weak rubber plant or is this natural???

tigereyes(5)June 25, 2008

The answer to this may seem obvious, but I want to make sure about it. I have a rubber tree plant that is about 4-5 feet tall. I have had it staked as it was starting to droop. When I took the stake out it practically layed on the floor. Is there a reason it is so weak, or is this the nature of the plant??? Hence the name.

Anyone who could clue me in would be greatly appreciated.


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Hmmm, I don't think that this is natural because my great aunt used to have big ones, and I don't think they were staked. But maybe we'll hear from more of an expert...

    Bookmark   June 25, 2008 at 11:17AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

If we could see a picture of it, perhaps we could better guess at the problem.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2008 at 12:26PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Ficus elastica is most commonly called 'rubber tree', but there are several other species in other genera also referred to commonly as rubber trees. If your plant is F elastica, its growth habit is very upright and the plant is self-supporting. Low light conditions cause weak stems and branches, so I would consider that as the likely cause of the plant's propensity toward the prone.

The plant's common name comes from the fact that the tree is 'tapped' for it's milky sap, which contains latex and it used in making rubber - rubber tree.


    Bookmark   June 25, 2008 at 3:25PM
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Mentha(9 CA)

I have the same problem, I found the problem to be wet feet, in combination with the heat. I am going to have to repot it again once I get some more perlite. Check the soil and make sure it's not soppy wet, if it is, you will have to change your watering habits and repot in a faster draining soil. The same effect happens with underwatering also, so be sure to look at the soil first.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2008 at 3:50PM
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Mentha, did you correct yours or are they permamently like that?

    Bookmark   June 26, 2008 at 11:08AM
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Mentha(9 CA)


I just found that they were drooping a couple of weeks ago, I thought it was because of the heat, because I had burning leaves so I watered and moved it closer to the house it, then it got worse. I then thought it would like a bigger pot since it was probably root bound, it wasn't yet, almost, but not yet. The soil was wet after days of being on the porch so I figured it was the mix it came in, I cheated when I potted it after getting it, I just sunk the root ball in the pot and packed soil around it. I usually don't do this, but at least wash the roots with a hose or bucket. They original soild didn't look too peaty, so I thought it would be ok, I guess I was wrong. I'm drying it out right now waiting for my lava rock and perlite to come in so I can repot again in a ligther mix and check roots.

It's doing better, but I may have to prune it back a foot or so because it looks like the growth point has been damaged. I hope it pulls through since the plant is the tri-variegated elastica. The leaves are amazing: grey, green, and cream colored. I hope I didn't kill it.

In my experience, floppy ficus come from 4 aspects: cold/ hot draft, too much/too little water, or scale/aphid/spider mites, and too much/little light. Lighting affects benjaminia more than the elastica, but it does happen.

Check the roots, see if they are white and healthy, cut back any that are brown or turning brown, dust with sulfur or let the roots dry a day or so before repotting in a heavy on the perlite/low on the peat mix. Figs are very hardy plants one you figure them out.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2008 at 12:21PM
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Mentha, I hope its not too much to ask to post a picture of yours? It sounds very pretty.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2008 at 5:33PM
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Mentha(9 CA)

Here it is with the fiddle leaf fig when I bought them. I got both for $15/each with a couple $5 off coupons from the grocery store. They were my rewards for getting my house clean. :)

A close up of the leaf, it is beautiful. The picture doesn't do it justice. It was labeled Ficus elastica "Burgundy" but I thought this was a mis-label since burgundy is a dark red.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2008 at 7:21PM
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I have a very similar if not the same plant, from Walmart, actually. Except mine is less than half the size of yours, with not that many leaves, but now it is starting to put out new leaves since I put it outside. Thank you!

    Bookmark   June 27, 2008 at 11:58PM
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Thanks for all the info. I can tell you without even looking at the roots that it didn't have proper drainage, as it always retained water for long periods. It never occured to me, that it was getting too much water and not draining it well.

So now my question is where do I go from here? Should I prune it back and basically start over with new soil? Starting new shoots from the cuttings? How much should I prune it back? Like in half? Or more than that? Also, right now I have it outside for the last week and it is mostly in the shade. Does anyone know if it can be in the sun at all? And if it can, how much time? I am in zone 4 and would like to have it on the west side of house where it would get shade until about 1pm. How much and what kind of sun can it tolerate?

Thank you again for all your help. Anyone with any ideas/thoughts/ or suggestions would be great!

