Root rot is an ever-present specter for the sunny Schefflera. Also called Umbrella trees, this charming favorite is often struck with stinky roots and sad, wilting leaves.
It’s almost insulting to see them so miserable. Unfortunately, no matter what cultivar you adore, these sprawling wonders are particularly vulnerable to root problems.
Schefflera usually get root rot because they get too much water. Only water when the top half inch of the soil is completely dry; never allow them to sit in standing water. It also helps to have the right pot and well-draining potting soil. Consider propagation as a last resort if all other options have failed.
What Does Root Rot Look Like On Scheffleras?
It starts in Schefflera’s pot, which is why root rot is such an insidious problem for average indoor gardeners: deep in the darkest corners.
Unfortunately, it’s usually too late for anything but the most dramatic rescues when symptoms appear.
Easy-to-Spot Symptoms of Root Rot
The first signs of root rot look a lot like signs of dehydration. As a result, the Schefflera begins to droop and curl its leaves.
Curled or wilted leaves turn yellow and eventually fall off as the season progresses.
The leaves may also show yellow botching and brown spots or develop floppy brown tips. In severe cases, entire branches may fall off.
Pay close attention to the soil’s surface. Puddles and visible water are good indicators of too much water and the roots dying, especially if it all smells bad.
On the soil, you may also notice a sprinkling of gray fuzz. This mold or mildew tells you that serious issues are buried beneath the surface.
Hidden Symptoms of Root Rot
Tap out the Schefflera’s root ball, and you’ll begin to see the root rot damage.
Roots that are dying turn black, brown, or even orange. This is what the fungus in the soil is doing as it breaks down the dead roots.
As the roots break down, they get slimy to the touch and often fall apart entirely.
This is because the thinner roots on the outside break off, and the thicker roots in the middle shed their outer layers.
They will also smell like hell. The odor of sulfur or rotting fish is typical, indicating that you have some work to do to save your plant.
Causes Schefflera Root Rot
The most common cause of root rot in Schefflera is overwatering. While these plants prefer moist soil, too much water can cause root damage. In addition, they require small pockets of air to function.
When the soil is flooded, those pockets are quickly filled. It’s as if the roots can’t breathe and begin to sink.
The Schefflera starts to rot from the base up as the dead roots decompose in the soil.
Water Schefflera only when the top half inch of soil has dried completely. Allow them to drain completely before returning them to their saucer or tray.
Any water that accumulates in the drip tray must be discarded because they do not like sitting in stale water.
This method of watering keeps the soil moist but not soggy, preventing it from becoming saturated or stagnant.
Schefflera can become flooded if the drainage isn’t working correctly.
Heavy soils that hold water or a pot that doesn’t have a way for water to drain will always turn a reasonable amount of water into a soggy mess.
Schefflera requires a pot with at least three holes and rich but well-draining soil. Even if you apply just the right amount of water, the roots will become soggy without it.
The more drainage holes in pots, the better for your Schefflera. This will allow water to flow freely from the pot whenever you give the plant a drink.
You are making sure that your potting mix is both rich and well-draining is a vital piece of the puzzle, as well.
Although a premium potting blend is ideal, it is necessary to amend the soil.
I enjoy incorporating perlite into the soil of demanding plants.
Perlite is a type of volcanic glass that does not rot and provides consistent drainage. A third of the volume of potting soil is ideal. (Check Price on Amazon)
Inappropriate Pot Size
A too-large pot is a death trap for a Schefflera. It can’t reach the water at the pot’s edges, so the moisture becomes stale.
Organic matter in the soil begins to decompose, and it won’t be long before the roots start to rot.
It’s just as bad if the pot is too small. The roots of the Schefflera are tight, and water moves through the soil in a complicated way to predict.
Depending on how densely packed the roots are, some areas of the potting mix will stay dry while others will become soggy as water cannot drain past them.
Choose a pot no more than two inches wider than the old one when repotting a Schefflera.
That’s a significant upgrade because it’s neither too small nor too large.
These cheerful beauties require repotting every 1-2 years, depending on the size of the plant and how quickly it fills the pot.
This will refresh their soil, preventing harmful fungi growth while keeping it nice and fertile.
True tropical, Schefflera can’t stand the cold at all. Roots and leaves can be damaged by a sudden cold snap, making them more vulnerable to pathogens.
In addition, roots in the pot begin to decay as the delicate outer roots die.
Maintain a temperature range of 60-80°F (15-26°C) for your Schefflera, preferably at the higher end. This will keep the plant warm and thriving.
Keep drafts in mind as well. For example, a Schefflera near an air conditioning vent will feel much colder than one in the center of the room.
