Schefflera - To cut or not to cut (repost)

eayeary(5)April 3, 2012

I'm new to the forums although I've been lurking around for some time. It was suggested to repost this here instead of trees:

I'm newer to our company so keep that in mind when giving radical ideas. I really don't want to be seen as the crazy plant lady. ;-) Only teasing.

We have a very tall Schefflera Tree that can be described simply as this: 2 inch around 7-8 foot trunk with a bunch of very large, very top heavy leaves spewing out from everywhere on top. Within that 7-8 feet of trunk the plant has swayed back and forth due to the lack of care it has received, rarely being turned and the top heavy leaves. There are actually 3 trunks in this pot, 1 is about 2 feet tall and completely dead. The other two are identical in size, shape and quality.

This (should-be) beautiful tree has become the office joke and I feel desperate to fix him. I've been caring for him for the last 6 months, watering, feeding, etc. Since my continuous care and rotating, he has some new growth but the whole tree itself is in desperate help for TLC! I have permission to "fix" him and would love to repot him because I'm sure the small planter he is in also needs to go. Without knowing for sure, I believe he is in a typical black garden store cheap plastic container (the thin kind with tons of holes all throughout) then sitting on top of Styrofoam that is then sitting in this white container, with the edges jammed with mulch. It's a typical white cylinder shaped pot most likely 2.5-3 feet in diameter seen in office settings. I believe this tree is way too big for that pot and surely root bound. Additionally, since his purchase here (no one knows for sure but at least a few years) he has the same soil without it ever being rinsed or changed.

My first, biggest question is: Can I hack off the top till he stands about 4-5 feet tall (leaving absolutely no leaves what-so-ever) and he will grow back? If yes, how long until some growth is seen? Or if I cut the trunk, is that the end of him?

Next, if I hack the top off, can I prune off the leaves from what remains and stick that in a bucket of water and it will grow roots and plant another one for the office?

Next if I cannot do the above hacking, what can I do to fix this poor thing? His weak trunks are bent all sort of funky ways and he has hit the ceiling and beginning to bend down. There is a support stick in the soil but it�s not working.

My final question is how am I going to do this repotting if I can't cut off the top. I am sure this tree is going to flop on the floor as soon as I begin to pull it out.

Please explain step-by-step procedures like you would to a 5 year old. I am fairly new to gardening and really need extra explanations of what I can or can't do?

Thanks so much in advance!

Btw, I'll try to get pictures but it's in our conference room and they're in an all-day meeting today.

http://schefflera.shutterfly.com/

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Here's what to do if you prefer the plant shaman over the crazzy plant lady: Buy another plant.

Then, put the plant you bought in the place of the one we're going to work on. Take the sick one home as soon as it's warm enough that night temps are reliably above 55* and get the plant outdoors in open shade after you temporarily pot up. We'll worry about securing the plant against toppling when the time comes.

I'm not going to go into any more detail until I determine if we can at least get close on the root pruning/repotting/trunk chop that needs to be done to turn the plant around and get it to meet your expectations. ;-)

Al

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 11:10AM
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eayeary(5)

Hi Al,
I saw your amazing post of what you were able to do to a Schefflera you found in your driveway, then kindly gave away. Wonderful! Now the picture above, that is a dwarf scheff, right? So mine is going to look like a tree no matter what...right? That might sound silly as all get out to ask but I'm new to this species. I've always had the same indoor plants but have broken out of my box since working seasonally at a garden store. :)
I just found out that we used to have a person we paid to come in and care for the plants. I was also told we used to have tons and tons of plants around the office but slowly they died off one by one. Everyone keeps commenting that "someone" needs to do something with this tree. I'm hoping that becomes me! But I'd much rather bring it back in a healthy condition instead of dead!!!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 11:24AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

One thing that you have going for you as you begin your journey toward becoming the office plant guru is that the sheff is really tenacious and forgiving, so it should help bolster your confidence considerably.

Honest - plants are really easy to keep healthy. All you need is the right soil, fertilizer, and light, and it's pretty much a slam dunk. The greatest obstacle most growers insist on beating their head against is their soil - more on that when it's appropriate, but you might want to do some reading in the meanwhile. Want homework links?

Your plant is genetically programmed to have larger leaves & longer internodes than the one I pictured, which guarantees it will have a more airy look, but you can certainly improve the appearance of what you currently have to work with in a relatively short time (summer's end), and apply techniques that will maximize the number of leaves and branches. I work so much with trees I think I'm genetically REprogrammed to think in tree time, which is something that often presents some degree of difficulty for most casual growers. Just having someone remind you that bringing a tree back to good health won't happen over night is helpful when it comes to realistic expectations. You can create the CONDITIONS that will be the source of the tree's new found vitality overnight, but recovery takes awhile. It's a pretty rewarding thing to watch, though. ;-)

How large did you say the soil mass is? Can you flush the soil thoroughly on the premises?

