Although their leaves aren't large enough to shelter you from the rain, umbrella plants are so-named because of their resemblance to umbrellas -- at the top of each stem, the leaves are arranged in a circular pattern, like the ribs of an umbrella.
Caring for umbrella plants depends on which type of plant you have, because this common name refers to different plants, notably scheffleras (Schefflera spp.) and umbrella sedges
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Tree Schefflera and Dwarf Schefflera
Tree schefflera (Schefflera arboicola) and dwarf schefflera (Schefflera actinophylla) are the two you're likely to find sold as houseplants, although they are also perennials in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 12.
- Watering. In spring and summer when they're actively growing, water the plants thoroughly and let the soil become almost dry before watering deeply again. In fall and winter, reduce this watering schedule and be sure not to overwater. If the leaves start dropping, it may be a sign you're watering too much or not enough. Always use pots that have drainage holes in them for sheffleras.
- Fertilizing. From March through October, use a houseplant fertilizer such as 20-20-20. A water-soluble formulation works well -- a powder you mix with water, at a typical ratio of 1/2 teaspoon fertilizer in 2 quarts of water that you apply every two weeks. Follow all label directions, because these rates may vary.
- Pruning. Umbrella plants respond well to pruning or trimming, if you need to keep them in bounds. You can cut them back as much as you like, even as short as a few inches if they get too leggy. Cut the stems just above a leaf, and be sure to keep the cuts clean by sanitizing your pruning tools.
- Problems. Although scheffleras are typically problem-free, occasional pests include mealybugs, spider mites and scale insects. Because schefflera umbrella plants may be harmed by organophosphate insecticides, use an organic ready-to-use insecticidal soap to control these pests. Spray all surfaces of the plant until wet, particularly the undersides of leaves where pests may hide. Check the plant in two days -- if you still see mealybugs, spray the plant again. Check the plant again in two weeks for spider mites and spray again if you see more pests.
Umbrella sedges or umbrella plants (Cyperus alternifolius) grow in bog gardens or along the edges of ponds in their perennial range in USDA zones 8 through 11.
You can also grow the umbrella sedges in containers without drainage holes -- outdoors or as a houseplant -- with up to 6 inches of water above their crowns.
- Watering. Umbrella sedges prefer moist to wet soil. Don't allow the soil to dry.
- Fertilizing. Aquatic fertilizer tablets are typically used for bog and water-garden plants. Follow all label recommendations, because you may need only one application in spring or one application each month during the growing season, depending on the particular brand of fertilizer. Press fertilizer tablets 3 inches from the plant crowns, to the depth of a finger, and press the soil together to keep the tablets in place.
- Pruning. When seed heads form, remove them because of this plant's invasive potential. Every two years, give plants a hard pruning -- down to the ground -- to rejuvenate them.
- Problems. Arizona State University notes these plants are remarkably free of pests and diseases.