Why is My Umbrella Plant Dropping Leaves?

Why is my umbrella plant dropping leaves? There are several answers to this question, and we would cover them all in subsequent paragraphs.

The umbrella plant is a popular evergreen house plant, especially for folks who want to add a tropical touch to their homes. With their umbrella-like leaves, they can grow to a height of about 10 feet for the taller species (Schefflera arboricola) or up to 6 feet for the smaller dwarf umbrella plant (Schefflera actinophylla).

But with careful pruning, the shrubs can be trained to remain compact, effectively preventing them from over-growing their space.

The plants do not require a lot in terms of care to thrive. They tolerate a wide range of conditions making them easy to maintain. But if they are deprived of the right growing conditions long enough, the leaves will wilt and eventually begin to drop. To be clear, the issues around why are your umbrella plant dropping leaves are not complicated 90 percent of the time. In this article, we would focus on the causes of the dropping leaves, how to fix them, and possible preventive measures.

Why is My Umbrella Plant Dropping Leaves?

It is natural for an umbrella plant to shed old leaves while growing. In which case, there is really nothing to worry about. But it’s alarming when, instead of a few old leaves, the plant is actively shedding most of the leaves over a short period.

When this occurs, the usual suspects can be found hiding under improper plant care. These factors can be physiological as well as unpreventable weather changes.

Let’s take a look at the conditions that promote the dropping of umbrella plant leaves and how you can resolve them.

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The combination of too much water and soil with poor drainage properties is bad for the shrub. By the time the leaves start dropping, you might have the bigger problem if root rot to deal with.

It is the decomposing roots that restrict nutrient and water uptake to the leaves leading to drying, yellowing, and falling off.

To be sure your diagnosis of root rot is correct, carefully unpot the plant and inspect the roots. It is definitely root rot if the soil is foul-smelling and mushy.

Underwatering umbrella plant, on the other hand, is not as deadly. Fact is, the plant can withstand dry spells better than over-watered soggy soil. But not for long though.

Underwatering would stress your umbrella plan. The first indications of prolonged lack of water include discoloration, curling, and drying of the leaves before finally falling off.

Solution – The first course of action when too much water is the issue is to ensure that the pot or planter has excellent drainage holes.

A soil that is too heavy might be the cause too. You can either amend the soil or repot the plant using a high-quality potting mix.

You should also consider adjusting how often you water your umbrella plant. Only water the soil when the top 1 inch is dry. Water it slowly and deeply until the excess water starts coming out of the drainage holes.

Cutting back on watering is something you should also consider in the cold season: simply give the plant enough water to prevent the soil from drying.

In some instances, the root rot might be so severe the only solution is to discard the plant and soil. Then disinfect the pot using a solution of household bleach and water in a ratio of 1:10 respectively. Allow the pot to dry before filling it with a new potting mix.

If the plant is exhibiting the symptoms of underwatering, simply water thoroughly and deeply. Again, you want the water to start draining out of the holes before stopping.

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Light issues

Though umbrella plants have tropical origins, they don’t thrive too well in bright direct sunlight. The best condition for growth in terms of light requirement is indirect light or medium light.

Prolonged exposure to low lights would lead to drooping leaves with the plant becoming spindly and leggy. The first indicator of poor lighting is the loss of variegation on the leaves.

On the other hand, too much bright light or direct sunlight would burn the leaves and cause them to drop.

Solution – While the umbrella plant is resilient in low light conditions, you have to be on the lookout for tell-tale signs which include the absence of new growth.

Simply improve the lighting if the plant is indoors. Moving it closer to a bright window is one way to improve access to light or find a way to allow more light into the space.

Generally, the outdoor plants thrive well in the morning and late afternoon sun. But you might have to relocate it to a shadier place to avoid the midday sun

Temperature extremes

Being tropical plants, umbrella plants don’t fare well when temperatures dip below 50°F. Falling leaves is one of the effects. But the all-green varieties of the plant tend to be more cold-hardy than the variegated cultivars.

At the other end of the temperature spectrum, you are looking at exposure to indoor temperatures above 80°F for the leaves to start falling. That said, umbrella plants can be grown all year round in hardiness Zones 9b – 12.