Also, keep an eye out for cold window panes, which can become quite chilly in the cooler months.
Watering In the Dormant Period
The Schefflera goes into dormancy as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder in the fall and winter months.
As a result, the plant’s growth slows down, conserving its energy until spring’s bright light returns.
Any water poured into the pot will sit unused, stale, and encourage decomposition. Schefflera does not need it, and the more you add, the more it suffers.
When watering Schefflera in the winter, use caution. For weeks at a time, you may not need to water it at all, and you can safely let it dry out more than you could in the summer.
During the cooler months, I recommend that you manually check the soil before watering.
I run my finger around the soil, testing the moisture level by touch. You can use a moisture meter instead of getting your hands dirty.
In this way, you can determine how much water remains in the soil and whether or not you need to add more. (See Amazon prices)
Root Diseases of Schefflera
Potting soil contains many microorganisms, many of which are beneficial to plants.
For example, as they decompose soil organic matter, they provide nutrients for the plant and help to maintain a mild acidity that the Schefflera prefers.
But even harmless fungi will attack a Schefflera that gets too much water, giving it a one-two punch that can kill even the most potent plants. So here are some things to keep an eye out for:
Schefflera soft rot
Soft rot is distinguished by a brownish discoloration that spreads throughout the plant.
On tree trunks and branches, brown and foul-smelling soggy tissue patches appear.
Leaf dehydration causes soft tissue patches to appear on leaves, sometimes as speckles and other times as larger, isolated spots.
Soil fungi and bacteria can cause soft rot, but bacteria prefer to attack the leaves first.
Pythium root rot
Pythium, once thought to be a fungus, is a species of parasitic oomycetes, tiny swimming microbes. It prefers wet soil and is most active when cold and humid weather.
Pythium penetrates the roots, impairing their ability to absorb nutrients from the soil.
As a result, the tissue dies, and stems and trunks become soft and soggy as the disease progresses. As it fails, the Schefflera will exhibit broader signs of stress.
Phytophthora Stem and Root Rot Disease
Phytophthora is a dangerous fungus that attacks the roots of Schefflera, turning them black or brown.
Once Phytophthora gets inside a plant, it strikes every part of it, starting with the roots and working its way up.
The most common Phytophthora symptom is rotted roots, but sick Schefflera frequently exhibits lesions on stems and leaves, as well as spots and yellowing leaves.
Treating Schefflera Diseases
Schefflera disease can be treated with broad-spectrum plant medicine.
First, check if treating Phytophthora and Pythium is safe – not all fungicides are effective against these two villains.
They’re difficult to control and only respond to a narrow range of chemicals.
It’s also critical to read the instructions thoroughly and follow them strictly. Chemical fungicides are incredibly potent; always wear protective equipment and apply only outside.
Homemade Fungicide For Root Rot
If you can, avoid using commercial treatments on Schefflera because they are more sensitive to harsh chemicals than most indoor plants.
Fungicides made at home are less likely to harm your plant and are also safer to use in the house.
There is less danger to pets and children, and it is common to have at least one on hand when disaster strikes.
Adding horticultural charcoal to the soil prevents root problems before they have a chance to develop.
Additionally, it aids in the soil’s acidification by drawing out toxins.
Most pathogens have trouble surviving in soil with a high pH, but Schefflera thrives in a bit more acidic soil than usual.
Charcoal is excellent all-around support for these charismatic darlings.
One of my favorite home remedies for root problems is cinnamon powder.
It is very good at killing fungi and has hormones that help roots grow. For those with root issues, it’s an excellent all-arounder.
I like to soak the roots in a cinnamon infusion. In a quart of hot water, steep half a teaspoon of powdered cinnamon.
Once the liquid has cooled, strain it and slowly pour it over the entire surface of the Schefflera soil. Allow any excess water to drain before relocating the plant to its drip tray or saucer.
Cold chamomile tea, used as a root drench, soothes injured roots. In addition, it contains naturally occurring fungicides, like cinnamon, that help protect stressed roots from attack.
Brew a cup of chamomile tea and pour it slowly over the soil’s surface once it’s cool. I usually make two cups: one for my sick plants and one for myself.
How to Save Schefflera from Root Rot (Step by Step)
Step 1: Stop Watering
Watering a plant with damaged and dying roots, regardless of the cause, is a recipe for disaster.
Instead, place the watering can on the ground and empty any standing water from drip trays or saucers.
Step 2: Remove the Infected Leaves and Parts
Remove any dead or dying leaves with a clean pair of scissors or shears. Always throw away diseased plant cuttings in the garbage. It is not compostable.
Step 3: Unpot the Plant and Dry out the Root System
Examine the root system of the Schefflera by gently tapping it out of its pot. Remove the soil to allow oxygen to reach the roots.
