When you have the glossy and glamorous rubber plant in your house, there will always be curious visitors admiring its beauty. Rubber plants or Ficus elastica, have easy care and maintenance requirements, that any houseplant owners, including newbie gardeners, can follow.
Inability to stick to the preferences of the rubber plant and fulfill its needs can lead to the plant showing signs of distress. Routinely checking the rubber plant for these signs is a good practice, so that you can catch any early symptoms that the plant is not doing well and take quick actions to save it.
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Signs Your Rubber Plant Is Dying
If you have a rubber plant and you are unable to understand why it is not growing properly or at all, checking for these major signs will help you ascertain if the plant is dying, and whether it needs any immediate attention. The following are the seven important signs to look out for in your rubber plant, that shows that it is at the risk of dying:
Rubber Plant Leaves Yellowing or Turning Brown
One of the most visible signs that the rubber plant isn’t doing well, is when you notice the otherwise remarkably glossy and shiny leaves of the plant starting to turn yellow or losing their color to a brownish dull shade. In case these are the signs you can see on your rubber plant, it is time to take quick actions to save the plant.
There are several causes for the leaves of the rubber plant yellowing or turning brown. Once you figure out the cause, it is easy to fix the issue. Most often, the yellowing of leaves is caused by some kind of stress that is related to watering and humidity.
It could be due to enthusiastic overwatering that most houseplant owners mistake more water for healthier plants or complacent underwatering, thinking the tough and hardy plant can easily survive with infrequent watering.
Inspect the pot to see if the issue is related to an improper drainage system, restricting any excess water to drain out and causing waterlogging conditions in the soil. When the soil is soggy it leads to overwatering issues that turn the leaves yellow.
In case the soil is too dry to touch on the surface and even a couple of inches deep, you will need to water the plant to save it from further dehydration.
Check the humidity level near the plant, if it is too dry, you can mist the plant or put bowls of water to increase the humidity. If it is too high, spacing the plants or pruning the leaves of the rubber plant will aid in air circulation.
If you haven’t fertilized the rubber plant in a long time, it could also lead to the leaves turning yellow showing that the plant is lacking essential nutrients. You can buy any organic or horticultural fertilizers and use half the recommended dosage mentioned on the package to test feed your plant.
Related: Rubber Plants Water Requirements
Drooping and Overshedding of Leaves
Abscission is a normal process in the life cycle of most plants, with the process observed through the changing seasons during the autumn or fall season. This is done in preparation for the cold winter season which is a dormant period for most plants, including your rubber plant. You will notice a loss of leaves during this period, especially around the base of the plant, in response to the season change. If, however, you observe there are too many leaves being shed, it could be a sign of some problem.
In most cases, this happens due to a combination of several issues concerning light requirement, moisture need, requisite temperature condition, or an infestation of pests of your rubber plant. In addition to excessive shedding, leaves may also appear to droop.
A return to the ideal condition settings for your rubber plant can easily diagnose the issues. The location of your rubber plant should meet a set of requirements to achieve the most ideal growth condition.
Bright and indirect light is what your rubber plant thrives on. If the place is too shady, move a little towards the light. If the sunlight is too harsh, using curtains or other filters can reduce the light intensity.
A good percentage of humidity and temperature ranging between 60 – 85°F is best suited for the plant. Also, protection from being exposed to cold drafts and heat is crucial.
In case you see pest infestation on your rubber plant, the use of remedies like neem oil can help get rid of the pests. Rubbing the plant with a diluted alcohol solution is also helpful. If infestation is quite severe, horticultural insecticides are recommended.
Leaf Blights On Rubber Plant
Leaf blights on your rubber plant are another indication that it is in need of immediate action to prevent it from dying. In such a case, you will find patches or spots on the leaves. Your rubber plant leaves starting to wilt and dying are also indicative of a leaf blight infection.
Caused by bacteria or fungus, leaf blights that appear as brownish or whitish spots can prove fatal for your rubber plant if the infection spreads from the leaves to other parts of the plant. Leaf blight is first seen on young leaves and since any new growth on your rubber plant starts from the tip, pruning might be the best way to stop the disease from spreading further.
What makes leaf blight even worse is the fact that both the fungal and bacterial leaf blights can attack your plant at the same time. With fungal blights, the spots are somewhat circular while the bacterial blight spots are soft, more angular, and concentrated between the leaf veins.
Pruning the damaged leaves and parts of the infected top growth with sanitized tools is an ideal solution for bacterial blight. The use of fungicides is the best solution to get rid of fungal leaf blight.
White Spots on Your Rubber Plant
Can you see white spots on your rubber plant? There are different causes that may lead to white spots and among those, the ones dangerous to your rubber plant are sunburn, edema, powdery mildew infection, excessive salt, over-fertilization, and lack of nutrients.
If the sunburn is causing the white spots, move your plant to a more shaded area or use filtered lighting.
