Schefflera pruning advice

blankpagesJune 21, 2011

Hello all,

I've got two scheffleras right now and I'm wondering if anyone has any advice on how long to best prune them.

My first one was given to me and I neglected it a little (last August) causing it to get pretty weak. I cut the top off thinking that it would help strengthen the plant which didn't seem to be supporting its weight that well. It did strengthen the base and started new growth. Is this one basically going to become a tree? Or is the other option trimming it and keeping it as is? What would you suggest to make this one bush-like?

Here are a couple of pics:

This next one I'm pretty proud of. Between my wife and I, I'm the plant-nut but this was the one she specifically wanted. I've had it for a year and it's always been great. Given it's pot size now, what do you think it'll turn into? I'd like to keep it relatively green and bushy, but I don't want it too small either...

I've stripped the lower leaves in order to strengthen the trunks:

Thoughts? Advice?

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birdsnblooms

Blank, want to trade? lol..
I adore your tree-shape, standard Scheff as is. I've tried growing one of my bush Scheffs as a tree, but it's persistent.
I cut all but the thickest trunk; still they grow.

Sorry, I don't have an answer, other than cutting into sections, rooting, then placing rooted cuttings with the main trunk.
But I think the standard-look is gorgeous.

The second Schefflera will turn into a taller, bush. lol. Toni

    Bookmark   June 21, 2011 at 2:07PM
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Joe1980(5)

I have a variegated one also, and I do manage to keep it as a bushy plant, rather then tall & leggy. I grow mine right on the front lines in a south window, and it does great. Mine originally was the same as yours, a few taller, single trunked stems. To get mine wider and bushier, I cut off the tops, at about 1 foot. I pinch out the apical growth at the tips, which promotes backbudding from lower down on the branch. It takes patience, because it takes a bit of energy to pop buds on the older growth. Just keep pinching out the top growth, and you will eventually start getting branch buds on the trunks. I would suggest though, that because you have several of them, that you indeed form the tall one into a single trunked tree. I've seen these guys pruned into a standard at nurseries, and they look great. If I had room, I'd grow one that way, but I have too many plants that I've let grow into trees, taking up all my sunny space. For the one you chose to grow into a taller tree, don't pinch the top growth, just let it get taller. Once you get it to the height you desire, then you can start the pinching. This will get you the backbuds, which you can then grow out. If you pinch ALL growth, it will thicken the trunk up, but remember, more leaves means more energy, so I find it better to let it grow, keeping in mind what the ultimate shape will be. Once you start getting some size to the trunk, you can start shaping more. Keep in mind that growing a plant into a standard (tree shape) will take years, which is where the patience comes in.

Joe

    Bookmark   June 21, 2011 at 10:38PM
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gravyboots(7B)

Hi Blank Pages,

To encourage the scheff in your first pics to become bushier, keep lopping the top off, until you get new growth coming out where you want it, like near the base of the plant.

How much (proportion) did you take off before? My own, unscientific! opinion is that the more comes off, the further down the stem back-budding happens... take a third off & I bet you'll get some branches coming out closer to the base of the trunk. You can root the cutting too & plant it in the same pot for a bushier effect.

As the new branches get around the height you want them, take the tops off of them too & you should see even more back-budding along the stems.

As for the other pot, Scheffs will just keep growing straight up until you make them stop by whacking the end off. I took home a 6" or so cutting that was in the trash at work, rooted it water & wound up with a 6' tall, single-stemmed plant on its way to becoming a tree with no branches. I pinched the top for years, with virtually no impact except slowing it down a little - no branching. It was not attractive.

I took about a third off last year & it is producing 3 strong branches on the bottom half of the remaining plant (1 right at the base, which is just what I wanted it to do) & 1 right at the top, which will come off in a couple of months when I whack the top off again.

The first top removed rooted nicely & was re-homed; I will probably do the same with the top I take off this year too.

My understanding is that these are pretty tough plants; somewhere on GW, there are pics of them pruned HARD with pretty nice results eventually.

Gravyboots

    Bookmark   June 21, 2011 at 10:47PM
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gravyboots(7B)

ha-aha-ha! Good advice Joe!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2011 at 10:49PM
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blankpages

Thanks all for the great advice!

@Hopeful. Lol. I'm very happy with how these have done over the past year. The variegated one came from a pretty reputable nursery and the single one came from my aunt, who is growing her own. Oddly enough, hers is bush-like.

