Rubber Plant Dying? (How to Revive it)


Why is my rubber plant dying

The most common reasons I come across for rubber plants dying are usually because of low humidity and fluctuations in temperature. Rubber plants originate in warm tropical climates and do not tolerate cold blasts of dry air, which causes the leaves to drop off.

I used to find rubber plants one of the trickiest popular houseplants to grow due to their sensitivity to changes in their environment. Still, if we learn about how they grow in their natural habitat, then we can recreate some of these conditions in our homes to help save our rubber plants.

Whilst low humidity and temperature fluctuations are the most common reasons for a dying rubber plant (Ficus Elastica), here is a table summarizing other reasons for dying rubber plants:

Symptoms of Dying Rubber Plant:Reasons Why Your Rubber Plant is Dying:
Rubber Plant Dropping its Leaves.The most common reason is a sudden fluctuation in temperature from indoor heating or a cold blast of air from outside. Shock from being moved is also very common. Severe overwatering or underwatering, and not enough light are other potential causes.
Leaves Turning Brown and Dying:Low humidity causes brown leaf edges. Indoor heating and drought stress cause leaves to turn brown.
Leaves with Brown Spots:Sunburn can scorch the leaves brown. Overwatering can cause brown spots as the plant cells rupture.
Leaves Turning Yellow:Yellowing leaves are often associated with overwatering, poor drainage, low nutrients, lack of sun, and temperatures colder than 55°F (13°C).
Leaves and Stem Drooping:Drooping leaves and stems are common early warning signs that the soil is either too damp or too dry.
Leaves Drooping after Repotting:Transplants shock and repotting with a potting soil that retains too much moisture.

Keep reading to learn why your rubber plant is dying and how to implement the solutions to save your dying plant…

My Rubber Plant is Dropping its Leaves

  • Symptoms: Leaves can drop off suddenly or turn brown, droop, and then drop off.
  • Causes: Overwatering, poor drainage, underwatering, sudden fluctuation in temperature ,or moving the plant to a different environment or not enough light.

In my experience, rubber plants are relatively sensitive to environmental stress and tend to drop their leaves for a variety of reasons. (So they can be tricky to diagnoise the problem!)

Rubber trees originate in warm tropical climates with higher humidity, stable warm temperatures, bright light, and well-draining soil.

One of the most common reasons for rubber plants to lose leaves suddenly is due to a cold blast of air from an open door or window on a cold day. This sudden reduction in temperature is enough to shock rubber plants to the extent of their leaves dropping off.

(This happened to my rubber plant because it was too close to my front door, and I live in a relatively cold climate!).

Of course, the reverse is true in that a sudden increase in temperature can also elicit a stress reaction that causes the leaves to drop from sources of indoor heating.

Air conditioning, forced air, and conventional currents caused by indoor heating can all drastically reduce the humidity and sap too much moisture from the leaves, causing them to drop off.

Rubber plants (like all ficus plants) are notoriously fastidious about the consistency of their environment and often drop their leaves if they are moved to a different room with a different microclimate.

Another common factor that I see a lot is rubber plants dropping their leaves due to a lack of light.

It is also important to achieve the right balance of moisture when watering rubber plants, as saturated or under-watered soil is often a contributing factor to the leaves dropping off.

How to Revive Your Rubber Plant if it is Dropping its Leaves

The key to saving the rubber plant is to emulate some of the conditions of the rubber plant’s native environment…How do we do this?…

  • Increase the humidity by misting the rubber plant, moving the plant to a more humid room, or using a humidifier. I would recommend misting any remaining leaves, but if all the leaves have fallen off, then move the rubber to a bathroom for the higher humidity.
  • Ensure your rubber plant is in a room with bright, indirect light. Full sun can scorch the leaves, whereas too much shade causes the leaves to drop, so find a happy medium of a bright room. I find it’s best to locate the plant in a room with a south-facing window with a sheer curtain to provide the brightness that is required without direct sunlight. I also like frosted glass as this diffuses light nicely.
  • Maintain a temperature range of 65°F to 75°F (18°C to 24°C) to avoid leaf drop. Rubber plants hate fluctuations in temperature, so be mindful of where you locate your plants. Avoid placing it near a door (like I did!) or window that is opened frequently, near air conditioning, and relocate it to the other side of the room from any indoor heating. From my experience, rubber plants do not like being moved frequently, so try to avoid moving your plant unnecessarily.
  • Wait until the top inch of soil is dry before watering, then water the soil thoroughly. This ensures rubber tree has the optimal balance of moisture to avoid the problems associated with over and under-watering. Keep in mind that ficus plants require watering less often in Winter compared to Spring and Summer due to a reduced rate of growth.

Once you have corrected the environmental conditions that caused the leaves to drop, I find that rubber trees can start to recover with consistent care, and the leaves can grow back in the Spring and Summer.

Why are my Rubber Plant Leaves Turning Brown?

  • Symptoms: Leaves turn brown at the edges and fall off or develop brown spots.
  • Causes: Low humidity, sunburn, underwatering, overwatering.