Al

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 1:29PM
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eayeary(5)

There really isn't anywhere I can flush it but I have begun to develop a team of assistants that want to help me save this thing. If anything, at least I'm making friends. :)
What the issue would remain still, if I could flush it...is that I can't carry that thing without it flopping right to the floor. I admit, I'm a pretty strong lady yet gravity is unbeatable.
My idea was to replant it into a larger, sturdier pot with new soil and throw out the crap it's been sitting in for over 7 years. Yes, that is what I heard today....7 years. :( I'm honestly surprised the thing is still alive.
It's sitting in a cheap plastic pot with holes on the side. That is sitting on top of styrofoam. Then that all sits in that ugly white container with some mulch thrown on top to hide the styrofoam.
Can I start by trimming some leaves off and repotting it here? If yes, how?
I went to the mall on my lunch break and to my surprise, I found a beautiful schefflera identical to this one (but much healthier and thriving with several trees in one giant pot). They trimmed these trees to about 3 foot in length and then they did exactly as you mentioned above.
As far as homework...I might say I've done so much research on plants that I officially have been given everyone's plants around the office that were dying and begun to make them thrive on top of my cabinet. I am always open to more research and knowledge though.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 2:57PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I would be angling toward a full repot, which includes root pruning and repotting, but it's better to try to rebuild some energy reserves before you undertake any significant work, like cutting off the leaves, which are the plants food source./ If you're going to do that in an attempt to force back-budding, the plant needs something to run on until its new food-makers (leaves) grow out. The plan would be to flush the soil and pot up ASAP, then do the root pruning around Father's Day and the top pruning around the 4th of July so the plant has enough time to grow some leaves to rebuild energy reserves before heading into the winter stall.

When you're working on plants, there are two approaches. One approach is the unplanned one that usually finds you working against the plant's natural energy flow/cycle. The other, the one that usually always elicits the most favorable response from the plant, takes the plant's energy cycle into consideration and uses it to the best advantage.

You might benefit from reading up on some basics that will help you recognize and plan to eliminate some of the most common factors that limit growth and vitality - just click on the link. I also think that if you gain an understanding of the information in this second link about how water behaves in container media, you'll probably have taken the largest step forward that, as a container gardener, you can take at any one time. See what you think ...... and what the others think as well.

Al

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 4:33PM
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gravyboots(7B)

Hi Yeary! That Scheff is lucky to have you (finally!)...

The link below is a little more info from a blog I like, about the particular species of Scheff your office appears to have.

If you haven't gathered from Al's info already, you can totally whack the top off that thing, and it will be fine. If you're lucky, it will send out a few more limbs closer to the base of the plant, for a shrubby effect.

Al's right though, wait if you can and fatten that big boy up for a few months before chopping the top off. If the plant has enough reserves, the tops should root with no problem... you could even pop them into the pot for a bigger shrub.

Good luck & have fun!
GB

Here is a link that might be useful: S. actinophylla

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 4:07PM
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eayeary(5)

Best news of the day: I received approval to replant the scheff!!! :)
I've found resources for us to rinse off its roots here at work. We will find a way! So given we have a place to rinse its roots and have been given the okay to repot. What is my next step?
Rinse and repot? What type of soil is best? Since this is going in a much larger pot, how should it be done? Rocks on the bottom? Should I place it in a large plastic container with holes and then place it in large planter to avoid root rot?

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 4:17PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

First step - read the information I linked you to and make sure you ask about anything you don't understand.

Are you going to be able to move the plant outdoors around Memorial Day? The best course is to allow the plant to retain its foliage until after it's repotted around Father's Day, and then do the pruning in July.

You'll find answers to all the questions you asked at the links I offered, or you'll have all the info you need to easily figure them out.

All my suggestions are offered in consideration of what it takes to work WITH the plant's natural growth habits. When the time is right is the time to take a more aggressive stance. For now, all you need to do is flush the soil & properly manage your watering/fertilizing.

There is little effort involved in flushing the soil to ensure that an excessively high level of salts is not limiting your plant. Simply flush the soil thoroughly and repeatedly by pouring a volume of water equal to the volume of the container through the soil several (5-10) times - the more the better. After this treatment, you should fertilize with a half strength dose of a soluble fertilizer, preferably something in a 3:1:2 RATIO. Ask, if you don't understand the difference between the fertilizers ratio and its NPK %s. Of all the 3:1:2 ratio fertilizers I'm aware of, I prefer Foliage-Pro 9-3-6, for several reasons. If you don't want to order it online, Miracle-Gro 12-4-8 liquid (yellow jug) is readily available, inexpensive, and a reasonable substitute.

Al

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 4:53PM
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