@Joe. Thanks for the great, detailed advice. I've got nothing but time and patience for my plants. I like the idea of a nice tree on the smaller one but I'm not sure yet if I'll do that or cut it down and maybe repot some of the cuttings to make it thicker and bushier. I'm really nervous to do anything to the variegated one because it's so pretty now that I'd hate to mess anything up. Do you have pics of yours? I'd love to see it. I've also kept it near a south-facing window all year (right now it's on my porch facing west with mostly indirect light).

@Gravy boots. Great advice. When I trimmed the top I probably only took off a couple of inches. Throughout the past year little green shoots(?) have grown out of the lower area of the stem but they never turn into anything. I'm guessing a lower cut could help that. Unless I make that one the tree and the variegated bush-like... Do you have any pics of yours?

Thanks all for the advice!

Jose

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 9:54AM
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scsva(7/VA)

I actually agree with Toni. I like the looks of both trees especially the leggier one.

Susan

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 1:08PM
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gravyboots(7B)

pics.... well... I need to do the whole photo-hosting thing & have just been too lazy. I'm about to do an all-out repot for everybody & take some pics, so I'll get around to it soon...
anyway - yes, I can pop a pic up here some time in the relatively near future.

The new shoots on the trunk always seem to be slow, but keep watching them, something might happen eventually - although right now, it looks like your plant is putting all its energy into that top branch.

Toni & Susan are right, your first plant has a nice look to it, even with the new stem coming up off the pruned top; the petioles are long enough that they look somewhat like branches & everything is in proportion for now. My experience - with a variegated plant that has short petioles - was a long, skinny thing that ended up looking somewhat like a vertical(ish) centipede. It was just goofy & will for sure look better shrubby.

If you want a tree with branches, you could remove branches that grow below a certain point to encourage a more traditional tree-like shape. I think the branch growing at the top will just continue straight up... you could prune it too, maybe once it reaches a height proportional to the length of the trunk (think about your eventual total height goal) & possibly see another branch emerge lower down...

Happy Pruning!
GB

    Bookmark   June 24, 2011 at 3:55PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If you want the plants to be bushy and STAY bushy, I would cut them off almost even with (very slightly above) the pot rim. Now is the best time of the year to do this, too. The plants will quickly back-bud and start pushing new growth.

You can follow the pictures in the thread I'll link you to below to see how hard you can cut a reasonably healthy scheff back with impunity.

One of mine

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: Scheff pruning pics here

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 12:46AM
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blankpages

Awesome. I love this forum.

@Susan: thanks! I think I'm going to reshape the leggy one, but I'll keep some of the variegated one the same.

@Gravyboots, I'm looking forward to your pics and thanks again for the advice. I'm eager to see what kind of low growth I get this summer after I give the schefs a good whack.

@Al, thanks for your advice. That schefflera is beautiful and I'd like to do that with my single, non-variegated one. Here are my thoughts, additional questions.

Can I cut it into 3 pieces and propagate the top and then a middle piece? I'm nervous about cutting low on this one because I lost a portulacaria afra (I know, a succulent but still, a loss) by cutting too low. I thought if I leave branches I'll be assured it will survive. But I'm more willing to experiment on this one so I would consider cutting it down to say four inches or so. I'm pretty sure I can propagate the top, just not sure about a middle piece. But I figure if I have three heavy stems (and maybe throw in a variegated propagation for color) I could get a nice bushy plant. Toni mentioned that earlier, and I like that thought.

With my variegated one, since I have six (plus a baby) stems going, I'm going to let two or three grow as trees, for now at least, and play around with the others. Depending on how that works I can eventually mess around with all of them.

Tomorrow I prune. I'm excited.

Jose

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 6:20PM
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Joe1980(5)

Jose, are you sure you actually "lost" your portulacaria? Sometimes they can take a long time to come back, but they almost ALWAYS do. Depending on the time you choose to do a hardcore lopping, just about any plant can and will come back from it.

Joe

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 6:29PM
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gravyboots(7B)

I tried - unsuccessfully - rooting out a middle piece, but go for it! What do you have to lose? If it works, you have another plant & if it doesn't you throw it away later instead of sooner, right?

PS: I think a vari amidst the solid plants will look nice

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 6:45PM
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blankpages

@Joe, it died last summer. It was a really small piece and it withered away. But it was outside and may have gotten too much water.

@Gravy, thanks for the input, we'll see how it goes. I'm excited to see how they do this summer!

