Rubber Plant Dying? (How to Revive it)

Why is my rubber plant dying

The reason for rubber plants dying is usually because 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.

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 for Dying Rubber Plant:
Rubber Plant Dropping its Leaves.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:Sun burn 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 then 55°F (13°C).
Leaves and Stem Drooping:Drooping leaves and stems are common early warning sign 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…

Rubber Plant 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.

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 losing 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 a rubber plants to the extent of its leaves dropping off.

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 convention 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 micro climate.

If the rubber plant is in too much shade then the plant does not have enough energy to support its leaves causing them to droop and drop off.

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

How to Revive a Rubber Plant That is Dropping Leaves

The key to saving the rubber plant is to emulate some of the conditions of the rubber plants native environment.

  • 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 the 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 its 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 the direct sunlight.
  • 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 where you locate your plant. Avoid placing it near a door or window that is opened frequently, near air conditioning and locate it on the other side of the room from any indoor heating and 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 reduce 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 with the leaves can grow back in the Spring and Summer.

Rubber Plant Leaves Turning Brown and Dying

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

The reason rubber plant leaves turn brown at the edges is 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 indoors is around 10% whereas the rubber plant lives in tropical forest with humidity at least 40%.

Rubber plants can tolerate some low humidity but there are several factors indoors that decrease humidity to unfavourable levels 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

Brown spots on a rubber plant is usually because of sun burn. Rubber plants have sensitive leaves as are adapted to growing in bright indirect, rather then 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.

How to Revive a Rubber Plant with 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:

  • If the rubber plant’s leaves are turning brown at the edges the increase the humidity immediately by misting the plant. I would personally recommend to avoid moving the rubber plant (to a more humid room) as the the plant is already stressed and the shock could cause the leaves to drop off. Mist the leaves every day to create a humid micro climate 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 but 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 plants conditions should stabilize. The brown leaves may fall off but new growth should emerge in the Spring and Summer.

Rubber Plant Turning Yellow (Cool Temperatures)

  • Symptoms: Yellowing, drooping leaves that may drop off.
  • Causes: Temperatures cooler then 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 then 55°F (13°C).

Rubber plants are native to warm tropical climates and experience stable temperatures that do not typically go lower then 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 to 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 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 is a classic sign of a lack of nitrogen in the soil.

In my experience it is also worth scratching back the surface of the soil 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 a Yellowing Rubber Plant

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

  • Always maintain temperatures warmer then 55°F (13°C) and move your rubber plant away from any cold window sills or draughts. Window sills often have a much cooler micro climate at night compared to the rest of the house, so move your rubber plant accordingly and ensure that the leaves do not touch the glass as it is usually much colder then the ambient temperature of the room.
  • Ensure the rubber plant is in a location of bright indirect light to ensure it has enough energy for supporting the leaves.
  • 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 turning yellow and to promote the growth of healthy green leaves.
  • If the roots appear to be pot bound then repot your rubber plant to a pot just 2 inches larger in diameter then the previous pot. If you over pot the plant in a much larger pot then the soil dries out much more slowly which promotes 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 fingers depth to assess whether the soil has dried or not. I have always found this method more accurate then moisture meters.
  • Always water the soil to the extent that excess water trickles from the base of the pot 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 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.

Rubber Plant with Drooping Leaves and Stems

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

Drooping leaves is 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.

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 then the drooping leaves may be a reaction to the change in environment. Check to see whether the temperature is broadly a then warmer of 55°F (13°C) and that 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 watering or you can pick up the pot and seeing whether it feels light even after watering. In which 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 ensure any saucers or trays underneath the pot are emptied regularly.

Rubber plant Drooping After Repotting

The reason for rubber plants 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 plant such as rubber plants is a mix 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 to 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 repot rubber plants in pots just 2 inches larger then 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 favourable 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 they 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, locate in bright, indirect light rather then full sun, maintain temperatures warmer then 55°F (13°C) and only watering when the top inch of the potting soil feels dry.

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