Larger plants may need to be spread out on a tarpaulin or old newspaper. Allow a few hours for drying. Larger specimens may have to be left in this position overnight.
Step 4. Trim off the Infected Roots
Remove any dead or dying roots with clean, sterile shears.
Healthy roots are white, yellow, or cream. Remove any black or brown roots that have visible damage or are soft or soggy. Throw away old soil and dead roots in the garbage.
You should also thoroughly wash your hands and clean and sterilize your tools.
This will help keep the disease from spreading to other plants and provide the cleanest possible new home for your sick Schefflera.
Step 5. Re-pot Using New Soil and Pot
Repot the Schefflera in a fresh new pot with new soil. Choose a pot the same size or an inch larger than the old one for a root-rotted plant.
Choose a pot with at least three holes and a rich potting mix with good drainage.
I like to combine two parts of good quality potting soil with one part of perlite, peat, or coco coir. This will keep the soil moist while still allowing excess water to drain from the mix.
Step 6. Watering after Repotting
Water your Schefflera thoroughly once it’s in its new pot. The potting mix may settle, so top up the pot as needed.
I like to add some cinnamon infusion to the first watering because it promotes new growth and protects against disease. It also smells fantastic!
Another option is to drench the roots in a solution of one part 3% hydrogen peroxide to three parts water.
This will kill any pathogens still in the root system without harming the plant.
Allow the newly repotted Schefflera to dry out after the first deep drink before watering again. The roots have been damaged and require time to heal.
Allow the top inch of the potting mix to dry before watering. Only water when the top half inch is dry in the future.
Even the best intervention can fail, leaving you with a Schefflera with no roots but plenty of leaves.
In severe cases of root rot, you may be better off propagating a new plant rather than attempting to save the old one.
Schefflera can be propagated from a single leaf, but a stem with a few leaves and at least one growth node is preferable.
How to Propagate Schefflera in Soil
You will need:
- Schefflera cutting.
- A clean pruning knife.
- A small quantity of potting soil in a small, well-draining container.
- Clear plastic bag or clear lid for the container.
- Powdered cinnamon or rooting hormone.
- Make a clean 45° angle cut at the base of your cutting with a clean knife. Avoid using scissors or shears because they will not produce a smooth cut.
- After trimming, apply a rooting hormone to your cutting. The cinnamon powder works well.
- Plant the cutting in a small amount of Schefflera-specific potting soil. For leaves, place them on a nursery tray or in a clear, shallow container with only the tip of the stem in the soil.
- Cover your cutting with a clear plastic bag to create a greenhouse environment. Cover leaves in a tray with clear plastic or even the container’s lid.
- Place in a warm, well-lit location out of direct sunlight. Maintain moist soil.
- After 4 to 6 weeks, the roots should be ready to be transplanted into a pot.
How to Propagate Schefflera in Water
You will need:
- Schefflera cutting.
- A clean pruning knife.
- Vessel of clean water. A reused jar or bottle is ideal.
- Powdered cinnamon or rooting hormone.
- As with soil propagation, begin by making a clean 45° cut at the base of your cutting.
- Put the cutting in the water no deeper than the leaf’s base. Consider a bottle with a neck that keeps the leaves out of the water for short cuttings.
- Move the water vessel to a warm, well-lit area away from direct sunlight.
- Check the water level regularly and top it off as needed. If the water becomes cloudy, replace it entirely.
- The roots can be transplanted into the soil once they reach two inches.
Your new Schefflera is an excellent opportunity to begin again.
Their crisp, clean roots will be free of the disease that killed the original plant, and while it’s heartbreaking to lose a beloved plant, it’s reassuring to know that we can always propagate it.
The following is a follow-up:
I’ve tried two methods. I planted a cutting in damp soil in my greenhouse, which keeps the soil moist enough that I don’t have to water often. Then I immersed 15 cuttings in water.
Clearly, I had a preference for one approach over another. However, 13 of the water-rooted cuttings have died. It’s down to two. Only one of the cuttings I put in soil lived.
Not only that, but the one clipping that grew roots in soil has a lot more new growth than the two that I took care of and grew roots in water inside my house.
I didn’t use any hormones because the rooting hormone I was using was burning everything I dipped it in.
Update: I’ve added a picture to show how I made my cuttings. This is exactly what I did, as indicated by the red lines on the branches.
How to Prevent Root Rot in Schefflera
- Only water when the top half inch of soil is dry.
- Schefflera should be grown in rich, loamy soil with good drainage.
- Use pots with at least three drainage holes.
- Keep Schefflera warm at 60-80°F (15-26°C).