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How to train your umbrella plant to grow in a specific direction

Unhappy with the shape of your umbrella plant? Here’s a guide on how to train your umbrella plant to grow in a specific direction!

Umbrella plants (Scheffleras) are super popular houseplants.

People love their tropical shaped leaves, in clusters of 8, and their tree-like form.

We actually originally bought our umbrella plant as a small “bonsai” type tree for my husband’s office.

However, by repotting it into larger pots, we have allowed it to grow a bit larger.

But, now that it is growing, we are trying hard to shape it to fit our bedroom shelf perfectly.

It is actually possible to train your plant to grow in a certain direction – just by taking a few simple steps!

How to train your umbrella plant to grow in a specific direction

Printable Umbrella Plant care guide

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Umbrella Plant plant care guide

How to shape an umbrella plant

Before starting to shape your umbrella plant, it is important to understand the umbrella plant’s characteristics and growth patterns.

These plants grow out from one base trunk. Leaves grow off the branches in clusters of 8.

Observe your plant and look at the plant’s natural growth direction before training it. Notice where you have lots of leaves and where you have long stretches of leafless stem.

umbrella plant leaves

Choose the right tools

When pruning an umbrella plant, you want to use scissors or specialty plant shears. It is important to use sharp and clean tools to prevent damage to the plant or passing diseases between plants.

Pruning and shaping umbrella plants

Pruning can be used to train the umbrella plant by quickly removing branches where you don’t want them. This will encourage growth in the opposite direction – though you will want to check in for new growth where you don’t want it and remove it accordingly.

How to prune an umbrella plant to encourage growth in a specific direction:

  1. Choose the direction that you want the plant to go and position the potted plant appropriately in your space.
  2. Identify branches that are growing where you do NOT want it to grow.
  3. Use clean and sharp shears to remove these branches. Cut as close to the trunk as possible and avoid leaving a stub.
  4. If you have long branches growing in the right direction that are too long or too leggy (long without leaves) you can cut them back – but not all of the way back to the stem. This will encourage them to grow back fuller.
  5. Step back and assess the plant. Continue cutting as needed until you are satisfied.
  6. Try not to cut back more than 1/3 of your plant at once, or it might go into shock.
  7. Compost cuttings if possible!

Don’t forget the importance of regular pruning to maintain the desired shape. New growth will grow where you cut – so you have to keep checking in and removing it to keep it from just growing right back.

close up of umbrella plant leaves

Using stakes and ties

Stakes and ties can also be used to train the umbrella plant. If your tree is just leaning or slightly out of alignment, stakes can help you to train it without having to prune.

How to stake and tie the plant to encourage growth in a specific direction:

  1. Choose a bamboo stake or wooden dowel as tall as your umbrella plant.
  2. Place the stake on the opposite side of where you want the plant to grow. If you want it to lean left, place it on the right side, and vice versa.
  3. Use string to gently tie the plant to the stake, carefully.
  4. Check the tie to be sure it is not cutting into the trunk of the plant, or getting loose.
  5. You may need to ad multiple stakes if you want the tree to bend or have a shape to it.

Don’t forget the importance of regular monitoring and adjustment of the stakes and ties to be sure it continues to grow how you want it to.

potted umbrella plant on a table

The power of rotation

The top thing to remember is that plants grow towards the light. If it is in a corner, it will likely drop all of it’s leaves on the wall side.

So, rotate your plant to be sure that the whole thing gets light and it grow straight up.

Or, leave it against a wall and it will gradually lean away from the dark wall and towards the light source.

umbrella plant leaves

Watering and fertilizing

Watering and fertilizing properly are an essential part of helping your plant grow in any direction.

Water thoroughly, but avoid pooling water in the pot or splashing water on the leaves.

Fertilize monthly in the warm growing season.

Patience and consistency are the most important parts of training an umbrella plant to grow in a specific direction

If you are new to gardening and may be hesitant to try training your plants, be sure to check out our houseplant starter guide!

Thanks for reading!

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