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 7:32PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If you lost a (healthy) P afra after cutting back hard in the summer, there was something else in play other than just the reduction. They bud back on old wood gleefully if they have any energy at all to spend.

If your scheff is healthy, you can take internodal cuttings about 2" long and lay them (horizontally) on top of a damp soil, just nestling them into the soil a little so the pieces are about half covered. Tent and place in open shade & wait. What works very well is to cut the top of a milk jug off just below where it starts to taper (about 2/3 of the way up). Nestle the top piece over the bottom piece after you've arranged the cuttings. Leave the cap off of the top, which provides some air circulation but still assures very high humidity inside your propagation chamber. You can't miss with this method if your plant is healthy, and now is a great time of year to tackle this. Let me know if you have additional questions.

As far as the pruning goes, you could cut them back to the soil line if you wanted, and they will back-bud from old leaf bundle scars and adventitious buds that redifferentiate from the cambial tissue, but do whatever allows you to remain in your comfort zone. After this op is done and your tree recovered, you'll become more confident in the outcome I've chopped so many scheffs back that it's second nature & I hardly even give it a thought, other than deciding just how far back I want to chop, which is pretty much predetermined, based on trunk caliper.

Al

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 8:50PM
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gravyboots(7B)

I am going to do that - Thanks Al!

GB

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 10:44PM
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Joe1980(5)

Al's right, in that you have to take the plunge and do it, because it'll work. Once you have done it, and know it works, you'll feel quite comfortable doing it in the future. I was scared the first time I did a major lopping of a trunk. Mine was on my prized pachira, which I now cut down with gusto every year. It has grown into quite the specimen, with a 3.5" diameter trunk on it, although I kind of made that happen with the help of a tourniquet. But none-the-less, clench your teeth, squint your eyes, and make the cut; it'll be just fine, and some experience you'll gain!

Joe

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 11:02PM
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blankpages

Thanks guys. I went ahead and did some pruning this morning. I'm pretty happy about it.

Here's what I did to the single schefflera. I would have cut a bit lower but I need a stronger pair of clippers. The cut is already a little uneven...

With a single variegated top that I put in a few days ago that seems to be doing pretty well:

I was a bit more cautious with the variegated one, but I did trim down a few of them.

Since I've just rooted some of the tops, how long should I wait before I water? The variegated scheff is pretty dry, although we've been getting good rain and the humidity seems good.

I've followed the advice of Al, my new plant Yoda, and I'm seeing what I can get from the stems.

Thanks a ton for all the advice everyone. I'm really excited to see how the plants progress through the summer and I'll be sure to update with some pics. Al, if it's okay I'd like to message you with some questions about two portulacaria afras I'm trying to make into bonsais. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 11:48AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Sure, you can mail me.

Keep the soil just damp - never wet. It's important that (if you're using a heavy soil) that the bottom of the cutting is not stuck so deep it's below the upper limit of the PWT. The proximal end (end that was closest to the roots) of the cutting shouldn't have a film of water covering it or it's much more likely that the fungaluglies will thwart your efforts.

Al

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 8:46PM
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gobluedjm

In your second pic where you stated "single variegated top" that one will never do anything. It might grow roots but that is it. It won't ever grow anything beyond that. I've tried that also.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 10:47PM
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gravyboots(7B)

Hi Again!

Here are a few pics of my Schefflera arboricola, as promised...

Prior to most-recent pruning; I removed leaves in anticipation of rooting out the top. From Schefflera arboricola

(That is after I pruned about a third of it off last year... it responded with the tuft at the top, and a nice branch right at the base.)

Here it is after the most recent pruning: From Schefflera arboricola

... and a close-up of the second trunk-to-be, plus another branch coming on: From Schefflera arboricola

GB

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 3:59PM
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Ashtash

I have just identified my plant as schefflera. But compared to your it is pitiful. One of the stems died and now there is only the one and it has some sort of greyish bark covering the stem near the bottom. The stem is weak and curved. What can I do to make it stronger? It is producing new leaves and shoots near the top like its healthy. Should I plant cutting to create new stems? Should I cut it off? I dont have any idea. No green thumbs here. Any advice appreciated

    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 1:42PM
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Ashtash

here is another photo of it The second stem to the left is completley dead thru and thru. no green inside at all.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 1:44PM
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teengardener1888(NY Albany 5a)