Edema is a condition when excessive water pressure in leaves leads to the cells bursting and causing white spots. Maintaining humidity levels of under 70 percent and ensuring there is no overwatering can help combat edema.
High humidity can also lead to powdery mildew fungal infection when coupled with low light conditions. Treatment can be done by using neem oil or biological and commercial fungicides, depending on severity.
Fungal infections can also happen when there is too much salt in the soil due to overfertilization or the use of tap water that may contain chemicals to water your rubber plant. Excessive salt makes the soil ideal for root rot and subsequent fungal growth. Using distilled water and monitoring your fertilization process can help prevent such infections.
Inadequate nutrition causes improper and irregular or underdeveloped growth of your rubber plant and can show itself as white spots. Using chelates or fertilizers containing minerals like iron, manganese, copper, and the use of lime for calcium can ensure proper nutrition.
Leggy Rubber Plant, Wilting and Leaning
You might also notice the overall plant appearing weak, feeble, and starting to wilt. The plant may start to look leggy, and not being self-supportive, your rubber plant may start to bend to one side or the other.
When there’s insufficient lighting, in addition to leaves wilting and falling, your rubber plant can become leggy as it tries to grow taller to reach for more light exposure. It can also start leaning due to a weak stem.
Lack of growth causes the plant to become weak and start wilting. Inadequate fertilization, issues related to watering, or root-bound conditions can be the reason for your rubber plant’s underdeveloped growth, turning the plant weak and droopy.
Improper nutrients due to little or no fertilization prevent the new growth of your rubber plant. Overwatering or underwatering can also cause insufficient nutrient supply due to the inability of the roots to perform their tasks, either because of waterlogging or lack of water. Even with proper water and nutrient supply, if the roots are overgrown and crowded, it limits their proper functioning and stops further growth of the plant.
Providing a good amount of filtered light, optimum fertilization, intelligent watering, and trimming of roots and repotting should help to fix these issues.
Stunted Growth or No New Growth at All
Similar to most other plants, rubber plants go through a phase of a dormant period during the cold months in winter. It is natural to observe no new growth on your rubber plant during this time. In case the dormancy lasts even through the change of seasons into spring and summer, then it is a sign of something serious. You will need to investigate and find solutions to the problem in order to save the plant.
Rubber plants are sensitive to change, so if you have recently repotted the plant, then it could also be the reason for no growth. It takes a while, at least a couple of weeks, for the plant to adjust to the new condition before it can start showing any new growth.
Overwatering the rubber plant can cause soggy soil conditions and in turn, the roots become incapable of performing the important function of water and nutrients absorption and distribution. This leads to a shortage of supply to the rest of the plants, stopping the plant from growing any further.
Also, check if the location of your rubber plant is providing requisite sunlight as lack of light can slow down or halt the growth process due to insufficient photosynthesis. If there is proper light, the lack of nutrients in the soil could be another reason.
Adding recommended fertilizer dosage once every two months, during growth season can help provide enough nutrition for your rubber plant to grow healthily. The requirement can also be met by using a seaweed solution or organic compost.
Brown and Smelly Roots, Signs of Root Rot
It might take some time before you notice that your rubber plant is suffering from root rot, as the early signs of root rot are similar to other issues; like the leaves starting to curl and wilting of the overall plant. If these are not due to dehydration or other reasons, check the plant for signs of root rot.
Due to the rotting, you can get a bad stench when you sniff around the base of the plant. The appearance of a moldy layer on the soil surface is another indication of root rot. If you find these signs, then it is time to investigate the soil and start the process of saving the plant immediately in case of root rot.
The roots become dark in color and turn completely mushy in appearance, giving off a bad odor. The healthy root in comparison will be stiff and whitish-yellowish in color. Once you get rid of the infected roots with sanitized tools, dip the remaining healthy roots in a diluted solution of hydrogen peroxide (1:1 ratio), and repot your rubber plant in new soil to save it. You can also use fungicides to guard the plant from future infections.
Ensure a good drainage system in the new pot (porous terracotta pots can be ideal), use a well-draining soil mix that is also able to hold moisture for longer, and take care to water your rubber plant responsibly, if you want to avoid root rot.
Achieving and maintaining a happy and healthy-looking rubber plant in your home is an easy process only when you follow the proper guidelines to provide the most ideal conditions for its growth. As we live in a dynamic environment at home, regularly monitoring everything including closely inspecting the plant for any life-threatening signs, is the best way to enjoy a long-lasting, joyful coexistence with your rubber plant.
Ranjan Singh Moirangthem is a media professional based in India, currently working as a freelance copywriter. Growing up in a hill station and now living in a concrete jungle, he finds solace in the green corners of the city, be it parks or his housing society garden. He’s even passionate about plants and gardening and shares his experience by writing in-depth and well-researched articles for our readers.