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Umbrella Plant: Care & Pruning Tips

Updated on July 17, 2014
The glossy, tear-drop shaped leaves of the Umbrella Plant make it visually appealing in any household setting.
The glossy, tear-drop shaped leaves of the Umbrella Plant make it visually appealing in any household setting. | Source

The Dwarf Umbrella Tree-more commonly called the Umbrella Plant-is a popular houseplant in many households, far from its native lands in Taiwan and surrounding countries. The Dwarf Umbrella Tree, or Schefflera arboricola, is an evergreen shrub whose popularity as a houseplant and use in landscaping in humid climates is compounded by its tolerance of unfavorable conditions, including lack of water and sunlight.

The Umbrella Tree can grow to around five feet in height, but with proper trimming and care, can remain small in size and be used as a bonsai. The leaves of Umbrella Trees can come in two different colors- solid green or a variegated variety, with yellow or white patches on the leaves. The variegated type is the most popular for bonsai.

Care of Umbrella Plants

Despite their natural hardiness, Umbrella Plants will die just like any other houseplant if neglected. Umbrella Plants favor moist soil, but will not do well if their soil is routinely saturated at length. Test your soil by digging a small hole about the length of your index finger in the soil about four inches away from the base of the plant. If the soil is damp in the bottom of the hole, but not at the top, water evenly within the next few days.

Wilting leaves are an obvious sign that the plant requires watering, but if the leaves begin to turn different colors and drop, the plant is getting too much water. Water more frequently in spring and summer, but scale back your watering during the plants’ dormant season in winter. It is also a good idea to mist your plant regularly with distilled or filtered water if you live in a dryer climate as Umbrella Plants prefer more humid and moist conditions.

Umbrella Trees do not require any special soil and can be potted with any standard quality potting mix. Pot your umbrella Tree in a container with a drainage hole in the bottom and line the bottom with rocks or a mixture of peat and sand to help aid with drainage of excess water. The Umbrella Tree blooms from early to late summer and is also in its most active growing phase during that time. If your Umbrella Plant is not placed near a source of bright sunlight for the majority of the day, you can fertilize it with good quality liquid fertilizer once a week throughout the growing period.

Umbrella Plants are light lovers and prefer bright lights, but as with many plants, can suffer damage and dehydration in direct, hot light. Umbrella Plants are very adaptive to different light sources and will thrive in a variety of light levels if allowed time to adjust. It can be stressful for the plant if it is suddenly placed in a different environment without being allowed sufficient time to adapt.

The Umbrella Plant normally remains in good health, but is also prone to infestations of mites, mealy bugs and other insects. If you discover spotting on the underside of your plant’s leaves, or other signs of infestations, spray with any common pesticide as directed.

Pruning of Umbrella Plants

Umbrella Plants need little pruning if allowed to grow to full size, beyond regular removal of dead stalks and leaves. If you have an outdoor Umbrella Plant, it can be easily pruned to a desired size with shears. Umbrella Trees are among the easiest plants to use for those just beginning the art of bonsai, however, if you are growing an Umbrella Plant as a bonsai, you will need to be aware of how to properly prune your tree.

Converting a full grown Umbrella Plant to a bonsai will take large quantities or time and be stressful on the plant. It is recommended you start with a young, small plant. Pruning is used as a tool to encourage heavy branching of the plant, so you should prune your plant around areas where you want thicker foliage and trim to shape as desired. Water your bonsai frequently, and never allow the soil to dry out, or become too saturated. It is somewhat difficult to prune the Umbrella Plant into traditional bonsai shapes, but it is easy to trim and preserve at a miniature size.

It is important to note that the Umbrella Tree is poisonous if ingested, so you should take care to keep all trimmings, seeds and fallen leaves away from pets and small children.

Do you have an Umbrella Plant in your house?

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    • profile image

      ang 2 months ago

      hi there i have an umbrella plant in my kitchen by sliding door it love it there i have even cut it in half and it started growing for where i cut it.all i want to no is what do i feed the plant with i had never feed it but must need some kind of plant food thanks

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      Renae 7 months ago

      I have a schefflera that I've had for about a year. It was a small cutting when I got it. It took it about 6 months for it to reach a foot in height and has basically stopped growing for the last 6 months. It's just a stick with a bunch of leaves on the top. It's healthy and green with perfect leaves.....just not growing or branching. The only change I've noticed is the stem has turned from tender green to woody brown. It's in a standard 6" pot. Should I repot to something larger? Feed it?

