Polly381(5/6)October 6, 2012

25 years ago I bought this Schefflera.It was about 8 inches high. It outgrew my house.I didnt know you could prune it so I gave it to my neighbor. They had it for 10 years and recently asked me if I wanted it back since I moved into a bigger house.

You can see the condition of it isnt very good. Originally it had more then one stalk. For some reason they took it out. Now its huge, lanky and to big for the pot. The plant is about 8 feet to the top of the stem.

The leaves are dropping like crazy.

My question is Is it to big & old to cut off?

would I be better off to wait until June to cut it off or take a chance and cut it now?

Or should I do cuttings and is there a better time for root cuttings.

Its about 4 feet from a south window. I Cant get it closer because of its height.

I am in NE PA.

Thanks in advance


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Sorry photo didnt post when I made corrections.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 2:29PM
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Also I forgot to add its in a 15 in pot and the soil level is way to low.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 2:32PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Describe the soil it's in? How important is the plant to you and would you want to risk the plant for odds I would estimate as favoring a good outcome by 2:1? Something safer maybe?


    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 4:34PM
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The soil they have it in is potting soil. I intend on using a more pourous soil mix.
The plant is important to me, thats why I posted these questions. I'm worried it wont make it through the winter. Do you feel it would be best to put it off until June?

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 5:14PM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

That is one big Scheff! I had one for a few years till the bonsai word cropped up in my head
That killed it off!

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 6:32PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think the safest approach would be to flush the soil thoroughly several times between now & early summer, and put a couple of temporary measures in place that will allow you to water w/o having to worry too much about root issues, though you might have some difficulty homogenizing 'pretty' and 'functional'. If the plant is severely root bound, I'd probably saw/trim off the bottom couple of inches of soil/roots & add a little soil to the bottom and sides of the container after cutting some deep vertical slits at about 3-4" intervals in the root/soil mass. Using a wick correctly (to help drain excess water from the soil) and lifting the pot so it's above the effluent (so salts flushed from the soil can't make their way back into the soil) that collects in the saucer would also be part of the plan. Add good light, some good nutrition, patience, & you're good until summer.


    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 8:52PM
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Thanks Tapla thats what I will do, but could you explain this part, because I dont understand what you mean by wick..
Using a wick correctly (to help drain excess water from the soil) and lifting the pot so it's above the effluent (so salts flushed from the soil can't make their way back into the soil) that collects in the saucer would also be part of the plan.
I'm not worried about pretty for now, My main concern is having it survive until I can give it the pruning it needs.
Thanks again

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 10:40PM
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OUCH that must have been a sad day. When they gave the plant back to me I was so happy. I really missed it. It was so small when I bought it. The people that had it were my neighbors. I would go to thier house but I couldnt say anything, after all it was their plant at this point.But I could see the plant was suffering. When I gave the plant to them it was about 6 ft wide and 5 ft high.It should have been pruned back then but I didnt know you could prune them.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 10:47PM
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Hi Polly.. You Scheff has a lot of potential.

Do you know the amount of sun it was getting when your neighbors 'temporarily' adopted it?
BTW, I'm happy they gave it back to you. Very nice gesture.

Aside from Al's advice, after it's pruned, will your Scheff fit directly in front of the south window.
Do you have a west window it can winter this year? Or until you prune?

I love your Scheff variety..don't know if the name has been changed but it was known as S. actinophylla or Brassaia actinophylla. S. actinophylla is very hard locating nowadays. Toni

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 11:13AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

At a distance, there is no way for me to really know if there are a lot of in the soil, resultant of a gradual accumulation over time from dissolved solids in fertilizer solutions and tap water. If the plant's owner(s) were watering the plant using small sips, the odds are there IS a high concentration of salts in the soil, and that inhibits the plant's ability to take up water and nutrients. Usually, the nutrients the plant can't take up become more specific as the problem gets worse - especially if the grower is using a fertilizer with inappropriate NPK %s, but it's enough for now to know that high salt levels are undesirable because they inhibit water/nutrient uptake and affect root health.

