My Schefflera (Umbrella Plant) Has Yellow Leaves

The umbrella plant, or Schefflera arboricola, is a common houseplant native to Taiwan and China.

While generally hardy and easy to care for, they can suffer under harsh conditions. If your umbrella plant, or Schefflera, is starting to show yellow leaves, it could be a sign of improper care, and you’ll need to adjust a few things. 

Yellow leaves in Schefflera or umbrella plants are an indication of having been moved recently or under stress, improper levels of sunlight, poor soil conditions, or moisture level.

Reasons Why Your Umbrella Plant (Schefflera) Is Getting Yellow Leaves And How To Fix It

There are a few reasons why your plant is starting to get yellow leaves. Here are the most common causes, so you can identify the problem correctly and restore it to its former glory.

Your Umbrella Plant Went Under Stress Recently

If you recently got your umbrella tree and it has a yellow tinge on its leaves, it likely went under some stress when you took it to your place. This is common in houseplants and happens when the conditions change significantly.

Usually, greenhouses and plant nurseries recreate the optimal conditions for each plant, something most plant owners can’t always do. But don’t worry! This doesn’t mean you should return your Schefflera. On the contrary, if you learn to take good care of it, its leaves will return to their bright green after a couple of months.

How To Fix It

Not the quick fix you might be looking for but learning as much as you can about your new plant will ensure you can care for it. Arming yourself with knowledge will help you create the best conditions for your Schefflera so it can recover quickly from the stressful move.  

Bonus tip for all the excited new plant owners: Leave your plant alone. And I say this because I’m guilty of getting too enthusiastic about having a new plant, and I started poking it, moving it around, etc. So, once you choose the right spot for your umbrella plant, just leave it be, otherwise you might end up harming it.

Too Much Sunlight

Schefflera plants don’t do well under direct sunlight. So if the leaves in your Umbrella plant are turning yellow, check its location and the levels of sunlight it gets. If it’s sitting directly under the sun or getting unfiltered sunlight for too many hours during the day, that’s likely to be the cause.

Signs Of Too Much Sunlight

  • The yellow marks in the leaves look like burns and are localized in areas
  • Your plant looks droopy

How To Fix It

Make sure you place your Schefflera in a bright location but not under direct sunlight. Also, be mindful of the change of seasons as a spot that gets enough light during winter might be too hot and harsh during summer and spring.

Not Enough Sunlight

Too little sunlight can also be harmful. Like all plants, Scheffleras need light to produce enough energy to survive. Unfortunately, I’ve seen firsthand what lack of light can do to these beautiful houseplants.

I got my Schefflera from my partner’s parents. It was our first houseplant ever, so we didn’t know much about it or how to care for it. Surprisingly, the move to our tiny apartment did more help than harm!

It turns out they used to keep it under the shade, and the umbrella plant wasn’t getting a lot of light. When they gave it to us, the Schefflera was doing okay, but some of its leaves looked a bit yellow and limp.

As the newbies we were back then, we assumed the more sunlight, the better. However, we didn’t have a lot of choice of where to place it, and the plant didn’t fit on our windowsill. So, we left it about one to two meters (3.2 – 6.5 ft) away from a north-facing window (equivalent to south-facing in the northern hemisphere). As a result, it got reasonable amounts of sunlight but never directly.

A couple of months later, our umbrella plant was thriving and looking beautiful! Its leaves returned that rich green color, and new growth started popping out.

How To Fix

So, if your Schefflera is looking droopy and yellow, go around your house and find a good spot to place it. Find somewhere bright but not directly under the sun. If you are limited in options due to factors out of your control, you can move it around during the day, so you make sure it gets enough sunlight but not too much.

You’re Overwatering Your Umbrella Plant

Even though water is essential for plants, too much of it can also create a series of problems, like root rot. When roots rot, they can’t absorb nutrients from the water and soil, making the leaves yellow. Overly moist soil can also attract pests that can harm your plant.

