Rubber Tree: Sick/Dying?

mbl9September 14, 2011

I have a 6' tall, 6 year old rubber tree. It was healthy its whole life, with the exception of always only having leaves at the top of each stalk. Recently, stalks/branches have been dying. (There are 5 thick "trunks" and 3 smaller ones.) The tips of the stalks lose all their leaves and shrivel. I have not moved the tree in 2 years, and water it sparingly, trying to keep the top of the soil moist. It is in a 1 ft deep pot with 18" diameter. I will admit to having never fertilized it until it appeared to be getting sick- then I gave it a little miracle gro tomato formula bc I was afraid all the N in the pot had been depleted. It doesn't seem to be improving, and this was about a month ago. New branches are dying off. Is there anything I can do to save it? What if I pruned a green branch, and tried to start a new plant from a smaller stalk of this larger plant? Will post picture asap.

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For pics follow link:

Here is a link that might be useful: Steve the Plant

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 1:59PM
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Mbl, Steve definately needs work.

Is it kept in the corner where you took the picture? It's way, too dark.

If it was my plant, I'd prune all the branches closest to the base, root the tops, and allow the bottom/trunk to regrow.

Rubber Trees need bright light to full sun. If grown in a shady corner, Ficus grows spindly.

If your Ficus was growing in the dark, year round, it's best you didn't fertilize.

Try rooting. Once they root, place in a southern or western exposure.

It's best using an All Purpose fertilizer with nutrients for Ficus. Since I don't use tomato fertilizer on house plants, I don't know how much NPK it contains.

I hope this helped. Toni

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 3:44PM
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Thanks, Toni- unfortunately my apartment is all Northern exposure. Rest assured, he is very close to a window and gets as "direct" as possible sun. I've lived here for 2 years, but prior to that he had been in sunnier spaces.

What is rooting? Can you elaborate on exactly what I should do? I'm a little bit of a newb about this... He's only been in 2 pots, ever. He started at 11" and when he got over 2 ft. I moved him to this larger pot.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 4:05AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

I agree, this plant may not be getting enough light to survive, and looks like it will die from the combination of not having enough light for photosynthesis and the root rot which that will facilitate. I would check the bottom of the leaves for any signs of spider mites or other critters (which can be killed/removed with a cotton ball and rubbing alcohol. How would you feel about putting your plant on a little table - preferably directly in front of a window? If not, is there a spot in the room that gets even a minute of sun shooting straight into the room? If you can put your plant where the sun will shine right on it, you will probably notice a difference - if that increase is enough to keep it alive.

The next time it rains, I would put that plant outside so it can get cleaned (it's pretty dusty) by rain water, and to rinse/soak the soil. It looks like water has been sitting in the drip tray at times, which is unhealthy over a long period of time since any imbalances and substances like salts from the water are unable to flush out of the soil.

After that, try watering in the sink or shower, allow to stop dripping/leaves to dry, then replacing the pot in the drip tray. Only water when very dry. The difference in the weight of the pot is a good measure of dryness.

It looks like 2 stems are dead at the top. Those should be removed at the point where they branch from another stem, or at the soil level. Making those 2 cuts might encourage more growth from the other parts. I agree that rooting the stems as cuttings would be a way to rejuvenate this plant but if there is no place with more light to do it, I wouldn't be confident about the success of it. You already knew the answer to your question when you asked, "What if I pruned a green branch, and tried to start a new plant from a smaller stalk of this larger plant?" It sounds like you just didn't know the lingo.

Is that a heater plugged in at the base of it? I can't tell. Or a radio? They say plants like music...

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 10:57AM
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It looks like Steve is back-budding below the tips that have died off - he wants to live! If these pics are recent, I don't think Steve is on death's door. He will also branch at those points where the new growth is coming out.

I would trim off the dead/dried up areas (and expect that they might increase somewhat...), don't remove any live tissue: scratch the bark off & if it's brown underneath, that portion is dead & should be removed.

Improve Steve's conditions: more light (closer to the window, or a grow bulb?), make sure you're not over-watering - also make sure the rootball is getting wet by checking with a chopstick into the dirt & feed him once in a while. If you can get Steve through the winter (the new growth looks good...), you can give him a repot in the spring.


    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 11:07AM
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MBL...Rooting means removing/cutting a stem/branch then placing in water or soil. New roots form, and voila, you have a new, baby plant.

Some plants root well in water, others need soil.

Even if you only have northern windows, you'd be surprised the number/types of plants that thrive in lower light.
Still, I'd place Steve in the brightest, northern window available.
And please make sure the pot isn't too large. Excess soil usually means over-watering, and over-watering leads to problems.
Including stunted growth, insects and rot.