    Bookmark   June 29, 2008 at 5:46PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

I have the F. elestica tri-color also, really beautiful leaves & sometimes w/ pinkished highlights.

I'm leaving the response to the last questions for Al (Tapla), but 'til he gets here & sees it, I'd suggest to Tigereyes that's it's best not to make so many changes all at once. It can compromise the plant somewhat, esp. if it's not doing well to start (IMO) & also, makes it hard to know which recent change is responsible for which subsequent change in behavior/appearance.

Thanks to Al's good advice, I have been revitalizing mine, prompting it to make new growth from the bottom of a bare stem in preparation for my lopping off its top.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2008 at 9:43PM
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Mentha your Ficus are both gorgeous..I don't know why, but I can't keep Lyrata/Fiddle Leaf, no matter what. Rubber trees, no problemo..Do you do anything different with its care?
Your Rubber Tree isn't burgandy..I don't know its species, but burgandy is well, burgandy..LOL. Is there any pink mixed with green and white/cream?

Tigereyes, place your Rubber tree is brighter light, as much as direct sun, but start out gradually, especially if it's been in lower light.
Soil should dry between waterings. Ficus Pumila is the only (commonly sold) Ficus that can tolerate constantly moist soil.
During growing season, fertilize with a balanced fertilizer once a month. Toni

    Bookmark   June 29, 2008 at 10:20PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think the best thing would be to prune it back, but first we need to get some sort of handle on the tree's state of health. Pruning the tree back tends to stiffen the trunk, simply because it's shorter. You can easily bend a 4-5 foot long branch or stick, but a 12 inch branch/stick is much more difficult to bend, so we strengthen it by shortening it.

Where you live has a lot to do with how aggressive you can be in your approach to getting the tree back in shape, but your user page & ID give no hint of that. If you are serious about turning the tree around, I think you should consider unpotting it, bare-rooting, attending to any rotting roots, and getting it into a soil that drains freely. I'm thinking that I would probably suggest that you sever the trunk above the second healthy leaf or above the first healthy branch, but why don't you describe the condition of the tree before deciding? How many leaves? how many branches? what is the condition of the leaves? how far above the soil line does the first branch/leaf occur? Is the trunk rotted or does it have any mushy spots?

If your plant has been in the shade for a week, you can move it into full sun now. Pick a cloudy day to move it to a full sun location, or place it there on a sunny day, late in the day. If you want, you can further ease it into a full sun location by just giving it full sun for half days for a few days.


    Bookmark   June 29, 2008 at 11:29PM
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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)

Toni, I have had a little trouble with F. lyrata too. It seems to need more water than a rubber tree, more like a regular ficus.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2008 at 11:40PM
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Mentha(9 CA)

I'm not the one to give advice on growing F. lyrata. I put mine outside on my newly covered porch, and it was fine for a week with no direct sun, then a week later the sun was shining directly on the both of them from 4-6pm. Needless to say I just cut off a bunch of leaves. I still have a few leaves to cut off, since I didn't want to stress it too much by removing all the burnt leaves at once.

I do find it needing more water than elastica. It also like being sprayed from time to time, so I assume humidity helps. It's in a larger pot than it's cousin, it seems to like the room. The elastica, didn't like the added room so I under potted it again. I'll be picking up some lava rock gravel to add drainage to my soil mix this week. I'll be buying about 4 cf of the stuff to add half half to my epi mix. I may add some to the ficus' soil because the store bought stuff is just too heavy. I think the elastica was pouting because I ran out of perlite.

The variegated elastica does have pink on new growth, but since moving it out on the porch it hasn't become so pink. You'd think with higher light, it would have more variegation. I don't think it like the sun too much.

Thanks for the ID, It will be FE tricolor from now on. :)

    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 2:47AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hey Mentha,

You're welcome, anytime. I'm not so sure that's is official real botanical name, FE tricolor, but that's what the tag said. Again, I defer to Al as the final authority on this.

I WILL comment it's a pretty sturdy character. Abt 4-5 yrs. ago, Jamie Montana had posted pix of it (she used to post, but now mostly lurks -- hi Jamie). I loved its pink highlights but couldn't find it locally. Well, she kindly sent me two of them for postage, I gave one to my sister, who a yr. or 2 later said it succumbed to bugs. Tho' mine's gotten a bit ratty over the yrs., its responding well to a trim, fresher mix & a slightly smaller pot (all under Al's good counsel).