Signs You’re Overwatering

  • Damp soil – the most noticeable indication you’re overwatering your Schefflera is how moist the soil is. If most often than not, the soil feels wet, you are probably overwatering your umbrella plant. Let the soil get at least 50% dry before watering again.
  • Mold – if you see mold or fungus growing on your pot, it means the soil is staying wet for too long.
  • Loss of firmness – the stems of your plants are sagging and feel squishy to the touch.
  • Unpleasant smell – in this instance, the best thing to do is to inspect your plant’s roots to make sure they’re not rotting. Carefully remove the soil from the pot and reach the roots. If the roots feel slimy and mushy to the touch, they’re likely rotting.
    Reminder: Always be very gentle when handling the roots of your plants!

How To Fix It

The best solution to overwatered plants is to repot them and change the soil. Waiting for the soil to dry out when it’s already too damp may take too long, and your plant can suffer a lot of damage. You will also risk attracting pests and bacteria, creating another problem for you and your plant.

Once you’ve repotted your Schefflera, follow a more appropriate watering regimen. Umbrella plants don’t need too much water compared with other plants – it’s essential to let the soil dry 50%-75% before watering again.

Also, make sure to use good draining soil and a pot with drainage holes to prevent the soil from staying moist for too long. Before watering, identify how dry the soil is. You can do this by sticking your fingers into the soil, or you can use a moisture meter if you’d prefer a more precise way to do it.

Once you water your Schefflera, discard the water on the saucer or tray, so the roots don’t stay wet. Occasionally check the holes in the pot as they can get clogged up and prevent the water from draining. 

Compacted Soil

Before touching on underwatering, there’s another issue that can prevent your plant from getting water and nutrients even if you are watering consistently. This issue is compacted soil. This happens when the soil in the pot gets dry and hard, stopping water and oxygen from flowing through.

Signs Of Compacted Soil

  • The soil is very dry to the touch
  • The soil is hard and clumpy
  • When you water your plant, the water seems to run straight out of the drainage hole
  • Your plant has stopped growing

This happened to me about a year after I got my Schefflera. It was doing well until I noticed it stopped showing new growth, and the water seemed to go straight out of the pot into the plastic tray under. So, I decided to take it to my bathtub and look closer at the soil.

When I moved the soil around, I saw a big, dense clump surrounding the roots near the center of the pot. When I added water, it didn’t seem to penetrate it and went straight out of the drainage holes.

How To Fix It

There are a few things you can do to solve the problem.

  1. Change the soil and make sure your potting mix has more components that will aid oxygen flow, like perlite, vermiculite, and coconut coir.
  2. Add compost to get good microbes into your soil. These will help oxygenate the soil and prevent it from compacting.
  3. Aerate the soil and break clumps by poking holes. I like to use chopsticks because they are long and thin. Carefully poke the stick in your soil, going as deep as you can. Do this a few times on different spots.
    Bonus tip: Poking your soil with a chopstick can also help you see how wet your soil is so you can work out whether it’s time to water or not. If the chopstick comes out a bit wet and has soil smeared on it, your soil may still be moist.

Underwatering

Not enough water can be a cause of yellow leaves. Make sure you water your plant regularly and in reasonable amounts. The best way to hit the sweet spot is to check the soil moisture to determine how dry or wet it is.

Also, keep in mind that its water needs will change as your plant grows. When I first repotted my Schefflera, I kept watering in the same amounts, mostly because I was too afraid of overwatering it. Unfortunately, it started looking a bit droopy because I wasn’t providing enough water. I also think this is what led to its soil getting compacted.

The change of seasons will also determine the water needs of your plant. For example, during the cold months, you won’t need to water as much as in summer and spring.

Signs You’re Underwatering

  • The soil feels dry to the touch. If you poke a chopstick into the soil, it comes out mostly clean
  • The leaves have more of a yellow-brown tone, and they feel dry
  • Besides the leaves looking yellow, they’re also starting to droop.

How To Fix It

Ensure to water your plant until water comes out of the drainage holes. Then, water again before the soil gets completely dry (add water when the soil is 50-75% dry).

Summing Up…

There are several reasons why the leaves of your Schefflera or umbrella plant are turning yellow. Finding the right cause will help you solve the problem effectively and restore your plant to its glory.

Most of the time, yellow leaves are caused by insufficient or too much light, inadequate watering, and compacted soil. Getting these things right will take you a bit of time and trial and error, but you will learn a lot about these beautiful houseplants!

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