The key to preventing the problem is flushing the soil frequently - every time you water is best. If you can't do that because your water retains too much water and you risk the problem of root function being impaired or root rot setting in because the soil remains wet too long, it's a good thing to but into place a temporary strategy that allows you to water correctly until you can get your plant into a soil that makes that problem a non-issue.

Some growers claim that they are able to raise perfectly healthy plants in Miracle-Gro or X mix, or any other potting soil. That's categorically untrue, even if there is no intent to mislead. I'll explain.

Perfectly healthy means the plant is growing to/at its genetic potential with nothing limiting it. First, that's impossible, especially in a container. There will ALWAYS be a limiting factor. The term 'perfectly healthy' is a very subjective thing. Joe's 'perfectly healthy' may not be Al's 'perfectly healthy' may not be Gil Grower's 'perfectly healthy'. 'Perfectly healthy' just means we're satisfied with the level of growth/vitality/appearance/ or a few other factors that result from the care we give, but there is ALWAYS room for improvement. In order to improve our plants chances to be as close to 'perfectly healthy' as possible, we need to eliminate those factors that limit the plant. It just happens that on this and several other forums that lean heavily toward growing in containers, soil is most often the most significant and frequent limitation.
To be fair, 'perfectly healthy' is also impossible when using the soils I use, but those soils do eliminate the problems associated with excess water retention and a build-up of salts, and provide a much better opportunity for plants to grow to their potential. You CAN grow healthy plants in heavy (water retentive) soils, but the bottom line is, you either accept the various limitations or do the best you can through various attempts to amend the soil or by using the tricks you'll be using until summer - in essence it ends up being more work for less realized potential in the long run.

Ok - back to the topic - I knew this was going to be a long answer. ;-)

An excerpt from something I wrote about soils that will help you understand the wick: If you discover you need to increase drainage, you can simply insert an absorbent wick into a drainage hole & allow it to extend from the saturated soil in the container to a few inches below the bottom of the pot, or allow it to contact soil below the container where the earth acts as a giant wick and will absorb all or most of the perched water in the container, in most cases. Eliminating the PWT has much the same effect as providing your plants much more soil to grow in, as well as allowing more, much needed air in the root zone.

In simple terms: Plants that expire because of drainage problems either die of thirst because the roots have rotted and can no longer take up water, or they suffer/die because there is insufficient air at the root zone to insure normal root function, so water/nutrient uptake and root metabolism become seriously impaired.

To confirm the existence of the PWT and how effective a wick is at removing it, try this experiment: Fill a soft drink cup nearly full of garden soil. Add enough water to fill to the top, being sure all soil is saturated. Punch a drain hole in the bottom of the cup and allow the water to drain. When drainage has stopped, insert a wick into the drain hole . Take note of how much additional water drains. Even touching the soil with a toothpick through the drain hole will cause substantial additional water to drain. The water that drains is water that occupied the PWT. A greatly simplified explanation of what occurs is: The wick or toothpick "fools" the water into thinking the pot is deeper than it is, so water begins to move downward seeking the "new" bottom of the pot, pulling the rest of the water in the PWT along with it. If there is interest, there are other simple and interesting experiments you can perform to confirm the existence of a PWT in container soils.

So, the wick dangles below the pot, but it doesn't come in contact with the effluent in the saucer. That's the ugly part. You need to raise the pot high enough to accommodate a 2-3" wick dangling out of the drain hole but not touching the effluent. This is because you'll be flushing the soil when you water, and the salts you flush from the soil will be in the effluent. Solutions with different levels of solubles in them will exchange ions and cone into an equilibrium (isotonicity) very quickly. You don't want the salts in the effluent to make their way back into the soil solution, and they WILL if the effluent is in contact with either the soil or the wick.

