How to Revive a Dying Rubber Plant

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Rubber plants are one of those common, easy-care plants that I just couldn’t seem to convince to grow.

I’m there now – both my regular burgundy and my variegated rubber plants have produced a plethora of gorgeous new growth this year, despite both having VERY rocky winters. So I feel like I’m qualified to talk on this subject.

(Tbh, bringing house plants back from the dead is definitely my area of expertise, as is, sadly, sending them to the brink of death).

By the way, by rubber plants, we’re encompassing Ficus elastic, Ficus robusta (which is very similar, but with bigger and glossier leaves) and Ficus Tineke, which is the variegated one.

In my experience, they all require pretty much the same care. The variegated forms tend to be more resistant to burning than other variegated plants, possibly due to their thick, succulent leaves.

Make sure you’re watering your rubber plant enough

Rubber plants are pretty forgiving of a bit of overwatering (though it will kill them eventually), but they’re REALLY forgiving of being underwatered.

This sounds great, BUT if you let them get too dehydrated, they’ll take longer to recover – if you wait long enough, they may never recover. Mine got to the point where the leaves were drooping, paper-thin, and actually dropping off.

If your rubber plant is losing leaves and you’re not sure if it’s due to under or over watering, checking the texture of the leaves should help you decide.

Overwatered leaves are squishy and often start to blacken at the tips.

Underwatered leaves feel like, er, all the water’s been sucked out of them.

I bottom water my rubber plants, simply because it’s convenient, and let them sit in the water for a good few hours.

My burgundy ficus is in a terracotta pot and desperately needs repotting (you can see her massive, weird root in this video, and no, I STILL haven’t repotted her) so she needs a thorough soak on a pretty much weekly basis.

Here’s a braggy photo of her new leaf:

Those Fuschia cataphylls are incredible.

Though the UK is currently having a heatwave, which obvs makes her dry up pretty quickly.

In winter, I tend to err on the side of caution. Make sure the soil is suuuper dry before watering. Don’t expect much new growth in the colder months, and if you get any, don’t be put off if it’s a bit smaller than usual. It’s perfectly normal.

…But don’t overwater your Ficus robusta

I know it sounds confusing, constantly worrying that you’re over/under watering, but once you get the hang of it, it’ll be fine.

A moisture metre is a godsend if you’re new to watering. Stick the pointy end in the soil and water whenever the metre reads ‘2’. Anything higher, leave it alone.

But as you get a bit more in tune with what your plant wants you should be able to tell when your rubber tree needs watering simply by picking up the pot.

The crucial thing here is to NOT put your plant in terracotta. Though they like it, it makes it waaaay harder to tell when to water.

Keep your Ficus in their nursery pot (the plastic pot they come in) as long as you possibly can. When the soil is full of water, it’ll be noticeably heavier than when it isn’t. When the pot is light, it’s time to water.

It sounds a bit out of reach for beginners, but I promise, one day you’ll pick up a pot and think ‘hey, this is lighter than usual’.

If you suspect you’ve been overwatering your plant, you’ll need to check the roots and dry out the soil. You can do this by removing the plant from the soil, and having a look at the roots.

Whilst you’re doing that you can dry out the soil using a hairdryer, radiator, whatever. Heck, you can spread it out on a dish towel and let it dry on the underfloor heating for all I care.

Add some drainage if you suspect the soil is too dense. Decent drainage materials gave two properties:

  • Create air pockets in the soil
  • Absorb water

It must have both, otherwise don’t bother. Orchid bark and perlite work well.

If the roots are brown and mushy, chop them off. If the rubber plant has barely any roots at all, I’d try rooting it in leca, just because I find it to be the quickest way to get plants to root (bar putting them in the aquarium, and I’d worry the bark would rot).

Give your rubber tree more light to encourage recovery

Increasing the light is the cheat code to helping the vast majority of house plants recover from whatever ailment they’re suffering from.

My rubber plant lives in a west-facing window and gets good bright, indirect light for most of the day. It could probably tolerate a bit more light, and could definitely tolerate a bit less, though they do appreciate at least SOME bright, indirect light to grow decent-sized leaves.

The reason that light is so good for helping revive plants is that it’s the best place for plants to get their energy. A plant with a lot of energy has the strength to either grow or fight off whatever is bugging it.

