aralia fabian close up picture

How To Care For Your Aralia Fabian (Polyscias scutellaria ‘Fabian’)

aralia fabian close up picture

The Aralia Fabian is quite an unusual looking houseplant. It is sometimes said to look a little tree-like due to the stump it forms at the base and is occasionally sold as an Aralia or Fabian stump. The plant is, however, relatively easy to grow and won’t grow too large too quickly.

The most important thing to remember when growing the Aralia Fabian is to keep it warm, at least 65°F is preferred but it will be even happier at 80°F. It really is imperative that temperatures do not drop below 60°F. The plant will cope with most light conditions but prefers bright, indirect light and prefers moderate to high humidity.

These are just the basics that you need to know for growing this magnificent plant but please read on to learn more about its origins, watering and pruning requirements, propagation, and much more.

How Much Water Does This Polyscias Need?

It is generally best to under-water rather than over-water this plant. That being said it does need regular watering, particularly in the growing season during spring and summer. The best method is to wait until the top couple of inches of compost have dried out. This can be done by sticking your finger into the compost, feeling the weight of the plant, or by judging by the color of the compost which will lighten as it dries out.

It is best to use rainwater, if possible, especially if you live in areas with hard water. Alternatively, you can use water that has been boiled as this will remove some of the hardness but do make sure to leave it to cool first! It is a good idea to let tap water stand for 24 hours before watering most houseplants as this removes some of the impurities. Please don’t use water that has been through a softener as this water will contain sodium – something that will harm the plant if done repeatedly.

More generally on temperature, it is a good idea to let your water, of any type, stand for a while to allow it to adjust to room temperature. Water straight from the tap or from an outside water butt in the middle of winter may give your plant a nasty shock.

There are various things that may ail your plant if you get the watering wrong. Most of these symptoms can be caused by other things too so be sure to consider those I mention later in this piece as well. A sudden loss of lower leaves or their curling and yellowing could be a sign of lack of water. Over-watering signs are usually caused by root rot, which can cause the leaves to yellow and stunt the growth of the plant.

So, in summary, use rainwater or tapwater that has been left to stand for several hours when the first couple of inches of soil has dried out and you shouldn’t have too many water-related issues.

What About Humidity Levels?

Most plant guides recommend that Polyscias need a moderate to high humidity level, something best achieved by standing on a pebble tray. However, it is likely that more mature plants will continue to survive quite happily in normal household humidity levels even if they would perhaps thrive in slightly higher levels. It is, though, best to keep them away from draughts such as near a frequently opened door.

If you are an avid and large-scale grower of houseplants then you may have a humidifier that will help raise the humidity levels in your room. However, if like most of us, your budget doesn’t stretch up to three figures or you don’t want to raise the humidity levels across a wide area of your house you can easily create a raising of local humidity levels by placing the plant on a pebble tray. This is created by placing some pebbles in a plastic saucer and almost covering them with water. You can then stand the plant’s pot on the tray of pebbles, making sure it doesn’t touch the reservoir of water, and the evaporation from the tray will raise the humidity levels around the plant. Keep the reservoir topped up and you should notice that you have to water your plant less.

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Another effective way of raising humidity is to group plants together. This works because plants release water through a process called transpiration. Grouping them together means they will all keep releasing moisture into the air around them – rather like when animals huddle together to keep warm!

Another thing you can do is to occasionally mist your plants. Not only will this help to raise humidity but it will give the leaves a bit of a wash to remove dust (alternatively, you can wipe them with a damp cloth). Be careful not to overdo the misting, though, or you may encourage molds to grow. And make sure the water that you are using (preferably rainwater) is allowed to warm to room temperature before using.

Lastly, the placement of radiators is something to consider when siting your houseplant. The atmosphere in your home is generally drier when radiators are on so keep this in mind. If you are using a pebble tray as mentioned earlier then they may actually help to increase humidity by increasing evaporation but otherwise keep the plants a good distance away from them.

The main thing to watch out for with relation to humidity is browning of the leaves. This can be caused by low humidity levels. It may also be caused by light that is too bright but we will get on to that…

How Much Light Does My Plant Need?

In short, place your Aralia Fabian in what is typically described as bright but indirect light.

Practically this usually means a few feet from a south or west facing window. These plants do really want some full sun on them during the cooler parts of the day so a couple of hours as the sun sets is perfect. They will tolerate lower light levels but this may mean growth becomes slightly lankier as the plant tries to stretch for the light.

Being in shade will increase the risk of root rot (see below) as the compost will remain wet for longer so keep that in mind and reduce watering accordingly.

All that being said, direct sunlight during the heat of the day will almost certainly be detrimental and will scorch the leaves, turning them brown at the edges, as mentioned above.

A Bit About The Aralia Fabian

This Polyscias comes from the islands in the Pacific Ocean, specifically New Guinea and surrounding islands. It can also be found in places such as India, parts of Africa, and Central America. Its genus name Polyscias means “many shade”, presumably in reference either to their ability to tolerate some shade or the dense shade that can be cast by their foliage. This foliage is slightly unusual in that the leaves are quite round and may have slightly purple undersides.

The plant, or those very closely related to it, can grow quite tall if not pruned or if given a free root run. Some sources say that upwards of 10 feet can be reached but most guides put the eventual height at somewhere around 5 feet and spread at around 2 feet.

It may be grown outside in those areas that closely resemble its natural habitat but this is unlikely to be year-round in most of the world. It really does not want to be outside unless you live in US Hardiness Zone 12b or above, preferably in zone 13. Like many houseplants it will benefit from time outdoors in summer if given the right conditions.