In my experience, the reason rubber plant leaves turn brown at the edges is usually because of low humidity. Rubber plants are native to warm tropical areas with consistently high humidity. Dry air indoors saps too much moisture from the leaves, causing them to droop and turn brown and crispy.

The average humidity in our homes is around 10% (although this varies significantly according to climate), whereas the rubber plant lives in tropical forests with humidity at least 40%.

Rubber plants can tolerate some low humidity, but there are several factors indoors that decrease humidity to unfavorable levels that you should consider, such as:

  • Central heating.
  • Forced air.
  • Air conditioning.
  • Draughts from open windows.

Out of these factors, I find indoor heating is usually the biggest culprit due to the combination of heat and low humidity.

Drought stress from underwatering is also a compounding factor, particularly if the potting soil dries out completely.

Rubber Plant With Brown Spots on the Leaves

From what I have seen, by far, the most common reason for brown spots on rubber plant leaves is because of sunburn. Rubber plants have sensitive leaves and are adapted to growing in bright indirect rather than direct sunlight. Too much sun scorches the leaves brown and crispy.

However, brown spots can also indicate that the soil is too damp for the rubber plant to tolerate. The spots can be ruptured leaf cells, but ultimately these may not be too harmful to the rubber plant if you reduce the watering accordingly.

(See what I mean about rubber plants being tricky to diagnose!)

How to Revive Your Plant Brown Leaves or Brown Leaf Spots

To save your dying rubber plant with brown leaves, it is important to identify what specifically is the cause of the environmental stress and create a better-growing environment before the plant deteriorates: Fortunately, I have found some ways to isolate the variables…

  • If the rubber plant’s leaves are turning brown at the edges, then increase the humidity immediately by misting the plant. I would personally recommend avoiding moving the rubber plant (to a more humid room) as the plant is already stressed, and the shock could cause the leaves to drop off. I recommend misting the leaves every day to create a humid microclimate around the leaves, and the problem should not get any worse.
  • After you have addressed the lack of humidity, trim off any brown leaf edges with a pair of scissors to improve the appearance of the leaf, and if you keep the humidity higher, the leaf should remain green.
  • Locate your rubber plant on the other side of the room from any sources of heat and out of the draughts of air conditioning, open doors, etc.
  • If your rubber plant has been in any direct sunlight and been scorched brown then the leaf does not turn green again. However, as long as you ensure the plant has more shade (or preferably bright, indirect light), then the leaf is not going to deteriorate in the short term. Still, in my experience, badly scorched leaves do eventually drop off to make way for new growth.
  • It is important to allow the top inch of soil to dry between each bout of watering to achieve the optimal balance of moisture, as both overwatering and underwatering can cause the leaves to turn brown.
  • Ensure that the rubber plant’s pot has drainage holes in the base to allow excess water to drain away efficiently after watering, and empty any saucers and trays underneath the pot regularly.

Once you have addressed the cause of the browning leaves the rubber plant’s conditions should stabilize. The brown leaves may fall off, but new growth should emerge in the Spring and Summer.

If you do not have the time to mist your rubber plant every day (who does?), then I can recommend a special plant humidifier (available from garden centers and online) that creates a nice humid micro-climate for your rubber plant.

I like humidifiers as they can keep several of my nearby houseplants happy too!

Rubber Plant Turning Yellow? (Cool Temperatures)

  • Symptoms: Yellowing, drooping leaves that may drop off.
  • Causes: Temperatures cooler than 55°F (13°C), overwatering or poor drainage, underwatering or low nutrients, lack of sun.

In my experience, the most common reason for a rubber plant turning yellow is due to temperatures lower than 55°F (13°C).

Rubber plants are native to warm tropical climates and experience stable temperatures that do not typically go lower than 55°F (13°C).

If the rubber plant is perhaps on a cold window sill and the temperature is too low, it can start to turn yellow, and the leaves begin to droop.

Again, if the soil is too damp, then this can be a contributing factor to yellow drooping leaves. I have found that it is usually a case of the soil not draining well enough, as rubber plants prefer a porous aerated soil structure that holds some moisture yet drains efficiently.

Sometimes, the roots of mature rubber plants that have been in the same pot for a long time can exhaust the soil of nutrients, which results in yellowing leaves. Yellow leaves are a classic sign of a lack of nitrogen in the soil.

In my experience, it is also worth scratching back the soil surface to assess whether the roots are pot-bound.

Underwatering can also be a factor if you are not watering generously enough or the soil has dried out and turned hydrophobic.

How to Revive Your Yellowing Rubber Plant

To revive a rubber plant with yellow leaves, it is important to identify the specific cause of environmental stress and create more favorable conditions.

