Update: Houseplant Spotlight - Ming aralia

ming aralia

Learn all about Ming Aralia (polyscias fruticosa) care with our complete guide. 

Currently, the Ming Aralia is an under-appreciated houseplant - the #mingaralia Instagram hashtag returns only 2082 posts. Compare this to over one million for the monstera deliciosa. But the Ming Aralia is highly decorative and relatively easy to care for. It won't be surprising when the pendulum of horticultural fashion swings back in its favor.

Milliped https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Polyscias-aralia-Ming.jpg

Ming Aralia is best for: 

  • South or east facing windows in large, open rooms
  • Gardeners who can keep a frequent watering schedule
  • Intermediate gardeners who want a less commonly cultivated houseplant 
  • South or east facing gardens in warm or tropical climates

    What kind of plant is the Ming Aralia? 

    A close-up of Ming Aralia foliage. David J. Stang https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Polyscias_fruticosa_4zz.jpg

    Ming Aralia is an evergreen shrub from the tropics. The Ming Aralia's native habitat covers a wide geographical area, growing between India and Southern Polynesia. The Ming Aralia is a different species to the Schefflera elegantissima (the 'false aralia), another tropical plant that has a similar vertical shape. 

    Its long vertical stems are decked with dense sprays of leaves. From afar, the foliage look feathery and light. Close up, you will see that the leaves are serrated and pointy. The spiky foliage of the Ming Aralia means that it bears some resemblance to the elegant Japanese Maple - a much more difficult plant to grow. 

    Shrubs like the Ming Aralia are distinguished from tender green herbaceous plants by woody stems. Nonetheless, the Ming Aralia's stems are quite flexible. This makes them popular as a bonsai plant. The plant's woody stems means that it quickly takes on the appearance of a mature tree and it can be trained into shape easily.

    The Ming Aralia is a flowering species and can produce pale yellow to white blossoms in spring and summer. However, they rarely flower outside the ideal conditions found in their native habitats. If you are growing indoors, don't hold out for blooms. This is a plant to be enjoyed for its foliage. 

    Where to grow the Ming Aralia 



    Ming Aralia growing outdoors (middle) as hedging in a garden in Hawaii. Forest and Kim Starr https://www.flickr.com/photos/starr-environmental/24603979289

    This plant can be grown either indoors or outdoors. Outdoors, it can grow up to ten feet high but in the confines of a pot, the Ming Aralia will stay a manageable size. The Ming Aralia is one of those plants that thrives when root-bound so you can use pots that are slightly too small for its size.  

    If you are planning on growing one outdoors, remember this is a tropical plant. It will only survive where outdoors temperature never drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (around 15 degrees celsius). The Ming Aralia loves high temperatures of 78 to 75 Fahrenheit.

    For outdoor Ming Aralia planting, the US plant hardiness zones 12b, 13a, and 13b are best. In these climates, the plant will grow vigorously outdoors. For this reason, the Ming Aralia is often used as hedges in the tropics. 

    Whether grown outdoors or indoors, the Ming Aralia needs a lot of sunlight. This is not a plant for dark corners of the garden or basement apartments. Although it tolerates some shade, you should ideally position the plant in a south-facing or west-facing location that receives bright sunlight.

    However, long periods of direct sunlight will scorch the leaves. Keep the Ming Aralia away from anywhere that receives direct sunlight at noon when the sun is highest in the sky. If planting in a south-facing direction, make sure a structure like a tree blocks the path of the sunlight.

    A mature Ming Aralia Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Polyscias_fruticosa_kz2.jpg

    Watering requirements 

    This plant has moderate watering requirements - the soil does not like to be completely moist all the time but neither does it like to be bone-dry for lengthy periods. 

    Ideally, you should water every time the top two inches of the soil dry out completely. Remember that over-watering is a very common reason for why plants fail. Be mindful that you are not giving your Ming Aralia water when the top couple of inches of soil is still moist.

    When you do water, soak the soil completely. You can do this by holding the pot under a running tap and waiting for water to start gushing through the drainage holes.