I wouldn't fertilize until the sunniest months of the year.

I agree, if your plant can be summered outdoors, it'd resume health.
And showering is important, too. Ficus is a tropical plant...tropical plants need humidity.

Showering also washes dust particles off leaves. Dust clogs pores, which mean a plant can't breath. If you'd rather not shower, use a soft rag, a little dish soap, then rinse with clean water. Daily misting keeps leaves clean, too.

If possible, place a lamp/light above your Rubber Tree. If you're worried about your electric bill, keep the light on a few hours at night.

Good luck, Toni

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 3:37PM
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Re: rooting Rubber tree

I had a small bit of a rubber tree that had been broken off, and I put it in water to root it. It took a long time - a few weeks, if I recall correctly - but it did eventually root. I don't know if it would have done better in soil. I waited for the roots to get about a half inch long before potting it, and it is doing well.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 5:40PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Realistically, the probability of a cutting striking (taking root) is directly related to how much stored energy there is in the (cambial) tissues of the cutting. From my own experience, I can see that the tree is barely clinging to life and has nearly nothing in the way of reserves, surviving temporarily on the current photosynthate (food the plant is making), so it's very unlikely that you would be successful at rooting a cutting at this time. It's apparent that the plant is using more energy than it is producing, which means it is growing under strain, which always leads to the plant's demise unless corrected.

From a purely practical perspective, we can say the plant is growing poorly because of factors limiting its potential. It would probably be close to fruitless at this point to try to guess which of several possibilities is most limiting, because there are probably multiple issues vying for that spot. It simply makes more sense to begin a discussion that sets you on the right path so you have the tools to prevent a repeat with the next subject, and so you can apply what you learn to your other growing endeavors.

If you still have unanswered questions, I'll do my best to help.


    Bookmark   September 16, 2011 at 12:03AM
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mb19, looking at the photograph labeled 101_0132, the stalk leaning against the corner, formed where the two walls meet, shows some new growth about 10-12" down. I concur with gravyboots' advice; the other stalks can be similarly treated to effectively rejuvenate the existing plant. As for obtaining new plants from the existing, I have found that air-layering works best for me.
The stalk curving away to the left appears to have some new growth also. If you air-layer it between the new growth and the top, you will get a new plant in time and when it is removed, new shoots will emerge from that area of young leaves.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2011 at 10:48PM
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Al is the rubber tree expert here so I would defer to his opinion, but my impression is that the biggest problems this tree has are (first and most importantly) not enough light and also not enough pruning (many plants require regular pruning to look full and bushy).
How far away is it from a window? Just being a few feet from a window can reduce the amount of actual light the plant gets dramatically. If it were my plant, I would try moving it right in front of the sunniest window. Rubber plants in my experience appreciate as much sunlight as they can get. If that just isn't possible, it might be worth considering adding a supplemental growth light if you want to be able to keep it in that corner.

If all else fails, I would try to keep it limping along through winter and plan to put it outside next spring (if you can?) to reinvigorate it. Spring would be an ideal time to prune it to make it fuller and bushier too, since it would then rapidly recover and put on a new flush of growth.
Although plants used to indoor light need a little time to adapt to the intensity of outdoor sun, my variegated rubber plant was much more vigorous and colorful when I allowed it to summer outdoors this past summer. I even had it in full southern sun. It did take a while to adjust to the intensity of that much light, but the new growth was gorgeous.
Hope Steve bounces back! I think there is plenty of hope for him!

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 2:03PM
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Update: I have moved Steve in front of my balcony window (Northern) so at least now he is getting light on all parts of him. I pruned away the dead parts, and GB is right - to some degree they are increasing. I did notice (in trying to cut away parts that were dead) that there is still green under some bark, so currently, he is still living. I took the smallest shoot and tried to do a cutting in soil-I'm not sure it will work, but worth a shot? I am interested in the idea of "air-layering"-I googled it, but could someone post pictures of how it works exactly? I'd like to follow RonaLawn's suggestion, in the indicated area. To me, it sounds like I would basically cut away at the stalk (but how much? How do I know where the xylem is? How long should I make the space?) and wrap peat moss around it? How can I keep the peat moss attached to the branch? Plastic wrap seems like a bad idea and like air would not get in, but also I would probably want to keep the area somewhat moist?

Everyone has been so helpful! Thank you so much.


    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 4:34PM
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Marianne. Air layering is a simple procedure.

Using a sharp knife, cut, about halfway, at an angle. Insert two tooth-picks in the cut. Place moist Peat Moss around the entire section. Either spray moss or soak before placing around the cut stem/trunk.
Wrap moss using plastic/Saran Wrap. Attach ends with ti's, like those used to bind trash bags.
Plastic wrap is fine. Don't worry about air.