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      tracey. grant 21 months ago

      my 30yr old umbrella plant (indoors) has been dropping its leaves more than usual. its not over or under watered and there is no infestation, what can i do, im quite fond of my plant???

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      Sunny 22 months ago

      We have a 7 foot tall schefflera plant and it became too top heavy and broke halfway. We just immediately planted it in soil 2 weeks ago but it's not looking happy at all and may be dying. What can we do? I'd hate to lose that branch because it's about 3-ft. tall.

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      Mary branum 24 months ago

      Can you get a start off of the trimming if so how do you go about it

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      Debbie in Minnesota 2 years ago

      Can u separate a large overgrown umbrella tree? Or just repot it? Debbie in Minnesota - it's indoors in a sunroom

    • Shanna11 profile image
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      Shanna 2 years ago from Utah

      Lisa- Definitely go with a roomier pot. They grow fast and need space for the root system.

      Jackie- If your kitten was digging around in it (as my cats often do!), it's likely that she was burying waste, which can upset the Ph balance of the soil and cause your umbrella plant to die. I would completely change the soil and move it to a fresh pot. Don't give it too much sun. The waste in the soil might be burning the roots- you don't want to burn the leaves, too.

      McNicolA- Those sound like flower buds! It's a sign that your plant is healthy.

    • profile image

      McNicolA 2 years ago

      We have one at the office. It gets plenty of morning sun (about 4 hours for now, it being January) and its watered once a week. I moved it from being on my desk to being on the floor. There's more light there.

      In the past month or so, it has grown what look like small pine cones (?). They're green like the stalk, but I just don't know what they are. Any suggestions?

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      Jackie Clemence 2 years ago

      I've had my plant for 30 years. We replanted it in the spring and moved it from the porch to the dining room. It seemed to love the move and has continued to produce more leaves and looked very healthy. A couple of months ago I noticed the soil had been disturbed, the prime suspect for this was the new addition to the family our kitten. The plant started to drop some leaves but then slowly started to pick up again. A couple of weeks before Christmas I discovered she had been digging in the tub, the soil appeared ok but since then every day the leaves are changing colour and dropping off. I don't want the plant to die any advice please?

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      Lisa 2 years ago

      Do umbrella plants prefer roomy pots or to be a little more cramped??

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      Chyenne 2 years ago

      So my umbrella plant has started to turn brown and drop leaves and its stocks. We have not moved it from it location since we started it and has never had that problem till now. I do water it once every two weeks allowing it to dry before all my waterings. What can i do differently?

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      kathleen 2 years ago

      Can my tree be kept outside for winter I live in Texas by the coast

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      Mark 3 years ago

      How do u start a cuting from your umbrella plant.

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      Beth 3 years ago

      Thank you so much for all the useful info!

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      carol 3 years ago

      my leaves are falling off of my umbrella plant.I noticed dark spots on the leaves that have fallen off. What should i do to save my plant.. PLEASE Help.... :(

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      Rita 3 years ago

      I have an umbrella tree that seems completely dead. There is only a few leaves growing on one small branch... the rest is completely naked of leaves. I have had this tree for more than 10 years and I don't know why I have no leaves. Is there something I can do about it? I may have had an infestation but I never noticed. Can someone please let me know if there is something I can do to revive this tree? Thanks for any advice you can provide.

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      Meg 3 years ago

      My partner just got me a little one from the store, it's obviously root bound, but I don't want to re-pot it until it's gotten used to our apartment. However, there two main trunks. D'you think they are the same tree, or were two planted in the same pot to increase chances of a good looking specimen?

    • Shanna11 profile image
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      Shanna 3 years ago from Utah

      Kami-- aggressively trim the sides of the plant and it will grow upward.

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      kami 3 years ago

      We have an umbrella plant from my husbands grandma's passing. Its growing out instead of up. What should I do? I've already split it once, but I want something tall not fat. Please help ....

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      Beverley 3 years ago

      I have been given a 6ft tall plant can I trim top off it!