  • Always maintain temperatures warmer than 55°F (13°C) and move your rubber plant away from any cold window sills or draughts. Window sills often have a much cooler microclimate at night compared to the rest of the house, so move your rubber plant accordingly. My rubber plant leaves have turned yellow because the leaves were in contact with the glass on a window sill, as it is usually much colder than the ambient temperature of the room.
  • Ensure the rubber plant is in a location of bright indirect light to ensure it has enough energy to support the leaves. I keep mine in a sunny south-facing area with a sheer curtain to protect it from direct sunlight, but I find bathrooms are also good places to keep your rubber plants.
  • Use a general all-purpose houseplant fertilizer once a month in Spring and Summer to support healthy growth. This provides all the nutrients that the rubber plant needs to prevent more leaves from turning yellow and to promote the growth of healthy green leaves.
  • If the roots appear to be pot-bound, re-pot your rubber plant in a pot just 2 inches larger than the previous pot. If you overpot the plant in a much larger pot, the soil dries out much more slowly, promoting the conditions for root rot.
  • Ensure you allow the top inch of the soil to dry between each bout of watering. You can use a moisture meter, but I personally find it is more effective to test the soil to a finger’s depth to assess whether the soil has dried or not. I have always found this method more accurate than moisture meters.
  • Always water the soil to the extent that excess water trickles from the pot’s base to ensure that the potting soil is evenly moist so the roots can access the water they require.

Once you have addressed any environmental problems then the leaves should stop turning yellow. However, the yellow leaves do not turn green again and are likely to eventually drop off.

I recommend letting the leaves drop off naturally, as plants sometimes are able to reabsorb nutrients from the dying leaf before they drop off.

In my experience, if you keep the conditions stable and the rubber plant happy, then it should grow new green leaves in the Spring and Summer during active growth.

Why are My Rubber Plant Leaves and Stems Drooping?

  • Symptoms: Drooping leaves that often turn yellow or brown and drop off.
  • Causes: Slow draining soil, repotting, transplant shock, hydrophobic soil, overwatering.

Drooping leaves are usually the very first warning sign that the rubber plant is stressed and often precedes yellowing or dropping leaves.

Sometimes, if you leave it too long between each bout of watering, the potting soil can bake hard and become hydrophobic, which means it repels water from the surface of the soil, causing it to trickle down the side of the pot without actually infiltrating the soil and reaching the roots.

(I also see this effect more in Winter if the pot is near a source of heat).

The resulting drought stress causes the leaves to droop. However, rather confusingly, the leaves can also droop if the soil is too damp from overwatering or poor drainage.

Too much water in the soil excludes oxygen from the soil, which prevents root respiration. If the roots cannot respire, then the leaves begin to droop and may eventually turn yellow and drop off.

How to Save it…

  • If you have recently moved the rubber plant from one location to another, the drooping leaves may react to the change in environment. Check to see whether the temperature is warmer than 55°F (13°C) and that the rubber plant is not in a draught or without enough bright light.
  • The rubber plant should return to its normal appearance when it has time to acclimate to its new environment. However, it may lose some leaves in the process.
  • I recommend scratching back the surface of the soil to see if the soil around the rootball is actually absorbing any water, or you can pick up the pot and see whether it feels light even after watering. In this case, place the rubber plant in a basin of lukewarm water for 10 minutes or so in order for moisture to infiltrate the soil properly. Once the rootball and compost have properly rehydrated, the pot should feel reassuringly heavy, which should help to alleviate the stress that caused the drooping leaves.
  • Drooping leaves may indicate the soil is not quite drying out sufficiently between each bout of watering, in which case I recommend monitoring the soil’s moisture more carefully and ensuring any saucers or trays underneath the pot are emptied regularly.

Is Your Rubber Plant Drooping After Repotting?

The reason for your rubber plant drooping after repotting is usually because they have been planted in pots that are too large, compost that retains too much moisture, or the soil has become too compacted following repotting.

I must emphasize that rubber plants should be repotted in the Spring as this is the time of year when they are most resilient to stress.

In my experience, the best potting mix for ficus plants, such as rubber plants, is a mix of 70% ordinary potting soil with 30% pine bark-based orchid potting mix.

A 30% pine bark based orchid potting mix with 70% potting soil is the best mix for growing rubber plants.
A 30% pine bark-based orchid potting mix with 70% potting soil is the best mix for growing rubber plants.

This combination creates the aerated soil structure that rubber plants need to retain enough moisture yet also allow excess water to drain away.

It is also important not to compact the soil around the rootball of the rubber plant too much after repotting as this pushes oxygen out of the soil and prevents water from draining effectively.

Always re-pot rubber plants in pots just 2 inches larger than the previous pot as disproportionately large pots can dry out too slowly for the rubber plant to tolerate.

It is very common for rubber plants to droop following repotting but as long as you ensure that the plant has a favorable environment the leaves should revive from their drooping appearance. I find misting the leaves after repotting always helps to alleviate transplant stress.

Key Takeaways:

  • A dying rubber plant is often because of cold temperatures and low humidity. Too much sun scorches the leaves brown whereas the rubber plant’s leaves turn yellow if the soil is low in nutrients.
  • To revive a dying rubber plant recreate the conditions of its native environment by increasing the humidity with regular misting, locating in bright, indirect light rather than full sun, maintaining temperatures warmer than 55°F (13°C) and only watering when the top inch of the potting soil feels dry.

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