Sticky Schefflera Plant: Why Is My Schefflera Sticky

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Scheffleras are ornamental foliage plants. In most zones, they are only suitable as houseplants because they are extremely tender. The wide leaf clusters resemble the spokes of an umbrella and have given them the nickname, umbrella tree. Schefflera plants are remarkably tolerant houseplants and do well in a variety of situations; however, they are also prey to insect pests. Sticky Schefflera leaves are likely a symptom of some hitchhiking bugs that are sucking the life out of your prized plant.

Why is my Schefflera Sticky?

Scheffleras have gorgeous, large glossy leaves arranged in a circle around a central stem. Each of the leaflets that make up the entire umbrella design can get up to 12 inches (30 cm.) long in mature plants. Indoor plants benefit from having the leaves dusted and it is during this activity that you may notice something new on the plant — sticky stuff on Schefflera foliage. The culprits may be several sucking insect pests which deposit excrement called honeydew on their host plant’s foliage, creating sticky Schefflera leaves.

Look under the leaves and on the stems of a Schefflera with sticky substance on its leaves. The problem stems from very small insects that feed on the sap of the plant and slowly reduce its vigor. The honeydew leaves behind a shiny, sticky mess. You can wash off the honeydew and get rid of some of the bugs, but just a few left behind will quickly colonize and before you know it you will have a sticky Schefflera plant again.

The most common culprits that cause sticky Schefflera leaves are aphids, mites or mealybugs. If you have an ant problem in the house, you may also notice ants in and around the plant. This is because ants “farm” aphids to keep them around for the honeydew, which is an ant food favorite.

What to Do About Sticky Schefflera Leaves

Any Schefflera with sticky substance on the leaves can be initially treated by taking it outdoors and blasting the leaves with water. Aphids rinse off the leaves and this treatment usually works well if you follow up at the first sign of the pests.

Systemic treatments formulated for houseplants work to prevent the pests and subsequent sticky stuff on Schefflera. It translocates from roots to stem to leaves, so that the insects intake it through their feeding activity.

A kinder, gentler solution when children and pets are present is Neem oil. This natural oil comes from a tree native to India. It has both toxic and repellent properties to many insects but is safe for use in the home.

Recovery for a Sticky Schefflera Plant

After a successful treatment and all signs of insect pests are gone, it is time to assess the damage. If your plant was dropping leaves, discoloring or failing to produce new growth, it is likely the insects damaged its health to some degree. That means you need to baby a plant that had been affected. Once the Schefflera with sticky substance has been cleaned up and the pests have been eradicated, ill health may continue.

Give the plant a gentle fertilizer every two weeks such as diluted compost tea or diluted fish or seaweed fertilizer. Water the plant regularly when the top 3 inches (7.6 cm.) of soil are dry. Repot plants that have poor soil, using a good potting soil with organic amendment. Over the course of a few weeks you should see improvement in your plant and it will be its old glossy self again.

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The leaves on my houseplant are covered with a sticky sap. There are also small "bumps" on the stems. What is the pro

The leaves on my houseplant are covered with a sticky sap. There are also small "bumps" on the stems. What is the problem?

The houseplant may be infested with scale insects. These small, inconspicuous insects are covered with shell-like coverings. They attach themselves to stems or leaves and suck sap from the plants. As they feed, the scale insects excrete a sweet, sticky substance called honeydew. The honeydew accumulates on the plant’s lower foliage, furniture, carpeting, or other objects beneath the infested plant.

The life cycle of scale insects consists of the egg, nymph, and adult stages. Eggs are laid below the scale coverings of the adult females. When the eggs hatch, the nymphs crawl from underneath their mother’s scale and move a short distance to their own feeding site. The newly emerged nymphs are also called crawlers. At their new location, the nymphs insert their slender stylets (mouthparts) into the plant and begin sucking sap. The covering or shell develops soon after feeding begins. Scale insects remain at these feeding sites the rest of their lives.

A small scale infestation causes little harm to healthy houseplants. However, a heavy scale infestation may result in poor, stunted growth. In severe cases, death of infested plants is possible.

Scale insects are difficult to control. Systemic insecticides are generally ineffective. The shell-like covering protects the scale from contact insecticides. The only time scale insects are vulnerable to contact insecticides is during the crawler stage. Since scale insects on houseplants don’t reproduce at a specific time, scale-infested plants will need to be sprayed with insecticidal soap or other houseplant insecticide every 7 to 10 days until the infestation is eliminated. Small infestations can be controlled by individually scraping off the scales or by dabbing each scale with an alcohol-soaked cotton swab. It’s often best to discard houseplants that are heavily infested with scale as control is nearly impossible and the insects could spread to other houseplants.