There are two threads I think will help you obtain a very good basic overview of an approach to growing in containers that is extremely effective - and you'll be able to see what others think of the concept. If you decide to read them, read and digest them in the order I posted them. Let me know if you think there are other questions I can help you with.

This one provides a basic overview.

This one goes into more detail about soils for container growing.

Best luck.


    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 12:31PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

First sentence should have read: At a distance, there is no way for me to really know if there are a lot of salts in the soil, resultant of a gradual accumulation over time from dissolved solids in fertilizer solutions and tap water. Sorry.


    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 12:35PM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

Tapla, how about if like me you have a grit drainage layer at the bottom of the pot, that surely would reduce any PWT.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 3:14PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Read the second embedded link in my post above & you'll discover why that is a myth.

If you have a 12" deep pot and a soil that holds 4" of perched water, without a drainage layer you have 4" of soggy soil at the pot bottom (at container capacity) and 8" of soil that isn't soggy. If you use a 4" drainage layer you have 4" of well-drained drainage layer, 4" of soggy soil with perched water, and 4" of soil that isn't soggy - guess which is better for the plants? Roots only reluctantly grow through the 4" of soggy soil to get to the well-aerated drainage layer. Coarse roots do grow well there, but the problem is the 4" of soggy soil in the middle of the pot. It's not good for root health or root function/ plant growth or plant vitality. Much better is a well-aerated, free-draining soil from bottom to top - a soil that holds very little or no perched water. There is little sense in dealing with a soil's inadequacies when you don't have to - unless prioritization hangs in the balance, making the convenience of a grab-n-go soil a necessary compromise.

Drainage layers CAN be structured so they are effective, but it requires giving the same consideration to particle sizes & screening as making an excellent soil - so why bother? Much more effective than drainage layers is filling almost all of the pot volume that would be occupied by perched water with an object that doesn't absorb water - soda bottles or bricks, e.g.. You can largely solve/eliminate the perched water issue via that route, but if you have enough perched water that you need to address it, it indicates your soil is made of small particles and any plants in it would benefit from the increased aeration anyway.

No matter how you dice it, soils that are well-aerated and hold little perched water offer much better opportunity for plants to grow as close to their potential as other cultural influences allow. IOW, they make your soil as a limiting factor pretty much a non issue, allowing you to concentrate on other potential limiting factors with the expectation that correcting or reducing the effects of another limitation will result in additional improvements. You may be using a really ineffective nutritional supplementation program, but changing it to something potentially perfect will result in 0 improvement if your plant is being limited by the effects of a poor soil.

Finally, when using a poor soil, in order to get plants to grow well you need to focus on minimizing the effects of compaction, reduced root function due to over-watering and lack of O2, watering habits, over-potting, nutrition, and light. When you're using a good soil, your primary concerns are light and nutrition. Nutrition can be ultra simple with good soils, and light is what it is - you work with what you have.

There are so many disagreements about soils because of the varied perspectives. How can Al evaluate a soil and give it an E while Sally Sue gives it an A? Al knows a different approach gives the plant a much better opportunity to grow to it's potential, while Sally Sue loves Magic Medium because all she has to do is zip open the bag and pot in it. Some growers are fond of telling you all the things you DON'T have to do to get a plant to grow well, but the measure of a plant's vitality, as I explained upthread, is a very subjective thing. If growers want to listen, I'll do my best to help them learn how to improve the probability their plant will grow closer to its potential, and I'll do that from the plant's perspective. The grower is always free to weigh his/her priorities against any added effort that might entail & decide if it's worth it, or reject my offering and formulate another plan.

For some reason, some growers will not allow that growing in a poor soil is a compromise. If travelers A & B want to go from NYC to CHI the cheapest way possible, they might jointly eliminate planes & autos as an option. Traveler B might consider a train and a bicycle and decide on the train because of time constraints. Traveler A might reject the train because of expense and consider walking or a bicycle and decide on the bicycle for the same reason traveler B rejected it. How can that be? Their priorities and perspectives were different. It doesn't change the fact that grower B is going to make it to the Chicago Botanic Gardens long before Traveler A, or that silly traveler A, because he had a weeks worth of meals to buy while on the road, will end up spending more than traveler B.