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      idigwebsites 3 years ago from United States

      I have these in my garden, but I didn't know they have a name, hehehe. They have one of my favorite foliage. Thanks for posting infos about this plant. :)

    • Shanna11 profile image
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      Shanna 4 years ago from Utah

      Sorry guys! I'm currently abroad right now and I don't always get to these as fast as I should!

      Fauchie- Theoretically, yes you can prune past the last prune point and it should be able to bud again. However, if you get too close to the trunk and the branch is too thick (the thicker the part of the branch is, the less likely it will bud) your chances of it budding again decrease. As long as you're pruning away from the trunk, you can prune beyond the last pruning point and it should be good.

      Pietz123- 1990? That plant is older than me! I'm impressed. If there is sap on the plant, it's probably got an open wound somewhere which could be the result of some sort of pest. If the leaves also have brownish spots on them, then this also points to some sort of pest or disease. I would take a leaf or small cutting to your local plant/hardware store and ask them to recommend you some sort of treatment for it.

      Carol- It's possible that your plant doesn't have the resources to sustain continuous growth upward. When your plant sends up other shoots and sprouts from the pot itself, it's usually a sign that the main part of the plant is in distress. If the main plant itself seems past saving, or if by pruning off the top two feet you would remove the vast majority of leaves available for photosynthesis I would recommend turning your care to one of the shoots.

      However, if the main plant still seems relatively okay, I would cut off the stems coming from the plant and then look for problems with the main plant. Have the roots outgrown the pot? Dig down to see how compacted they are and consider a transplant. Be sure to break up the root ball. Check for disease or soil drainage problems. Once you address any possible problems, trim about a foot off of your umbrella plant from the top and hopefully the bottom leaves will grow back.

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      carol 4 years ago

      i have an umbrella plant...it has grown to about 3' and very large around...why are the lower leaves dropping off...many sprouts coming on..i am afraid to prune...i had one years ago and i killed it...i feed it once a month...water sparingly...there are about 6 main trunks coming out of the ground...does one prune the stems coming from the trunks or the trunks themselves...thank you

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      pietz123 4 years ago

      My umbrella plant has been strong and healthy since 1990. Now suddenly it is dropping sap and the leaves have brownish areas. Any ideas on the cause and/or the fix?

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      Fauchie 4 years ago

      I have an umbrella tree that is about 3' tall with a 1" trunk. It was very dense in foliage when I purchased it and is getting taller and more sparse. I would like to prune it back to encourage it to grow thicker again. My question is: If a branch has previously been pruned, and it back-budded from that point, can I prune it again, past this original prune point (closer to the trunk that the original cut), and have it back-bud successfully again from this point? Thanks in advance!

    • Shanna11 profile image
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      Shanna 4 years ago from Utah

      Your point is valid. Umbrella plants are hardy and generally flourish in any range between 5 and 8 on the pH scale. A slightly more restricted pH (in the 5.6-7.8 range) is best for dwarf umbrella trees.

      What other information could be added to increase the usefulness of this article? I appreciate your input.

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      E=MC2 4 years ago

      Not to be rude but this was utterly useless. Please post what the soil acidity (on the pH scale) needs to be to grow an umbrella plant.

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      Pam 4 years ago

      I have an umbrella plant that's 3 ft tall and was wondering if I can prune it down and braid the trunk? It's more bushy right now and I want it more tree like.

    • Shanna11 profile image
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      Shanna 4 years ago from Utah

      That's sweet of you to offer, but I'm not currently in a housing environment where I would have room for an umbrella plant.

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      joan 4 years ago

      Have one from a mutliple arrangement plantling., which I devided. It is now over 2 ft in feet , and prolific . Can't kill it, but would like to how to care for it . Do you want it?

    • Shanna11 profile image
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      Shanna 4 years ago from Utah

      Woah! Sorry I've been so terrible with getting back to you all. There's no excuse besides being drowned in course work.

      Cindy- I would prune from the top down. Pruning from the top forces the plant to grow more at the base. If you prune from the sides, the plant will tend to only grow taller.