Q. Indoor Or Outdoor

I have a beautiful Heotapleurum arboricola. It has been sitting on my desk for 6+ years in front of a window. I'm wondering if I can put it outside on my deck, which gets afternoon direct sun. Can my plant deal with that? It's also getting very tall. I've read on how to prune it though I really don't understand where to cut, or what to cut. Like do I cut the MAIN stem or just the little leaf stem?

The direct sun may be a bit much for this plant, but if you could provide it with some cover or even a little shade, the plant would proabably enjoy some outdoor time. As for pruning, you can just cut off what you feel is overgrown to shape the plant as you like. These houseplants typically rebound quickly from pruning.

most arbs wont beable to handle that much direct light. you can cut plant anywhere you want and it will regrow,best done in spring when plant is in heavy growth season

Sticky Leaves Treatment – Controlling Scale

Generally controlling scale insects isn’t a big problem. Scale “breathes” through their “armor.” The easiest way to kill the scale is by suffocation.
There are several natural methods to control or get rid of the scale insects on plants indoors.
In the early stages with a light infestation:

  • Mix 1 teaspoon of DAWN dish detergent into 1 quart of warm water
  • Dip a cotton swab into the dish detergent / warm water mixture
  • Wipe the area down completely

For large infestations place the mixture into a spray bottle and spray the entire plant with the mixture, coat the infested areas completely.
The dish detergent “clogs” or disrupts the plant scales ability to breathe.
Other additions to the spray mixture include:

  • A good plant insecticidal soap solution. The most popular plant soap goes by the name “Safer Soap” and works well if the infestation of scale isn’t extensive.
  • Another “safe option” is to try Neem oil spray for plants. Neem oil is a great overall natural product which can take also control spider mites and even fleas on pets.
  • Add a safe horticultural oil will do the trick. A word or warning – When applying any chemical, indoors or outdoors, do it carefully and follow the label directions exactly.

Before attempting to handle the pest issue check with your local nursery or garden center – and remember … FOLLOW THE LABEL.
NOTE: On indoor plants, I would use neem oil or an insecticidal soap. The horticultural oil is better on outdoor plants.
Outdoors the sticky residue usually is accompanied with sooty mold. As mentioned above horticultural oil, neem oil and insecticidal soap can all be used outdoors.
However, do not apply when temperatures are over 85 degrees Fahrenheit and beware these controls will also kill natural predators.

Umbrella Plant Problems

Sticky leaves with clear or black residue

Of all the houseplants we've ever owned, the Umbrella Plant seems to fall victim to Scale Insects more than any other. The insects are great at hiding and going unnoticed unless you're really spending time looking for them.

The familiar and dreaded sticky mess caused by Scale

Meanwhile they secrete a clear sticky substance that if left will spread to nearby furnishings before attracting mold and eventually turning everything black and sooty. Once the infestation has set in, it's very hard to rid your plant of this pest, but it can be done. Check out our Pest page on Scale Insects for more information.

Once the main stems stop growing straight up and have a crooked or bent look, they stay like that. The central stem basically grows in the direction of the main light source. So if the location is generally bright or the light is directly above it, for example if you have a skylight overhead, then you will get a plant growing straight up.

If the light source is perhaps just coming from one window and the light falls onto the plant from the side (which most places like this will), then your plant will start to bend and lean towards the window. The fix for this is to rotate your plant's container about 90° degrees (1/4) every couple of weeks. The plant will continue trying to grow to the window, but the twisting effect will help keep the growth balanced and the central stem straight.

Leaf Fall / Yellow leaves on Umbrella Plant

If temperatures go very low, or if there is a sharp change to the surrounding atmosphere (like moving it around roughly or putting it outside with lots of wind etc) the plant could respond by dropping its lower leaves. This is not good as the lower leaves do not grow back so if you want a "full pillar" of a plant you want to treat it with respect to avoid this problem.

Umbrella Plants have dropping leaves whenever your watering skills are a bit off. Either you've been giving too much too frequently, or not enough. Only you can know which one is the culprit - have a feel of the soil to know which it is and go from there.

Providing it's the growing season and not the middle of Winter no growth or pale leaves on your Umbrella Plant is normally an issue caused by the need for fertiliser. Don't overdose to compensate as this could cause more problems, just use the feed as instructed by the manufacturer.

If there are no improvements within a month or two, then read through our care instructions above and see if you are following our advice in other areas.

About the Author

Over the last 20 years Tom has successfully owned hundreds of houseplants and is always happy to share knowledge and lend his horticulture skills to those in need. He is the main content writer for the Ourhouseplants Team.

(Article / Gallery) Photo of the Umbrella Plant with yellow / green leaves to Yercaud-elango

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