Solution – Below are some simple solutions:

  • Move the plants away from drafts of cold or hot air like heating ducts, air conditioners, radiators, windows, etc.
  • Place your umbrella plant in places that fall within the temperature range for optimal growth
  • Don’t be averse to taking them outside if the indoor temperature is too cold or too hot and vice versa.

Wrong fertilizer application

Umbrella plants would prosper when given the right amounts of nutrients containing nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. When these are in short supply, the leaves start to discolor, become pale, and prematurely fall off.

That said, they are not heavy feeders. Providing them too much fertilizer can easily stress the plants leading to drooping and dropping leaves.

Solution – If your diagnosis points to overfertilization, quit using fertilizer. Then drench the soil with distilled water to flush out the excess nutrients.

For cases of undernourishment, the plant would respond positively to light feeding. Apply balanced fertilizer at half strength once a month to get them back on track.

Ideally, they shouldn’t be fed from late fall right through all winter.

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Umbrella plant infestations

The good thing about umbrella plants is they are often insect and disease-free. But some common garden bugs can still infect them. The most culpable are aphids, spider mites, and scales.

For instance, an infestation of spider mites can quickly overwhelm a struggling plant. This would eventually weaken the plant leading to the shedding of leaves among other symptoms such as yellowing, wilting, and stunted growth.

Solution – Cleaning the leaves using organic methods is the recommended course of action when the infestation is getting out of hand.

If you have to treat the umbrella plant, choose a calm day when there is no hint of rain and the temperature is neither too cold or too hot. Then follow the steps below:

  • Cut off and dispose of the affected foliage using a garden pruner
  • Make a solution of horticultural oil by mixing the oil in a gallon of water. Use about 2 – 5 tablespoons of the horticultural oil.
  • After mixing thoroughly, pour the solution into a pump sprayer
  • Liberally spray the affected plant with the oil.
  • Wait at least a week to repeat the treatment if the infestation persists.

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Re-potting stress

It’s normal for an umbrella plant to shed a few leaves after repotting. The plants are mildly rootbound and don’t need to be repotted for up to 3 years.

Beyond that time frame though, umbrella plants that are severely rootbound would drop their leaves because the pot is currently too small for the root system.

Solution – If the plant starts to shed some leaves after repotting, this is normal and with time, it would get used to the new environment.

Here are some umbrella plant repotting tips to keep in mind:

  • It’s time to repot if the watering frequency is more than twice a week
  • Avoid fertilizing for several weeks after repotting because the new potting soil has enough nutrients. Fertilizing can lead to over-fertilization and the associated problems.
  • Don’t cover roots that emerge from the soil with more soil to avoid smothering the plant
  • The best time to repot is early in the growing season. This gives the plant time to grow, recover, and acclimatize to the new environment.
  • Don’t repot a newly acquired umbrella plant immediately. Give it time to acclimate to the new environment first.

Lack of pruning

Pruning umbrella plant ensures that older branches can get enough sunlight. Allowing excess growth leads to the plant having too many stalks growing out of the primary trunk.

The resulting cluttered plant leads to an unhealthy competition for limited plant resources and sunlight. If the status quo is not altered, the stalks and branches become leggy making them droop as they reach for more sunlight. Dropping umbrella plant leaves is one of the consequences of this series of events.

Solution – Simply prune the plant. This also helps to keep them compact while enhancing their beauty.

New environment

Umbrella plant leaf loss as a result of moving to a new environment is often temporary as long as other growth conditions are optimal. This usually happens with new plants just purchased, collected from a friend or family member, or when moving to a new apartment/house.

Solution – Since this is a temporary issue, you don’t have to do anything except ensuring all the growing conditions are in place. The plant just needs time to acclimatize to the new environment.

Keep in mind that getting acclimated to the new environment can take up to 3 months. So you don’t have to panic when you don’t see the right type of changes immediately. Simply continue doing all the right stuff in terms of plant care.

To minimize the issue, however, you could replicate the light condition of the previous environment.

If the remedy is simply about moving your plant indoors during winter, place the plant in the brightest part of the house.

Wrapping up

The umbrella plant is one of the most stress-free house plants to grow with very few problems linked to them. Dropping leaves, when it does happen, is typically a direct result of the older foliage dying naturally.

Unusually excessive leaves dropping affecting even young foliage can be linked to several stress factors most of which can be prevented with routine and proper plant care routine. The solutions to check or reverse the situation are also pretty straightforward.