indoors for a few hours a day.

Shot of a room with indoor plant in a corner beside a window to get enough sunlight.

(Image: StockSnap30)

Constant direct indoor light will cause the tree to grow slower and become leggy.

Umbrella Tree Indoor Benefits

Umbrella trees are excellent for purifying indoor air and filtering out pollutants left behind from cigarette smoke.

Umbrella Tree: Outdoor Care Tips

Umbrella trees are mostly grown indoors as houseplants, but some prefer to plant umbrella trees in gardens and other landscapes. The most common Schefflera are the umbrella tree and the dwarf umbrella tree.

Outdoor umbrella trees should be planted in a space with partial shade, and with ample space as they grow larger outside. A regular watering schedule should be adhered to, taking care not to overwater.

The soil should be complemented with organic matter, and the trees should be moved if pest infestations start taking hold.

Umbrella trees should be planted far away from driveways and foundations, to prevent the roots from damaging them.

Umbrella Tree Outdoor Light

Partially shaded, and receiving indirect light is the best position for an umbrella tree to be in when planted outdoors.

Umbrella Tree Outdoor Benefits

While umbrella trees continue to purify the air outside, they are mainly planted outdoors for aesthetic value.15

Umbrella Plant Propagation

The easiest way to propagate an umbrella plant is to grow stem cuttings in either prepared soil or water.28

The best time to cut stems is during spring or early summer, which gives the cuttings time to establish roots during the warmer season.

The tree from which the cuttings are taken should be healthy and disease free.

The following steps will ensure successful propagation:

  • Potting soil mixed with vermiculite should be dampened before planting.
  • A sharp instrument or shear should be used to cut the stem.
  • If the stem cutting isn’t immediately planted, the cutting should be kept in clean water until the roots start growing.
  • A planted cutting should receive indirect light as it grows.

Umbrella Tree Vase Life

Cuttings from an umbrella tree can be kept in a vase for at least 7 days before it is planted into soil.

Umbrella Tree Spiritual Meaning

Umbrella trees, and dwarf umbrella trees, are some of the most commonly used plants in the practice of Feng Shui.29 In China, it is believed that the leaves of the umbrella tree capture positive energy and attract wealth.

Some also believe that the leaves of the umbrella tree provide protection.

The arrangement of the umbrella tree’s leaves, mimicking the shape of an open hand, has led to some Eastern religious groups adopting the umbrella tree as a symbol of ordered and methodical energy.16

In Japan, it is believed that the umbrella tree (known as the umbrella pine tree) was the center of worship a thousand years ago. Today, the umbrella pine tree remains a sacred tree and is the only member of its family, Sciadopityaceae.

Whatever the special meaning or symbolism behind different types of a dwarf umbrella tree; taking care of them properly will ensure a healthy umbrella tree for many years.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Dwarf Umbrella Tree

Why do Umbrella Plant Leaves Turning Brown and Falling Off?

The main reason for umbrella tree leaves turning brown and dropping is too-cold temperatures or a too dry environment. Indoor umbrella trees should be kept out of drafts and away from heating and cooling vents.

Is Umbrella Tree Poisonous to Humans?

Umbrella tree sap contains calcium oxalate crystals that can cause a mild rash. Wearing gloves is advised when pruning.

Is Dwarf Umbrella Tree Poisonous to Dogs?

Yes, umbrella trees are toxic to dogs and other small animals.

Is Dwarf Umbrella Tree Poisonous to Cats?

Yes, umbrella trees are toxic to cats.

Is Dwarf Umbrella Tree for Sale?

Dwarf umbrella trees are regularly available for sale at local nurseries.

Where To Find Umbrella Tree for Sale Near Me?

Umbrella trees are regularly available for sale at local nurseries, garden shops and tree centers.


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30Photo by StockSnap. Resized and changed format. Pixabay. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from <https://pixabay.com/photos/table-chair-window-glass-sunlight-2591362/>

31Photo by annawaldi. Resized and changed format. Pixabay. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from <https://pixabay.com/photos/gooseberry-tree-watering-2345496/>

32Photo by Riether, F. Resized and changed format. Pixabay. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from <https://pixabay.com/photos/floor-sprout-botany-plant-earth-7049278/>

33Photo by PeachMoon. Resized and changed format. Pixabay. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from <https://pixabay.com/photos/hand-cream-elderly-skin-care-5359397/>

34Photo by Dick Culbert. CC BY 2.0 Deed. Resized and Changed Format. Flickr. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from <https://www.flickr.com/photos/92252798@N07/13908120273>

35Photo by Silvestrini, C. Resized and changed format. Pixabay. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from <https://pixabay.com/photos/shears-scissors-garden-gardening-1336374/>

36Photo by Fong, E.  Resized and changed format. Pixabay. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from <https://pixabay.com/photos/leaf-withered-leaf-plant-still-7531611/>

37Species Information Image: Plant wallpaper, greenhouse, schefflera, and leaf Photo by Katrien Van crombrugghe. (2021, June 7) / Unsplash License. Cropped and added text, shape, and background elements. Unsplash. Retrieved January 23, 2024, from <https://unsplash.com/photos/a-close-up-of-a-plant-with-green-leaves-O-vEVxyB__w>