The leave are falling on my Schefflera

viktoriusFebruary 23, 2009

I received a beautiful Schefflera plant when my father-in-law passed away two months ago. Lately, the leaves have fallen quicker than I can sweep them up. I have moved it to better light (I hope). Will the plant ever be full as beautiful again? What do I need to do be sides trying to provide more light?

Thanks - Vickie

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Victorius, you give such little information about how you care for the plant it is hard to nail down what might be the problem.

I'll just list a few things that can cause leaf-drop:
Underwatring....letting the plant get too dry
Overwatering..the most common cause of houseplant problems
too much sun or
too much heat from a vent, or placing the plant in direct path of air from a doorway, contantly opened and closed, or from the heat vent which changes abruptly the temperature around the plant and causes the soil to dry out faster than it need to.
Overfertilizing....houseplants should only be fed when they are growing.
Not sufficient light---you have changed it --hopefully for the better, that may change how the plant is coming along
Too high a nighttime temperature....most plants prefer cooler temps at night...60º - 65º.

The schefflera can tolerate varying conditions...i.e. sun or shade, a bit on the dry side, or the damp side
It can be given ample water....but it must drain.
So make sure the container you have it in drains well, and the water that sits in the saucer below not be allowed to sit more than 10 minutes or so, so the plant cannot draw it back up around the roots.

Did you perhaps re-pot when you got the plant...houseplants prefer good topsoil, or soiless mix that drains well.
The pot it came to you in was treating the plant OK so there is no need to re-pot...or go to one of bigger size.

I suggest you learn about the different they are and how they might affect the plant.
The hotter exposures are from the south and west, the cooler bright sun is in the east...the morning sun.
Most plants, unless they are shade lovers, do not do well if given light from a northern exposure.

Then there is the space between the sun--at the window, and the light requirements of the individual plant.
Some are right in the window, others are drawn back.
The schefflera should be given the drawn back type of careful how the window glass can increase the temperature.

Chances are if the plant has lost major amounts of leaves --especially those at the bottom, they will not grow back.
So the need to correct the problem as soon as possible is paramount.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 6:11PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Vickie. The most common cause of leaf loss as severe as you describe is over-watering. I won't load you down with a lot of unnecessary instructions I'll just suggest that you allow your plant to get to the point where it feels completely dry at the drain hole before you give it a good soaking.

I think it's in your best interest to disregard the suggestion that houseplants prefer good topsoil. In most cases and for most people, the choice to use it will prove to have been a very bad choice.

One last thing - you might pull the plant from the pot far enough to look at and smell the roots. If they are tan-white and earthy smelling (like fresh mushrooms), all is prolly ok. If they are dark brown - black with a sour smell, you'll need to do some root work. If you come back, someone will direct you about how to proceed.

Good luck. I'm sorry for your and your husband's loss.


PS - There are strategies that can easily return your plant to its original fullness, but first you'll need to get it back on the right track.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 9:16PM
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Thank you. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to help a stranger with her novice questions.

When I received my Schefflera, it was full and luscious. It is about 3ft tall and dense. There are several shoots coming up from the pot, almost to where checking the soil is a challenge. Since receiving it, it has been in my bedroom where the drapes usually remain closed. There is some direct light from other doors and windows and I thought this would be ok, but now I am having to rethink this. It has since moved to the dining room.

My watering routine has been to water only when the soil seemed dry and to soak the soil, but not saturate it. This comes to about once every 10 days or so.

With the stems and roots being so congested, I wondered about re potting. When that time comes, I hope and pray I can recognize it. With this plant, would re potting mostly aid in the growth of the plant, or it's overall well being?

I apologize for the additional questions, but I am determined to be successful with my new house plants. The passing of my father-in-law was sudden and tragic. I would really like to keep the reminders of him alive.

Thanks again for your help, and for your condolences.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 11:46AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Scheffs are very hardy & will withstand lots of abuse when asked to. With the additional info you provided, I think most will agree it's likely a light issue causing the shedding - it needs more light. Your watering strategy sounds fine, but it would be helpful to soak the soil thoroughly at least once/month, and after soaking it, pour about the same volume of water through the soil as the container it's planted in - about 3-4 times. Following this flushing, fertilize with 1/4 strength soluble fertilizer (Mg 24-8-16 or 12-4-8 are very good choices) until the pl;ant begins to grow in earnest & then up the dose to 1/2 strength.

This plant won't go into severe decline quickly because roots are tight, so I would suggest that you wait until after the plant is showing better vitality (June maybe) to repot.

"With this plant, would repotting mostly aid in the growth of the plant, or it's overall well being?

We need to recognize the difference between repotting and potting up. Repotting involves removal of some or all of the soil from roots and selectively removing unwanted rootage. This has a rejuvenating effect on the plant, as well as restoring normal growth patterns. Plants that are continually potted up instead of being repotted will exhibit less vitality than there counterparts if all other conditions are equal. The effects of tight roots and restricted root growth due to potting-up include loss of interior foliage, reduced branch extension, smaller leaves, and a general reduction in o/a vitality.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 2:35PM
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Thanks again...I have some fertilizer that is 19-6-12. I will put it back under the kitchen sink and look for the others you described. Then I will flush it out.

