molicalynden
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Location: Kansas City, MO

Help for a newbie with a Hawaiian Umbrella tree! (Please?)

Hi! I am brand new to the concept of caring for any plant more complicated than those weird viney office plants that are happy to grow in a bowl of water. My husband FTD'd a Hawaiian Umbrella bonsai (Arboricola schefflera) to me for Valentine's Day because he's deployed and he wanted me to have something that would last longer than a boquet of roses - but I think I am in over my head!! I have been trying to soak up as much info as I can find, but it's conflicting.

The leaves on my tree are drooping, there are brown spots forming on some of the leaves (towards the top and bottom of the tree), and they're falling off. Some sites say that I am watering too much and that my tree has something called "root rot" (they say that companies power-grow these plants and that their roots are not as abundant as the foliage on top and therefore don't need as much water as one might think)- other sites say that I am not watering enough!

I originally had the tree next to my bedroom window but we had a cold spell and I was scared for it, so I moved it to an inner wall - away from the window drafts and away from heating vents. It's in a pretty bonsai planter that is slightly raised and sits on a humidity tray with small rocks in it. (it's what was sent by FTD with the plant)

I started by watering every few days like the little blurb (in the booklet that came with the plant) said and at each watering I watered until the top of the soil looked saturated and there was water flowing through the bottom and collecting in the humidity tray. I would water again when the top of the soil was no longer damp and cool to the touch - like the blurb instructed.

Then the spots showed up, then the leaves started falling off, then prefectly good looking leaves started to feel flimsy and began drooping. They don't fall off unless there are brown spots, though. And there isn't any yellowing that my untrained eye can notice.

At the advice of one website, I allowed the soil to dry out and the tree seemed to do better - whenever I water it, it seems like I lose more leaves!! I am SO confused - I swear this tree has a personality disorder!!!

Please, if someone could help me out, I would appreciate it SO much! I love this little tree - I don't want it to die!! If it were an animal, I'd be at the vet in a heartbeat (unless it were a reptile and then I'd be holding it over a warm humidifier because the reptile vets in my area are morons), but I don't know where to go or what to do for a sick plant! (how awful is that?!?)

Thank you so much in advance!
~ Mollie

molicalynden
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Location: Kansas City, MO

And one more thing I forgot...

There are also leaves that are curling, too.

So, according to the websites I've visited, curling = not enough water and the brown spots = too much water. This tree has split personalities, I swear!!!

kdodds
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I *think* it might be something more than that. I just bought a group of Schefflera starts (basically what those commercial bonsai are, just tey're in prettier pots). And, I had the same EXACT thing happen to them, all of them. Now, I'm no novice. I've been keeping Schefflera for years. And, like the Pothos you mentioned, I've found them to be ridiculously easy plants that will, indeed, grow in just a glass of water. My initialy thought was that something was seriously wrong with the whole lot of them. Considering my other Schefflera is still fine and dandy, and considering your report, I think I may have been correct. The only thing I can think of that might cause something like that would be either tissue culture, or cuttings sold prematurely (before they're properly rooted). Since it would be overkill to TC a Schefflera, I have to then assume the latter. Because they're so inexpensive, I did not bother to inspect the roots.

With all that as precursor, are the leaves dropping yet? Are the little stems that connect the leaves to the branch/trunk also dropping? Is it blackening on the stems/branches/trunk? If the answer to any or all of those is "yes", you may be seeing the same thing I did. I fear, in any case, that this plant may be beyond saving. And, even if not, saving it may not be worth the effort expended.

If you truly loved the thoughtfulness of the gift, and wish to have something "presentable" living for your husband upon his return, you might want to take a visit to a local bonsai nursery. If there isn't one in your are, there are a few online sellers that sell bonsai Shefflera prett inexpensively ($20-30). Failing those two options, a larger Schefflera houseplant can often be broken up into multiple plants. These often already have barky trunks, even. You *might* be able to get a pot bound plant of this type at a local nursery (sometimes even supermarkets, WalMarts, etc.) that can be used to create a bonsai "on the fly". The better option, by far, though, is to buy another one. Now, I'm not being devious here. If it were me, I would honestly explain what happened and tell him the real gift was him giving you a new interest, one that you truly enjoy.

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Mollie,
Some sites say that I am watering too much and that my tree has something called "root rot" (they say that companies power-grow these plants and that their roots are not as abundant as the foliage on top and therefore don't need as much water as one might think)- other sites say that I am not watering enough!


kdodds wrote:
The only thing I can think of that might cause something like that would be either tissue culture, or cuttings sold prematurely (before they're properly rooted).
I think you guys may be on to something here. When I started with this species I bought a small pot of them, I think there were three, and wanted to separate them right away. What I found was surprising, the three little cuttings has almost no roots at all. Evidently the growers held them barely long enough to get them started and then shipped them out. Two of the three simply did not survive the whole process but after the third became established it proved to be a very east plant to care for. It does not seem to be particularly picky about being allowed to dry out for a while, but of course mine now has an adequate root system.

Norm

kdodds
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Actually, I just unburied the pot they were in to re-use for a ponytail palm. Since I cut them down, and didn't pull them out, I can emphatically say, afer unburying what was left, that they were, exactly as I said, unrooted cuttings.

IF this is the same case with your bonsai, molicalynden, then you just MIGHT be able to save it. Chop off anything that's blackened, taking a good ¼-½" green with it. If this leaves just a trunk, don't bother going any further. If not, unpot it, and place the tree, what there is of it, in a glass of water, just like Pothos. If it has an inadequate root system, you should notice this right away. Let its roots establish in the water glass before proceeding, then repot with a proper bonsai soil. IME, Schefflera don't mind wet so much as they dislike slow draining pots. A pot that is constantly wet will do them no good, especially if there are rocks sealed over the soil. These "bonsai" are nothing of the sort. They're, like I said, cuttings in prettier pots. I can get a largish 3 stem cutting/start for about $3, and one of those pots for about $5. And that's retail. Can you imagine what the people shlocking together these "bonsai" are making selling them for $30 a pop. Sheesh.



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