We know with certainty that a well-aerated soil that drains well provides better opportunity for our plants to realize as much potential as possible. That's really all we need to know to decide whether our priorities can afford any extra effort or expense it might take to provide the added advantage to our plants. It's just one of the millions of facts of life, and no one judges what route we choose or how we order our priorities - at least they shouldn't.


    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 4:31PM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

Al, are you a soil scientist? What is your background? And where has this odd idea of 'perched water ' come from?

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 4:45PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hi GreenLarry,

Layers of grit on the bottom have been found not to help w/ drainage. Some folks still come over w/ this older notion which some of us try to discourage.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 4:51PM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

Its worked for me all these years! I wont pot up a regular plant, i.e. non succulent, without a drainage layer.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 5:01PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I initially borrowed the not at all odd perched water idea from a talk I listened to on geology, after I realized I had issues with my plants that were related to soil/root conditions. Soon after the idea took root I began researching the idea and I discovered it was already a part of soil science, but hobby growers weren't giving the property the credit it was due - largely because no one was addressing it.

My background is 20 years + of studying the physics and chemistry of (primarily) container media, tinkering/experimenting with them to improve them for my own use. After I gained a good working knowledge of soils and a thorough understanding of how to apply the concept to avoid having to deal with the negative effects of PWTs, I began helping others that WANT to learn, understand and apply the concept to benefit their plants and enhance their growing experience.

... haven't read the link yet, have you? ;-)


    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 5:04PM
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HI hopefulauthor
the plant was in a room with a skylight above it and windows on the north. I have a Southwest window but that is occupied by my Monstera. Right now Its to tall to get close to the window because the ceiling slants from approx 8 by the window to 10 ft.
I love this variety too. I could never find them anywhere but guess what, I bought a small one today. YAYYYYYY! Its about 3 ft tall. This time I am going to keep it pruned.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 5:15PM
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Thank you, I will have to study what you wrote. I was shopping all day and am exhausted. I found another sheff, same variety. I am so happy!!
I read over it quickly and The wick theory makes sense.
Thanks.I will read again tomorrow.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 5:18PM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

I wonder what D.G.Hessayon and all those other great horticulturists would think of the idea...interesting.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 5:28PM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

I just read that link, well the part relevant to PWT. Actually quite interesting, I can see that a large particle size makes sense as it doesnt hold on to water like say clay or sand does. Clay is boggy because it is comprised of very small particles- it holds water too well.
The only trouble with this is the pine fines you describe are not readily available to me- I have a few plants, there are no plant nurseries nearby so I make do with what I can find, and use it as a base for my own recipe depending on the plant.

And I get the wick idea, I just insert a wick into the bottom of the pot and the water drains into the tray.

But some plants, palms, ferns etc, require a high hunidity and in these cases a gravel tray is recommended. The tray is filled with water just to the level of the grit, the plant sits ontop, and a morw humdi atmosphere is supposedly promoted. Does it work? Not sure but my palm is sitting on such a layer as dry air is a problem for it. Only problem is bang goes the wick idea!

Got me thinking indeed...

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 5:49PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

GL - .... prolly best to familiarize yourself with the concept and make sure you understand it well before making a lot of determinations about how you might or might not be able to get it to work FOR you instead of against you. It plays an important part in several aspects of what it takes to grow well in containers, and that's true whether we understand it or not - so obviously it's better to understand it than to simply ignore it or pretend it doesn't exist - not to suggest that you are doing either.

All the best.


At your leisure, Polly. It's actually better to approach the topic when you feel like it, rather than out of a sense of urgency.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 6:21PM
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