The Aralia Fabian can flower in its natural habitat but this is very unusual when grown as a houseplant. If it does, small white flowers will appear in clusters in spring.

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Does It Need Fertilizing Or Repotting?

As with most houseplants, they will benefit from an occasional feed during the growing season. An organic, balanced, liquid fertilizer once a month during spring and summer is recommended. It is important not to overfeed as this could mean the compost ends up with too many salts and minerals in it and you may even kill the plant. If you do suspect you have overfed your plant then you need to flush the excess nutrients out of the compost by watering. This is quite tricky to do without waterlogging the plant and is probably best done by taking the plant out of its container and removing as much of the compost as possible without disturbing the roots too much and allowing air to dry the roots before repotting.

With regard to repotting more generally, this won’t need to be done very often as the plants are quite slow-growing in most conditions. Use a standard houseplant compost or John Innes No.3 mix and move into the next size of container about once every 3 years. Transplant in the spring and water well 24 hours before transplanting. You may want to consider adding extra grit to the compost or a layer of stones or crocks (bits of broken pot) at the bottom of the pot if you have had a trouble with waterlogged compost in the past but this shouldn’t be necessary.

How About Pruning My Polyscias?

As with the debate around the height it can reach, there are different theories with regard to pruning this plant. All agree that any dying or yellowing leaves can be removed for aesthetic reasons, while any small leaves that grow off the main trunk, often called suckers, should be removed.

Some sources say that pruning can be substantial, particularly on larger plants if you wish to reduce their size or keep them in check. It is important to never remove more than a third of the foliage in any one year and to cut just above a node on the stem. Alternatively, you may want to pinch out the growing tips of your plant when it has grown to the height that you want of around 5 feet. This is probably a better suggestion if you want to prevent your plant from getting too large.

Can My Plant Be easily Propagated?

These plants are not the easiest of houseplants to propagate. If you wish to grow from seed, then you first need flowers and as mentioned earlier these are incredibly rare on plants cultivated indoors. Seeds may be available to purchase but are not easy to find (at least I can’t find a supplier online!) and you can then follow the sowing instructions that the seller provides.

The best way, though still far from easy, is to use semi-ripe stem tip or stem cuttings. Select a length of stem that is around the thickness of a pencil (still bendy but not fresh growth). If using the stem tip method, then cut a length of stem around 8 inches just below a node, remove the leaves from around two-thirds of the stem, and place the bottom half of it into some compost. For stem cuttings, a smaller portion of semi-ripe wood is required. Each length of stem will need only one leaf and a small portion of stem to either side of it. Cut directly below a node with a clean knife and sink into compost to just below the leaf. Keep the compost moist but not waterlogged and place inside a polythene bag in bright indirect light. It is best to provide a little bottom heat of around 55-60°F. Roots may take many weeks to form but if the plant shows significant signs of growth then you have been successful and you can transplant your new plant to a new pot when it has grown a couple of new leaves of its own.

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Are These Plants Poisonous?

Don’t eat them is the best answer. There are differing answers as to how poisonous these plants are but most sources say that they “may be considered toxic”, probably out of an abundance of caution. If they are eaten by either children or pets it is probably best to seek medical advice but the most likely result will be stomach upset and vomiting. Of course, if a lot is ingested then more serious problems are more likely.

What Are Common Problems With This Plant?

As with many houseplants, it is important to get the watering right. Too much water will cause root rot which manifests itself in stunted growth, yellowing leaves, or collapsed stems. If you remove the plant from the pot you will notice that the roots have gone brown and mushy rather than being their whiter and more fleshy healthy selves.

It is possible to salvage the plant providing the root rot has not taken hold too badly. Remove the plant from its container and carefully remove some of the waterlogged soil. Using a pair of clean scissors you then need to cut away some of the most damaged roots but be careful not to damage or disturb the healthy ones. You then need to repot the plant into some free-draining compost. Gently tap the pot to settle the compost around the roots but don’t press the compost down too much as this will take oxygen out of compost which is needed for good root growth. Then make sure you don’t make the same mistake of overwatering again! This will probably involve reducing the frequency of your watering and/or moving to a more brightly lit position.

The plant can also suffer from red spider mite. These are quite difficult to spot at first due to their miniscule translucent bodies (that are not usually red!) that appear on the underside of the leaf so can be relatively tricky to eradicate. Mottled yellow leaves are one sign but you may not notice them until a fine webbing appears on the plant.

The first step is to use a damp cloth to carefully wipe both sides of each leaf and use clean scissors to remove the worst parts of the plant. You will then probably want to take the plant outside to give it a gentle hose down to further dislodge the pests. It is probable that you will have to do this procedure several times over the next month to see if the problem has been solved. Whilst this is happening, you need to keep the plant away from other plants to prevent them from becoming infected.

There are several organic and non-organic pesticides that are available if the problem persists. The best of these are those based on plant oils and fatty acids as they are less likely to harm beneficial insects.

Red spider mite thrive best in warm, dry conditions so it is best to prevent that from occurring by using one of the measures listed above for raising humidity.

Scale insects, small scale or bump-like insects that appear on the undersides of leaves, are another potential problem. Because these are usually larger they are usually noticed sooner so are usually easier to treat. If the problem is more advanced you may notice a black mold growing on the foliage. Unless the problem gets too severe then it should be possible to remove the scales and their eggs by hand.  If not, there are pesticides available as for red spider mites.

Aphids, small green or black flies, may also be an issue and can be dealt with in a similar manner to that described above. The adults can be squashed or wiped off or they may be dislodged with a jet of water.