Rubber trees, or rubber plants, are resilient and low-maintenance, but that does not mean you can just neglect them. If your rubber tree is dying, it means there is an environmental factor causing the plant stress, which can manifest as a variety of symptoms. In order to save your dying rubber tree, you need to identify the cause of the problem as soon as possible.
The most common causes of a dying rubber tree are insufficient or too much water, too much or not enough light, root rot, pests, and temperature and humidity issues.
In this article, we will discuss why your rubber tree is dying and how to save it.
How can you tell if your rubber tree is dying?
The most common indications that your rubber tree’s health is declining are leaf blight, black spots on the leaves and stem, stunted growth, dull-colored leaves, rotten-smelling soil, soggy soil, leaves turning yellow or brown, or leaves drooping.
Why is my rubber plant dying?
Not enough water
If your plant’s leaves look dull and lifeless, or if the plant’s growth has noticeably slowed, or if the soil in the pot looks dried out, your plant is most likely underwatered.
Save your underwatered plant by soaking the soil with water until you can see the excess flow out through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. This is to make sure that all of the plant’s roots are reached by the water. When you think the soil has been sufficiently soaked, allow all the excess water to drip out so that the soil does not become soggy. You can also mist the leaves to help rehydrate the plant.
Avoid underwatering your rubber tree by following a watering schedule appropriate for your plant. Normally, rubber trees like to be watered every four to five days, but the frequency may differ according to the local climate and weather. In a warmer setting, the soil dries out faster so you may have to water it more often, while in a colder setting, you may need to water more sparingly to avoid overwatering. Once you have figured out the delicate balance of proper watering, it will be easy.
Too much water
Another common reason that rubber trees die is due to overwatering. When your plant is overwatered, its leaves will turn yellow and start to fall off. It will also become susceptible to opportunistic pests and pathogens.
Save your overwatered plant by withholding water for a longer period than normal to allow the soil to dry out. Remove any dead or dying foliage to prevent the spread of rot.
Avoid overwatering by knowing how to water the plant correctly. The key elements to avoid drowning your plant are well-draining soil and a pot that has drainage holes at the bottom. These two factors will make sure that, even if you accidentally give the plant more water than it needs, the excess water will simply flow out of the bottom of the pot. The aerated soil and drainage holes also allow more air to move through the soil, which helps it dry faster.
As with underwatering, adjust your frequency of watering according to the weather and the climate where you live.
The easiest way to know whether to water your plant is by touching the top two inches of soil. Stick your finger into the soil and if the top two inches are dry, you can water the plant. If the soil is still damp, wait one or two days and check it again.
Your rubber plant likes its light to be bright but indirect. It needs just the right amount of light – neither too much nor too little.
If the plant’s leaves appear droopy and sun damaged, it is getting too much light. If its leaves are turning brown and drooping and the plant’s stem has grown long and thin, it is not getting enough light. The thinning and lengthening of the stalk is due to etiolation, which happens when light is so scarce that the plant actively grows in the direction of the nearest light. This results in the asymmetrical and uneven growth of the plant.
Save your plant by placing it in a spot where it can get bright, indirect light. A good place for the plant is near a window that gets lots of light in the morning but not in the afternoon. Make sure the spot does not get harsh noon sun, as this may be too much for the plant. If the only possible windows still let in too much light, you can diffuse it by placing a curtain over the window. If the rubber tree is kept outdoors, plant it under another tree or a light-diffusing net.
Another reason your rubber tree plant may be dying is root rot. Root rot develops when the plant has been overwatered for so long that the roots have drowned and died. The dead roots start to rot and become susceptible to pests, bacteria and fungi, which will cause the rest of the plant to rot as well.
The symptoms of root rot are mushy, brown or black roots, black spots on the leaves, dull and yellowing leaves, and stunted growth. If the root damage is severe, it may be too late to save the plant.
You can save your rubber tree from root rot if you detect the problem early. Do this by inspecting the roots as soon as you suspect root rot. If parts of the roots have turned brown or black, or have become soft and mushy and are starting to smell like rotten vegetation, then there is rot.
If there are still parts of the roots that are white, those parts are still healthy. Cut off the brown and black roots using a sterile knife or scissors. Dispose of all of the old soil and do not reuse it, since the pathogens that caused the rot will be in there. Clean as much soil as you can off of the roots using water and spray fungicide on the remaining healthy roots. Let the roots air-dry for the next 24 hours.
When the roots are dry, the plant can be repotted. Use a clay or terracotta pot as these materials are more porous: they allow the soil to dry faster and promote better airflow than plastic or steel pots. Make sure the new soil you use is well-draining. You can make your own mix of one part perlite, one part cocopeat, and three parts gardening soil.
Prevent root rot by using the right pot with proper drainage and well-draining soil, and only water the rubber tree when the soil is dry to the touch.
Pests can also cause a noticeable decline in your plant’s health. Symptoms of pest infestation in rubber trees include falling leaves, leaves with spots and holes, and yellowing leaves due to the insects feeding on the sap of the plant tissue.
You can get rid of rubber tree pests by applying neem oil on the plant or spraying insecticide. Cut off foliage that has become badly infested. If there are only a few visible bugs, you can pick them off by hand or use water from your hose to knock them off.
Alternatively, you can soak a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and wipe down the leaves with it to kill the insects. Make sure you keep the infested plant away from your other healthy plants to avoid the spread of the pests.
You can prevent pests by keeping your plants a few feet away from each other so they do not spread too fast, checking the plant for pests every time you water it, and keeping the plant as healthy as possible so that it does not become vulnerable to pests.
If the temperature where you live is constantly fluctuating, your plant may end up suffering. The most common signs of a plant that has been negatively affected by temperature changes are shrunken, browning, discolored and disfigured leaves.
You can save your plant by removing all of the affected leaves, placing it in an area where the temperature is higher than 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and avoiding direct sunlight.
Prevent temperature problems by making sure you keep the plant in a place where the temperature is somewhere between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rubber trees need their humidity to be constant for them to stay happy and healthy. You can tell the humidity may be too low if the leaves become dry.
Fix humidity issues by maintaining a constant humidity and misting the plant’s leaves. During dry winters, place the plant in a humid part of your house, such as the bathroom. You can also use a humidifier to help keep the humidity up.
Rubber trees are very easy to care for and require little maintenance, but if you notice any symptoms, or a drastic change in the plant’s overall health, you need to figure out what is causing the problem so you can remedy it as soon as possible.
The most common causes of a dying rubber tree are insufficient or too much water, too much or too little light, root rot, pests, and temperature and humidity issues.
Image: istockphoto.com / Patcharamai Vutipapornkul