In the mean time, I plan to take pictures of it's progress (I wish I had pictures from when I received it.)Sometimes the little victories mean a lot when you can reflect back on them!


    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 3:15PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Your 19-6-12 sounds like it's probably an Osmocote CRF (controlled release fert). The RATIO is almost the same as the fertilizers I suggested. If you divide 24-8-16 by 8, 12-4-8 by 4, and your 19-6-12 by 6, you come up with a 3:1:2 (or very close) RATIO for all/each of them. Ratio is more important than the NPK %s because you can make the fertilizer as strong or weak as you choose, but you can't change the ratio. Similarly, 20-20-20 and 14-14-14 are both 1:1:1 ratio fertilizers. Confused yet? ;o)

Even though your fertilizer ratio is ideal, I don't think I would use it yet. It's difficult to control actual dosage (temperature related), and CRFs work better when incorporated into the soil, rather than broadcast on top.

The plant below is more than 10 years old in the picture. It shows that you CAN keep a scheff nice & full by stimulating back-budding with judicious pruning. It looks much the same today @ close to 15 yrs old, except the unseen trunks are as thick as my wrists.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 5:47PM
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Sorry to kinda jump in here, but I had a Schefflera a long long time ago and all its leaves turned yellow than dropped and I was told that it was due to a lack of air humidity. Is air humidity really that crucial to a Schefflera or was it possibly a completely different problem.

I ask this because I have another Schefflera now and it's doing really well, but if the same thing should possibly happen, I'd like to know the possible cause of it.

Thanks alot, and you guys are so smart!

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 10:54PM
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Al - Your Schefflera is beautiful! Now I know what 'green with envy' really means!!

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 12:51AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Bunny - Scheffs have an extremely thick and waxy cuticle (leaf skin) which is a very good moisture barrier, so they tolerate low humidity very well. The one in the picture is growing my business showroom and we do not humidify the air at all. I'm guessing that in MI winters, the relative humidity indoors drops well below 25% for extended periods & the plants don't seem to mind. In most cases, salt build-up in the soil alone, or salt build-up combined with low humidity, are more apt to be to blame than low humidity alone.


    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 8:37AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I'm sorry, Vickie - I meant to say thank you before I left. ;o)


    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 4:51PM
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daw_etc(8 Cen CA)

The ratio info was very helpful. I don't know why I hadn't thought of it that way before, thanks Al!

    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 12:53AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It's a concept that many don't quite understand. Many think that 24-8-16 is vastly different from 12-4-8, when actually, the ratio of NPK is the same. You can get exactly the same solution concentratios of NPK by simply using 1/2 as much 24-8-16 as 12-4-8.


    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 9:07AM
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daw_etc(8 Cen CA)

I totally understand, it makes perfect sense. I had just never thought of it myself before. Very helpful.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 1:24PM
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Hello: I bought a Schefflera for the first time. It did get a lot of cold air on the trip home with it and was not covered very good. It was very dry, so I watered it, but not too much at all. Leaves started dropping so I moved it to more light and I let it dry out again, but it is still dropping leaves. I am afraid to give it water after it losing so many leaves after I first watered it. If I water it now after about 10 or more days and the soil is really dry, will leaves fall off even more? Or will the plant finally stabilize? I am scared to death to give it water! I need to know what to do!

Thank you.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2011 at 5:29PM
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Why are you afraid of watering? Is it still wet since you last watered.

You water when a plant is dry. Is the plant getting enough light?

Would be helpful to post a photo if possible.


    Bookmark   March 15, 2011 at 7:16PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Wendie. It's very common for many tropical trees like Schefflera and Ficus to shed foliage after a sudden chill. A steady supply of a hormone called auxin is required across an area at the base of the leaves called the abscission zone. Sudden chill shuts down photosynthesis and the flow of auxin across this zone and an abscission layer forms, which effectively shuts off water/nutrient flow to the leaf and photosynthate from the leaf. The formation of this zone is irreversible, so those leaves that are affected are permanently affected and will likely be shed - there is nothing to be done about it.

The same thing happens if there is a significant difference in light levels (primarily reduced light) between where the plant was, and where it is now. Auxin flow also plays the controlling part in light related abscission (shedding) of foliage.

All you can do now is be patient and monitor moisture needs carefully, keep the plant warm (60-80*) and in the best light you can provide. Schefflera tolerates dry soils much better than wet soils, so be sure your plant's soil is leaning well toward the dry side before you water each time. If the plant was healthy before it lost the leaves, it will soon start to push a new flush of growth. Often, if a significant amount of foliage was lost, and the plant is getting rangy, it's a good opportunity to reduce the top of the plant with no additional consequence in terms of stress on the plant. W/o knowing what the plant looks like, it's difficult to tell if cutting it back is appropriate.

Think 'damp', not wet, Plants don't drink water - they absorb it in vapor form, a molecule at a time from the surface of soil particles (colloidal surfaces). When you do water, it's best to water to the point where water runs freely out of the drain hole into a collection saucer positioned below the pot in such a way that any water that drains from the pot cannot make it's way back into the soil. Let me know if you're worried that if you water in this way the soil will remain saturated for too long a time, and I'll help you with some tips on how to avoid issues with a soil that's too water retentive.

Any other questions?


    Bookmark   March 15, 2011 at 9:33PM
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