These plantrs are very eassy to grow but hard to shape into a bushy wonder. They persist on growing taller. And god forbid if somebody plants it in the ground in tropical climes

    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 2:52PM
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Danyelliebell

Here is my plant. I've never pruned it ever. When it was given to me it was short and kind of bush like but I've just let it do its thing for four years now reporting it each spring. I'd like to let it get huge. :)

    Bookmark   August 26, 2013 at 4:10PM
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Danyelliebell

I just tie it up to that stick there to make it the shape I want.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2013 at 4:18PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Danny - as long as your tree is healthy (and it looks like it's in good shape), it will benefit from at least 1 total defoliation and removal of all apices each year, and perhaps a secondary partial defoliation of the outer canopy later in the year. I would encourage you to consider doing that. The total defoliation and tip pruning will stimulate lots of lateral breaks, decrease the length of (new) internodes, and make your tree much more full & compact over time. You WILL sacrifice some extension of the stems by doing this because you're stealing some of the plant's energy reserves by forcing it to grow a new flush of foliage. Because the plant won't be as "full of vitality" as it would have been if you didn't defoliate, it grows smaller leaves and extends more slowly (shorter internodes). Also, the more leaves you are able to coax the tree into growing, the more compact the new growth will tend to be. Anyone can simply allow a tree to grow tall and then chop it back so it doesn't poke a hole in the ceiling, but being able to guide the tree into something that adds more than 'tall' to it's list of eye-appealing traits adds another dimension to growing.

If you're hesitant, I'll go out and defoliate an old tree of mine (with pics), just to help convince you it's not a big deal to a healthy tree.

Al

    Bookmark   August 27, 2013 at 4:42PM
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seeing_green

IÃÂ justÃÂ gotÃÂ myÃÂ 1stÃÂ houseplantsÃÂ todayÃÂ fromÃÂ aÃÂ coworker,ÃÂ andÃÂ IÃÂ believeÃÂ thatÃÂ IÃÂ shouldÃÂ transplant,ÃÂ fertilizeÃÂ &ÃÂ
pruneÃÂ theÃÂ scheffleraÃÂ becauseÃÂ it'sÃÂ tallÃÂ andÃÂ top-heavy.ÃÂ ItÃÂ hasÃÂ threeÃÂ trunksÃÂ thatÃÂ areÃÂ aboutÃÂ equalÃÂ inÃÂ size,ÃÂ
soÃÂ I'dÃÂ probablyÃÂ wantÃÂ toÃÂ chopÃÂ theÃÂ topsÃÂ downÃÂ aboutÃÂ aÃÂ footÃÂ towardsÃÂ theÃÂ endÃÂ ofÃÂ JuneÃÂ likeÃÂ AlÃÂ suggests,ÃÂ
andÃÂ maybeÃÂ transplantÃÂ byÃÂ gettingÃÂ mostÃÂ ofÃÂ theÃÂ currentÃÂ soilÃÂ off,ÃÂ (maybe?)ÃÂ sawingÃÂ theÃÂ bottomÃÂ 3rdÃÂ ofÃÂ theÃÂ
roots,ÃÂ &ÃÂ replacingÃÂ itÃÂ inÃÂ pottingÃÂ soilÃÂ w/ÃÂ perlite.ÃÂ IÃÂ wantÃÂ thisÃÂ beautyÃÂ toÃÂ getÃÂ bushier,ÃÂ stayÃÂ aboutÃÂ 3-4ÃÂ feet,ÃÂ
andÃÂ aboveÃÂ all,ÃÂ stay asÃÂ happy &ÃÂ healthy asÃÂ possible!!

This post was edited by seeing_green on Thu, May 15, 14 at 22:43

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 10:38PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Sounds like a plan .....

Al

    Bookmark   May 16, 2014 at 7:32AM
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seeing_green

I'd hoped that you'd have something else to add-some bit of plant magic I missed, but I suppose I'll go through with what I think would work. So, fertilize every 2 months & "pinch off" new outer-canopy growth just until the end of summer after I do the major pruning? I think I'll skip transplanting then...

    Bookmark   May 16, 2014 at 1:52PM
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seeing_green

I'd hoped that you'd have something else to add-some bit of plant magic I missed, but I suppose I'll go through with what I think would work. So, fertilize every 2 months & "pinch off" new outer-canopy growth just until the end of summer after I do the major pruning? I think I'll skip transplanting then...

    Bookmark   May 20, 2014 at 2:18PM
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