      Carol- Wow, that's an old plant! It may be getting smaller simply because it is getting older. I would take about five of the healthiest sections of your plants and make cuttings. Stick them in distilled water (tap water is fine, but distilled is always better if possible) with some plant food and crushed eggshells. It's a really good mixture for plants. When the roots grow, transplant each into top-notch potting soil and feed with plant food. Keep them in sunny spots. It could just be that through selective clippings throughout the years you've weeded out the parts of the plants that produced really big leaves. You've selectively bred your plant without realizing it!

      e1ephant- It sounds like the plant is just tired and probably on it's last leg. Make a few cuttings of the healthiest branches and then drastically prune the plant back. I would say to cut about half of all it's leaves and branches. It seems so counter intuitive and even painful (I hated thinning out my garden and trimming for the longest time!) but it really encourages plant growth in the long run. If your plant doesn't come back from the trimming, it was probably just on it's way out. Such is life. :(

      David- It's always a good bet to take a cutting or three before you begin pruning. It's a good just-in-case-I-murder-my-plant precaution. As the most leaves are at the top, I would highly suggest just lopping off the top one or two feet and rounding out your plant. Leave as much greenery as possible near the base and sides of the plant, but cutting off the top will stimulate growth lower down.

      Andrew- Umbrella plants are pretty hardy plants. I would take a cutting and then do the same as I've suggest for pretty much everyone here. Often when you cut the tops off plants they send up new, fresh shoots straight from the roots and start fleshing out nicely.

      General rule of thumb for all you umbrella plant lovers-- if it's an outdoor plant, trim in the fall heavily. Even indoor plants can benefit from regular trimming every fall. That way when Spring comes, the plant is ready to go!

      Let me know if you have any other questions. I promise to be more prompt!

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      Andrew B 4 years ago

      Similar to the last 2 posts I've got an old umbrella plant that is about 6 feet tall. For as long as I can remember the only leaves have been on the very top. Is there a way to stimulate growth lower down? How hardy are the plants can I simply chop the top off and it will re-sprout? (might ttry to take a cutting first)

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      David K 4 years ago

      Similar to e1ephants above: I have inherited a 7ft umbrella plant, very lacking in greenery - just a few leaves at the top of the tall stem and a few here and there. I would like to know if and how to prune or stimulate leaf production - or is it best to take a cutting and try to start again?

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      e1ephants 4 years ago

      I have a 30 year old household umbrella plant, but it has become very straggly with any greenery only on the ends of long stems. What's my best course of action as I don't want to lose my plant? Have considered cutting the ends off and try rooting them to start new plants, but would really like to save the main plant if possible, and wondered if this action would be too drastic for its survival.

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      Carol Bagley 4 years ago

      My husband and I bought an umbrella plant the first week we were married, 34 years ago, still have the same plant via cuttings but the leaves are getting smaller and the plant isn't looking itself. Not looking forward to divorce as I've been warned about this plant dying, any tips appreciated.

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      Cindy 4 years ago

      My umbrella plant is now reaching the top of my ceiling. I am afraid to prune it but it sounds like it would be ok. Should I start with some of the lower branches? Or, should I start at the top and prune it from there.

    • Shanna11 profile image
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      Shanna 4 years ago from Utah

      Marge: Check the underside of the leaves for insects or little round balls that could indicate eggs. Spray with an organic insecticide and see if that helps. If that doesn't, try moving the plant slightly away from the light (if possible) and making sure you aren't overwatering it.

      Kris: If you want it to branch out instead of growing taller, I would suggest you trim it back-- cut about 1/4 to 1/3 of the tallest branches to encourage leafing out.

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      kris 4 years ago

      my plant is growing great but it just keeps getting taller.. will it branch out on its own or should I plant clipping ?

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      Marge 4 years ago

      My umbrella plant is one year old & is very healthy except the new leaves coming out have brown spots on them. Any advice?

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      Sara Rose 4 years ago

      I received one of these plants in August from my brother-in-laws funeral and I am afraid that I am killing it. Thank you for telling me everything that I was doing wrong. I have what my brother calls 'Crack Lighting' for plants so I have tons of plants and they all flourish! This is the first one that is on the verge of dying since I moved into my house. Sad Face.

      So, thank you for this. I hope I can bring it back to life. More light and less water. Thank you so much. :-S

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      Fran 4 years ago

      My plant is a bonsai. About forty years old . I inherited the care of it from a neighbor. It is one foot tall in its container and three feet wide at the top. It is really an elegant looking little plant. I give a half cup of water once a week and it gets the afternoon sun. If anyone can give me advice in how to prune it without ruining its configuration I'd like to hear from them.