Carefully untie and check moss to see if it's dry. If so, respray. Once per twice a week is sufficient.
Roots grow from the cut. When they're long enough, cut/remove, and pot in well-draining soil. Don't use too large containers.

One thing. It's suggested air layering be done during growing season, 'spring/summer,' so it might take a little longer for roots to form.
Think positive, nothing is impossible.

BTW, don't discard the bottom portion. It will continue growing. Good luck, Toni

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 4:57PM
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Marianne, be assured that Steve is one tough cookie: this Ficus suffered a total soil collapse, loss of nearly all leaves and roots a year ago - sadly, I am not exaggerating. As you can see in the picture, it has had a hard life of neglect & many sections dying off, but it has managed to live, so I think Steve's chances of survival are quite good! From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

(Whooppee!! I just successfully embedded a picture!!!)

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 7:39PM
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Gravy, congrats downloading a pic... :)

I didn't see your Ficus prior to you bringing it back to health, but it looks great now.

I clicked on the last of the Ficus pictures which led me to a group of plants sitting on a table.
My eyes aren't what they used to be, but is the last plant at the end of the table a Chlorophytum/Spider?
It looks exactly like one I found at the grocery store. Variegated, very very narrow leaves.
If it's a Spider, would you happen to know its species? Thanks, Toni

PS. your plants are doing fine.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 2:25PM
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Hmmm Toni, I can't place the photo you're thinking of.... I looked at the other Ficus album, but didn't see any other plants & checked another pic I linked to, but didn't notice any spiders...

I have a standard varigated one, with stripes & green leaf edges, a tiny baby from the HD plant dept that is also varigated, but with white leaf edges (I was SO excited to find it!), plus 2 solid green plants, a lighter one & a darker one. But, they were all random gifts or rescues, so I don't know any species info on them - sorry!!

Here is a pic of the Ficus pictured above, from last year, after a few months of recovery: From 9 Lives Ficus elastica


    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 10:30AM
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DERP! I see which pic you mean Toni! The plants are sitting on some upside-down beverage delivery trays - they've been perfect for the summer outdoors, keeping the pots off the ground & I can put Sluggo underneath the trays.

That plant came from the creamics studio at school (a strongly urged gift / rescue) & Hessayon's "House Plant Expert" says that "C. comosom vittatum is the usual one - variegatum has green leaves edged with white, while mandaianum is compact with yellow-striped leaves."

The one you're referring to has leaves with white centers, and green leaf margins, with a lighter green stripe in between.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 3:39PM
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Gravy, rescues are nice, so are .10-1.00 plants. :)

Your Spider I was referring to isn't the one I have, however it looks very close.

Mine has long, very narrow, white-edge, green center foliage.
I recently bought a new species called, 'Ocean.' Ever hear of this type?
To be honest, I'm still trying to figure out the difference between it and a standard variegated. lol

I also have a Spider given to me by a good friend that used to be a GW member. She sent a shoot, several years ago.
It's green, but babies grow variegated. Quite unique. As babies mature, they turn pure green, etc.

I didn't know there were so many C. species in the world. Just think of those we haven't seen??? lol. Toni

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 6:24PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Just stopping by to send good vibes to Steve. So glad he's got a new spot with more light.

I showed this thread to my honey and we were cracking up because when we look @ the "name that plant" forum, he always wants to name all of the plants Steve. He was kinda "pissed" somebody took "his" plant name but we both wish Steve well. Go Steve Go!

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 10:20AM
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Purple, does your 'honey,' lol, like naming your plants or the plants on 'Name that Plant?'

If he chooses to name yours, may I ask how many you have? If under 20, it shouldn't be too much of a problem, but any number higher than 20, well, he'd best buy plant tags, that is, unless of course, he names all your plants, Steve. lol.

How come there's no Mary's or Karens? lol. Toni

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 1:22PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

He says they are all Steve except for a few who are Harold.

How many... now (less)... or when that first frost comes (more)?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 2:14PM
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I have had this rubber tree for about a year but all of a sudden, it has taken a turn for the worse.

I put it underneath a bush during the severe winter to protect it from frosts, and then gave it some Aquasol or some kind of fertiliser when a friend said it needed a feed.

Can it be saved?

    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 10:12PM
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CherylintheGarden,..I think what you actually have there is a schefflera arbicola,and yeah it's looking rough alright. First thing to do is to scratch a tiny wound in the bark in a few locations. If it's a healthy green color underneath,then it may well recover. Parts may be dead and you will be able to tell the dead from the living by the green color. Anything that doesn't have that green color can be pruned off.

Let us know what you find.

...and good luck! :)

    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 11:35PM
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