38 year old Rubber tree dying

LucillePSeptember 24, 2011

HELP! I have a 38 year old rubber tree, my father gave us when we married. Stretched out it is currently about 8 feet tall. I have successfully air-layered it two times(couple of years ago). We have lived in Raleigh NC for 25 years, and every spring we move it to our upstairs porch ( unscreened) where it faces west & receives very good light thru trees. In the winter it lives in front of the west window and tolerates poorer light.

It has become very ill the past couple of months, losing more and more leaves.It is now droopy, very few leaves at the ends of branches. the greener branches feel and look soft and wrinkly. The darker "barkier" branches are not hard and one shoot has peeling bark on the lower plant. In desperation, we repotted with new soil in the same pot (12 inch) two weeks ago and the root system looks good but not extensive as I would have imagined.I do not over water and I fertizer monthly. recently I have applied the oil spray "Volick".

A number of years ago, I worked at a premier garden center in Raleigh for 5 years ( Logan's Trading Co.) and I have a fair knowledge of plants. I have no answers this time.

I hope you can help me; this plant is a part of me and has traveled the country with us thru our married when my husband was transferred with his job. I have given my 2 grown children the air-layered starts when they married and bought their own homes.

I don't know what to do.

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

On this forum, you'll often find a lot of emphasis on things of dubious value, like misting and using certain elixirs that in the overall scheme of things will have no measurable impact on your tree's current or future state of vitality. Most plant afflictions ultimately lie within the affects of a very few factors, those being your soil choice, which is inextricably linked to watering habits, light, nutrition, and how you've maintained the root system of your plant. The light and nutrition are pretty easy - you either have or do not have appropriate light. If you have it, that's wonderful; if you don't have it, you'll simply need to accept the limiting effects of inadequate light or supplement, which isn't easy on an 8' tree. Nutrition is also easy, but it leads us right back to your choice of soil (surprised at that?), I can tell you WHAT to fertilize with, but HOW you fertilize and how fertility levels combine with the level of other salts in the soil need more discussion. We can talk more if you're interested.

Most importantly - if you can't provide cultural conditions that ensure happy roots, you have no chance of keeping the rest of the plant happy. This leads directly to soil choice and what you've done to maintain roots. This area of container culture, and I'm going to include over-watering with soil choice because of their close association, is rightly where almost all of the problems brought to this forum originate - including pest infestation and various diseases.

It sounds probable that your plant is dealing with one of several fungal infections that affect roots. The roots of a plant that old would be climbing out of any size pot if the plant was healthy. If the bark peals away easily exposing what was once living cambium, you can be sure your plant has Southern Blight or any of several other fungal infections associated with this plant. Without being there to see the plant, it's difficult to assess whether the plant is savable or not. You must feel that it is, or you wouldn't be asking for help.

The best time to undertake any kind of serious root work on your rubber tree would have been late Jun - late Jul. A picture would be very helpful, otherwise you'd need to unilaterally decide if you think an emergency repot is in order. Repots differ from potting up in that they include removing all (or almost all) the soil from the root mass, and in your case removing any dead/decaying/otherwise compromised root tissues.

Trees in the condition yours are in just don't turn around because you decide to fertilize with something special or offer a plant tonic; and misting the foliage isn't going to do it either. It will take some fortitude and your willingness to take a risk, but in your case it sounds like that might the only option to keep the tree from staying its present course.

I maintain MANY Ficus in containers, many of them very old specimens, and I maintain them in continual good health because of a good understanding of their needs and what they will/won't tolerate. Let me know if you want to establish a dialog and if you want additional/more specific help.


    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 12:26PM
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Al, please write a real book.....seriously! And put me as first in line to buy a copy. I can't keep track of all the great advice you're giving to people, no matter how much I "clip this post"! :)


    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 1:21PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Thank you for the kind words, Nancy. They're very appreciated.

All of the information we need to be accomplished container growers fits together like a jigsaw puzzle that is under assembly. Each of the pieces are somehow connected to the other pieces - either directly or extraneously, but they are ALL connected. If ever you've put a jigsaw puzzle together, you probably remember that it's easier when you try to get the outer 'frame' together first. This outer frame is representative of the understanding of the most basic knowledge that is needed for good growing success. Of the basic knowledge, most important is an understanding of how the soil/water relationship works & how the individual soil components interact as they relate to the whole. Basically we need to understand that a healthy root system is required for healthy plants and how to ensure healthy roots. Then, and somewhat easier to understand, are a very few additional issues like the importance of light to your growing experience, how fertilizers work and what fertilizer is most appropriate. We also need at least a very basic understanding of how some of the other cultural conditions might affect plant growth/performance. Once the grower has this essential understanding in grasp, that is to say the framework of the growing puzzle completed, understanding the relationship between (assembling) the rest of the pieces will occur at a rate exponentially faster than the initial rate of progression - just as it does when assembling the jigsaw puzzle. Unless this fundamental framework is complete, we're basically relying on trial & error, which is certainly no short cut to success.

Even though I understand the subtleties of husbandry well, I tend to initially focus on the basics in offering advice; that, because I understand where basic issues bifurcate into the secondary and tertiary issues that in the end aren't going to be pivotal, singularly or collectively.

Thanks again, Nancy.

I'm hoping that something in my initial offering proves helpful to Lucille; better yet that it leaves her with questions, the answers to which lead to more specific help.


    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 3:22PM
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