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      Lvgal 4 years ago

      How do you "root" an Umbrella plant? I want to save my 23 year old failing, slowly plant,

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      Bruce 5 years ago

      I have one of these plants that originally belonged to my grandmother. After my mother died I took the plant at first it lost a lot of foliage and with consistent care and fortitude the plant has begun to grow amazingly well. I play the piano to it daily and this last summer I left it outside and that gave it an unbelievable blast of growth. However it did get a mite infestation which was easily handled with some water and Palmolive dish soap a mixture of at least 20:1. During its time outdoors it had the morning sun only and I watered it every second day while misting it every evening I could. The result is a very healthy looking 47 year old plant that has new growth all over. This plant has become a living representation of my Mother and Grandmother. My mother said she seen it bloom white flowers once during her tenure with the plant. I hope it blooms for me.

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      howard 5 years ago

      are umbrella plants ok with budgies

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      Ann 5 years ago

      I have an umbrella plant that I got from my mother in law 23years ago, my husband can remember it being around since he was about 12yr old, that makes mine 40yr old ! It moved to a new lighter spot a year ago and over the last month or two has produced a lot of new growth. It's never flowered but looks great for its age and has a new lease of life, so easy to care for. I live in England so I can not put it outside but couldn't imagine it growing under foundations at all.

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      sam 5 years ago

      my neighbor said this plant will grow under the foundation and wow, that scared me. is he right?

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      Rebecca 5 years ago

      I received one of these plants when my father passed away, and I am guessing that it did not acclimate to my house well, because it simply died. I only have one stem left, which has stayed very healthy. Is there a way to regrow the rest of the stems? I really don't want to lose this plant, and since I moved it to a new room, that one stem has sprouted new ones, and is about a foot tall, maybe a little bit taller. Can I clip one of the stems off and replant it? [I have a black thumb, but I do not want to entirely lose this plant!] Thanks!

    • Shanna11 profile image
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      Shanna 5 years ago from Utah

      Hmm, it should be okay. I would suggest slowly introducing it-- a couple hours a day for a week or so before you leave it out there for the summer. If it's sunny and windy especially, make sure to keep it well watered and check the that the edges of the leaves are not turning black, because that means it's being burned by the sun.

      It would probably do best in an area where it will get a few hours of shade as well, but if you keep it watered and give it a chance to adjust to the hot sun every day, it should be okay. Misting it every day would probably also help it. If there are any signs of burning or the leaves start to drop from stress, move it back inside.

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      Cindy Shelton 5 years ago

      Is is ok to put my umbrella plant in its container out on the deck for the summer? It would be in the hot sun all afternoon. I do not want it to die, I have had it for 25 years now. It is the only plant I have that I have been able to keep living so long.

    • Shanna11 profile image
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      Shanna 5 years ago from Utah

      Storm- The umbrella plants my mom used to have around home when I was little never bloomed for some reason, so your plant may or may not, depending on the brand of plant, physical conditions or any breeding modifications the parent plant underwent.

      If it does bloom, it will bloom in summer and it will produce small clusters of pink or white flowers, but even if it doesn't bloom, it's probably still perfectly healthy.

      If you wanted more umbrella plants without having to buy them, Jeff is right in saying the cuttings grow fairly easily.

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      storm 5 years ago

      do umbrella plants flower?I bought one last year at about 2ft it is now 4&a half feet tall looking very healthy,just wondered if it produdes a flower.

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      Jeff 5 years ago

      Good tips. Also, it is very easy to root clippings, so you don't need to buy one. Just get a fresh cutting from someone that has one and stick it in water. After a few months you will see good root development and can plant it in soil.

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      cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

      I didn't know that these were called Umbrella Plants. I have always admired them but have never purchased one. I think that you have inspired me to do so! Great information.

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      Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great hub! I don't have one of these plants now but have kept them during my university days. Your hub has inspired me to try again.

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      snlee 5 years ago from Asia Pacific Regions

      helpful gardening tips

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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      I didn't know this was called the umbrella plant - I have these all over my house. I'm so glad it tolerates my forgetting to water it - I don't always remember to do that. You actually made this really interesting and now I know how to take care of my plants a little better.