    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 7:14AM
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Thanks for the advice. There are 3 stalks with no branches and full of very green, firm leaves. The leaves start about 4 inches from the bottom, and for the last 6 months I have kept them pruned back about a foot from soil, as I had a litter of puppies and needed to keep them out of plant. There are no branches, they are just straight shoots, with leaves all the way to top. I see no rot or mushy spots in trunks, no black or yellow spots. I have not checked the roots yet, as I want to give it the complete makeover all at once. I have not replenished the soil since I last transplanted it about 4 years ago. And after it got to be about 3 1/2 feet tall is when I first had to stake it, maybe about 3 years ago or so. It has always received south or west window, close but not right in front of a window. The trunks bend easy, but are not to the point of breaking, yet when unstaked the trunks can not stand by themselves. The base of the trunks/stalks are a little less than 3/4 inch thick. I don't know if these three stalks are from one base or three different plants. I don't know that much about them. And I haven't given it my extra attention as it looks and seems so healthy. I don't think there is anything seriously wrong with the plant, like diseases, and I know I won't know for sure until I look at roots. If it is anything it would be from overwatering, not draining and maybe having root rot. For some reason it didn't grow as strong as it should due to lack or too much of something.

Yes, I am serious about rescueing this plant and appreciate your knowledge and wisdom. Does this give you more info to go on? I live in a zone 4, Northern MI. if that helps you at all.


    Bookmark   July 1, 2008 at 1:25PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It sounds like a good candidate for a trunk chop. Sever the trunks an inch or so above the second leaf from the bottom. Spritzing the wound with plain water a minute or so after pruning will stop the sap from oozing. Unpot and use a pruning saw to remove the bottom 1/3 of the root mass & then remove all the soil from the roots. A combination of a chopstick and a garden hose on 'fine spray' will help with the chore. If the roots are dense & tangled, remove an additional 1/3 of the remaining roots, concentrating on only the heaviest - leave the finer roots. Repot into the same container (if you choose), using a free-draining soil. Use the chopstick to work the soil into the root mass so there are no air pockets. Site the plant outdoors in bright shade & water only when the soil is dry a couple of inches below the surface. As the planting matures & roots colonize the entire container, water when the soil first feels dry at the drain hole, or a wick inserted in the drain hole is dry. A wick can be a useful tool - especially before the planting is well-established. If you are interested in knowing more - just ask.

Fertilize at repot time with a 1/4 suggested strength solution of an all purpose fertilizer like MG 24-8-16 or 12-4-8 and repeat weekly (making sure that when you water, you saturate the soil and at least 10-15% of the water you apply runs through and exits the drain hole). Balanced blends like 20-20-20 or similar have much more P than the plant needs.

I've already repotted 3/4 my 30+ Ficus bonsai & treated them in similar fashion - a hard pruning, a complete root-pruning, & a complete soil change - all had latent buds breaking all over the plant within a week. What I just described is an excellent way to rejuvenate a tropical tree.


    Bookmark   July 1, 2008 at 4:52PM
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Thanks Al, sounds easy enough. Is it possible to repropagate the cuttings? Would they be any good. Or would it be better to just start with new plant after a trunk chop? I would hate to just throw away the cuttings. Unless there is nothing I can do.

I will probably start with a smaller pot, the one I was using was probably to large for it anyways. That will solve half of the problem. I tend to get carried away with repotting in pots that are too large for plant, wanting to give them enough room to grow. And have had to repot them again into a smaller one and end up having much better luck when I do that.

So what exactlly is a wick? Something I can buy? Or material I can use from home? Probably wouldn't hurt to try.

Thanks again,

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 10:22AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You can try - no harm in that, but it sounds like the plant is rather stressed, leaving the cuttings insufficient stored energy to win the race between growing roots and establishing a vascular connection to the top of the plant, and the effects or rot organisms making that impossible. If you do try the cuttings, stick (an actual term) them in perlite & just keep it damp. The cuttings should be sited in bright shade.

As the particle size of the soil gets larger, the pot size becomes increasingly less important. As an example, you can take the tiniest cutting and stick it in a 10 gallon pot - if the soil particulates are all approaching the 1/8 inch size, because that is where the perched water table disappears entirely. It's only when you're growing in heavy soils (those you typically find in bags, or those with sand, compost, etc represented in them) that you need to worry about any 'danger' in potting up into too large a container.

I use rayon mop strands for my wicks, or the flat, woven nylon strings that citrus and onion bags sometimes come secured with. You can use almost anything that absorbs water, but cotton rots very quickly.

Good luck. Be sure to let us know when the back-budding & new growth is getting under way. (about 2 weeks)


    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 11:37AM
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