Rubber plants are indoor plants that are hardy in nature, making them a plant that many would like to grow. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t protected from death or wilt, which is why you have to take action immediately for prevention. Sometimes, you might notice that your rubber tree plant has black spots or yellowing leaves, the soil smells off, and a host of other problems.
Learn how to save a dying rubber tree plant in this helpful guide.
About the Rubber Tree Plant
Rubber tree plants are also known as India rubber figs or trees, with the scientific name ‘ficus elastica’. These trees grow outdoors in USDA plant hardiness zones 10-12 but can also be grown as houseplants in areas with cooler climates. You can find a lot of different varieties of rubber tree plants, such as burgundy and variegated versions.
These plants are native to India and Malaysia, donning evergreen leaves and requiring only little maintenance. The trees would have multiple trunks with thick and fleshy leaves that have a glossy, green sheen. They can grow between 2-10 feet tall when indoors, or even reaching 50-100 feet when grown in their natural habitat outdoors.
These plants can tolerate any type of soil, provided that it is well-drained and of good quality. While it’s a fairly independent plant that grows well in the appropriate conditions, it can have problems that cause its death, which we’ll get into in the next section.
How to Save a Dying Rubber Tree Plant
It can get frustrating having to witness your rubber tree plant die in front of you without knowing what happened. Don’t fret yet, though! It’s possible to save a dying rubber plant, depending on the cause of its symptoms.
That is why you need to find the root cause of the problem and take immediate action to resolve it. By finding the remedy and treating your rubber tree plant immediately, your plant can survive and go back to growing healthily.
Before we get into the causes, what are the signs that your rubber plant is struggling to survive? Here are some of the common signs and symptoms it may face:
- Older leaves, usually the larger leaves at the bottom of your plant, begin drooping
- Brown and/or yellow leaves
- The soil is becoming saturated and/or has a foul odor
- Leaves are losing their shine and luster
- Stunted plant growth
- Black spots on the leaves
- Leaf blight
- Pest infestation
- Root rot
- Roots are soft and brown
These signs show that your plant is on the verge of dying or being damaged, either temporarily or permanently. You can stop this from happening by finding out why it happens and how to prevent it. Here are the common causes, their solutions, and how to prevent it from happening again:
1. Watering Issues
It’s bad to overwater just about any plant, including a rubber tree plant. If you overwater it, then you’ll face yellowing and shedding leaves, as well as the risk of pest infestation and root rot.
For those who believe that they have been overwatering their plants, you will need to water it less. Do NOT water it for some time and only water it once the soil has dried up to one inch. Cut out any dead leaves and allow them to breathe, monitoring them to see if that has improved the plant’s health.
Prevent this problem from happening by watering your plant without drowning the soil. But do so thoroughly, draining the water from its drainage holes so there won’t be excess water in the soil. Furthermore, water only when required and according to the season, you may need to water more during the summer and water less during the winter, keeping the soil dry.
Besides overwatering, underwatering your plant is also very bad, as you are starving it of its needs! Underwatered plants will show lifeless or faded leaves with the soil dried out and pulling away.
The solution here is to feed your plant and water it right away while keeping the drainage in mind. Do NOT drown the soil to compensate for its lack of water, only enough to drench the soil.
Prevent this from happening by watering your plant once a week or when the soil is dry, keeping in mind the season. You’ll need approximately two cups of water for plants that are 2-3 feet tall and 3 cups for those that are 3-6 feet tall.
You can check if your plant needs water or not by sticking your finger in the soil, checking if the top two inches are dried out or not. If dry, water the plant and soil properly. If not, you can skip the watering until it is dry.
2. Lighting Issues
Light is essential as this helps with their photosynthesis. Rubber tree plants want indirect bright light, so it shouldn’t be too much or too little. Like watering your plant, too much or too little light can end badly.
Plants receiving too much light will have droopy and/or burned leaves. Those with low exposure to light will have brown and droopy leaves, paired with thin and long stalks.
Remedy this problem by keeping your plant in an area where it receives indirect bright light. Find a corner for the plant so it won’t get direct sunlight, but enough for it to thrive. You can also mist your plant regularly to keep it from drying or burning.
To prevent this problem from happening, find an area where your plant will get early morning and late afternoon sun.
Avoid placing your plant near sunny areas during noontime, as this burns the leaves and dries out the soil quickly. Your plant will fare well in west-facing balconies or windows with sheer curtains that block the direct sun. If you are growing your rubber tree plant outdoors, provide shade for it.
3. Pest Infestation
Your rubber tree plant is susceptible to the typical pests, including spider mites, thrips, mealybugs, and more. You can save your plant by spraying neem oil or using insecticides. You can also pick out the visible bugs (with gloves) and spray water all over your plant to wash away the pests.
Be sure that you keep your plant in quarantine, cutting off any leaves or branches infested with pests to prevent it from spreading.
4. Root Rot
Root rot harms all plants and both beginner and experienced gardeners would face this issue. Here are the signs of root rot:
- Slow or stunted growth
- Less shine and luster on leaves
- Yellow leaves or leaves with black spots
- Mushy, soft, and brown roots
- Leaves that are wilting and shedding
- Curled leaves
- Severe root damage that may indicate that the plant will die within 10 days
Here are the steps to follow to cure your plant of root rot:
- Inspect the plant’s roots to see if it is brown and/or mushy. If so, it’s too late and you will need to dispose of it properly.
- If there are healthy, firm, and white roots, you can still save your plant. Chop and remove any brown and mushy roots, though watch out as they have a foul odor and would feel squishy to the touch.
- Remove all the soil to prevent any risk of molds from spreading.
- Clean the roots under running water, using safe soap to kill bacteria and fungus. Allow any of the weak roots to fall off.
- After you have pruned and cleaned the plant, allow the root to air dry naturally for 24 hours, eliminating all bacteria. You can wrap it with a moist paper towel to prevent it from drying out.
- Place the plant on a dish with pebbles for better drainage and line pumice stones or pebbles on a terracotta pot for your plant. This is great for moisture needs.
- Replant your rubber plant in healthy soil with a good drainage system and add compost or fertilizer for plant growth. Water it thoroughly and monitor it for the next few weeks.
Now that you know how to treat root rot, it’s best to prevent it as much as possible. Do this by following any of these tips:
- Make sure your soil is in a healthy environment for plants to thrive in. Ideally, the soil should be 60% garden soil, 20% peat moss, and 20% perlite
- Monitor your plant’s roots regularly and inspect them if you notice that your plant is showing odd symptoms
- Ensure that your soil is well-draining
- Cut the plant stem from the top for better growth. When pruning, be sure to sterilize your gardening tools with 1 part bleach and 3 parts water to prevent fungus from spreading
While the rubber plant has amazing features and looks beautiful as it grows, please be careful as you tend to it. The sap of this plant may cause skin irritation in some gardeners and those who come into contact with it.
As you handle the plant, wear gardening gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterward, especially if you come into contact with the sap. Furthermore, the plant may cause mild symptoms, such as stomachaches, vomiting, or diarrhea, which are uncommon but severe. Do keep this plant away from your children and pets.
Wrapping It Up
Owning and growing a rubber tree plant is worth it, though when it shows threatening signs, you need to take action right away. By knowing what to do if your plant shows signs of distress (and how to prevent it), it can grow beautifully, whether indoors or outdoors. That way, you can reap the benefits the plant offers, from its added design to the house down to its air-cleaning properties!