    The Ming Aralia tolerates brief spells of drought so don't worry if you occasionally forget a watering. You should cut back on watering during the winter months. 

    Never let the pot plant sit in a saucer of water. This will cause water logging. 

    Humidity

    In some parts of the Ming Aralia's native habitat, such as the Southern Polynesian islands, humidity reaches over 80%. The plant will tolerate lower levels of humidity in your home but more humidity is always better. Apart from placing your Ming Aralia in a bright bathroom or kitchen, there are three ways of increasing humidity around your plant:

    1. Place the Ming Aralia on a tray of pebbles with water half-way up the depth of the pebbles. Make sure the bottom of the pot doesn't touch the water as this will make the soil too soggy. The idea behind the pebble tray is that the pebbles give a larger surface area for water to evaporate off of. 

    2. Mist with a bottle spray several times a day. If you have a busy schedule and are likely to forget, opt for the pebble tray. 

    3. Get a humidifier. This is one of the most effective ways of raising air humidity, especially if you have a large number of humid-loving plants indoors.

    For large Ming Aralia, a humidifier is the best option.

    Fertilizer

    You only need to add fertilizer to your Ming Aralia during the spring and summer. Do not fertilize at all in the fall and winter because the plant will not be growing during this time. 

    Fertilize using a balanced liquid fertilizer every four to six weeks. A balanced fertilizer contains an equal proportion of the three plant macronutrients: nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.

    Potting mixture

    The Ming Aralia enjoys a loose potting mix full of organic material (loam). High organic content in a potting mixture makes it retain moisture well. However, to prevent the soil from getting waterlogged, you need to add inorganic material such as perlite and coarse horticultural sand. These materials have larger particles meaning that it adds air pockets to the soil. This open texture makes sure that excess water will drain quicker. Porous materials like perlite will also absorb excess air moisture inside its tiny air pockets.

    Re-potting

    Ming Aralia does best when planted in the smallest pot that is just big enough to hold its roots. It likes to have its roots confined.

    As it grows, it should be repotted every other year, just be mindful of the container size. Indoors, Ming Aralia can get up to 4-6 feet tall so make sure you choose a pot with a strong base so it doesn't topple over. If you want to keep the plant smaller, don't repot it as often. Keep it in a small pot to dwarf the plant and cultivate it into a bonsai.

    Pruning 

    The Ming Aralia can become a tangled and unwieldy plant. To prevent this, you can remove new young shoots as they emerge. Removing new growth like this will encourage more branching where the stem splits into two. To prevent your Ming Aralia from growing upwards and to encourage bushier horizontal growth, you should cut stems at the top. 

    You can also cut the stems back to the desired length. Do this during the cold months when the plant is not growing. 

    Propagation 

    The Ming Aralia can be propagated from stem cuttings in spring or summer. Snip 10 cm cuttings just below nodes. Place the cuttings in perlite, sphagnum moss, or sand. Ideally, you should place the cuttings in temperatures of at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Covering the cuttings in cellophane will also help by trapping humidity - this will make sure that the leaves won't lose moisture when they lack the roots to replace it. Younger stems will root much more readily.

    Since this is a shrub, rooting will generally take longer than with herbaceous plants - up to four weeks. 

    Pests

    The Ming Aralia is most vulnerable to spider mites and also to scale and mealy bugs. The best way to prevent these pests is to make sure your plant is otherwise in good health, with enough nutrients, sunlight, and water. 

    General tips 

    Once you have found the perfect spot for your Ming Aralia, you shouldn't move it around too much. It does not take kindly to environmental changes. Drafts can kill the plant so keep it away from open doors and windows if you live in colder climates. 

    Styling 

    The dense segmented leaves of the Ming Aralia make a great contrast against tropical plants with broader, cleaner outlines.

    Set off the Ming Aralia's graceful outlines with a classic planter, perhaps in a Jingdezhen ceramic style or something with similarly muted but intricate designs. 

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