Make sure to keep your rubber plant’s leaves clean to help it recover

Rubber plant leaves are dust magnets. They’re big, wide, and generally grow parallel to the ground, so the dust lands on them and settles.

Now, I can tell you, from experience, that rubber plants aren’t THAT fussy about having dusty leaves, compared to, say, Monstera, which attract thrips with a single dust particle.

But having said that, keeping their leaves dust-free means that more light can get to the leaves, and the plant can photosynthesise more effectively.

I don’t recommend using any leaf shine products. When I dust my plants I either use a dry cloth (old t-shirts work well on leaves) directly on the leaf, or a spray a bit of neem oil/water mix on the leaves and then wipe off.

It just depends on how good of a plant caregiver I’m being that day.

How to revive a rubber plants that’s had a pest infestation

Rubber plants aren’t as prone to pests as other plants. Their thick, waxy leaves are too much hassle for all but the most ambitious thrips and spider mites.

You’re most likely to get scale insects, most commonly mealy bugs BUT I’ve not had either of those on either of my Ficus, so I think, at least for me, they’re pretty good at keeping themselves pest-free.

But if that ship has sailed and you’re left with a sad, pest-infested rubber plant, there are things you can do.

Firstly, you need to eradicate the pests. I like to go with this shower method, but you can add in a pesticide or horticultural oil if you’d like. Once the pests are gone, you can start with helping your rubber plant recover.

The first step is to check your plant’s position. Could she do with a little more light? How’s the humidity? Rubber plants aren’t that fussy about humidity, but making sure the room is at 40-60% humidity will really help.

If you think the position is ok, then you might want to have a look at her pot situation. Could she do with repotting? Or could you add some more nutrition to the soil?

I’d advise fertilising BUT if your rubber plant is in a really bad way, fertilising is as likely to hinder as is it is to help. Imagine if you’d been hit by a car and someone was like ‘have to something to eat!’. Nah mate, call an ambulance.

New soil with a natural fertiliser such as worm castings are a better way to go.

If you’re pretty sure the soil is fine, just leave it. It’s just worth a try if the plant hasn’t been repotted in a while, since the nutrients in the soil can (but not always) stimulate growth.

Then, I’m afraid, it’s just a case of being a good plant caregiver. Check the soil regularly and water when the soil is dry.

How to revive a rubber plant that’s been sunburned

Sunburn tends to affect the leaves rather than the roots, so there’s every chance that your plant will make a full recovery.

The soil provides a barrier to the heat and rays so the roots are protected BUT they will perish if they’re left to bake for too long.

Sunburned leaves are burned permanently, so chop them off if you don’t like the way they look. They ain’t coming back.

A sensible person would advise to OF COURSE move the plant. I mean, it’s being burned. But before you do so, consider where the plant lived before it got burned.

If you increased the light very suddenly, there’s every chance that the spot the plant is in is fine, it just wasn’t acclimatised properly.

In which case, just move your plant further away from the light and move it back slowly.

If you’re chaotic neutral like me, you can just wait for the plant to acclimatise where it is. Will all the leaves burn off? Yes. But unless you’re leaving the plant out in the direct afternoon sun, there’s every chance it’ll grow back bigger and better than before.*

*Reminder that I live in rainy England. Our sun may be a lot cooler than yours.

Final thoughts

Rubber plants are one of those plants that WANT to live, but they require a little more effort to get to thrive. They’re easy to neglect because they always look totally fine, up until they’ve drained that last molecule of moisture out of their leaves and they flop like a hot rabbit.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

6 thoughts on “How to Revive a Dying Rubber Plant”

  1. Thank you, this is really useful.

    I bought a Tineke over a week ago, one leaf started to have some black, dried spots at the edges. Now I’m very worried….

  2. Could it be sunburn? Usually it would show in multiple leaves, but it’s not unheard of to only affect one leaf. Check the roots for root rot too (chop off any gross bits and make sure the soil is nice and airy).

    If it’s only one leaf and the other leaves seem ok, I wouldn’t worry too much, especially if it’s an older one.

  3. My plant keeps dropping leaves! I am keeping up with wet soil but leaves are also thin and drooping. Help!

  4. The soil needs to dry out between watering – have you checked the roots? Get it out of the pot and look at them. Remove any that are mushy and put it back the soil.

    You could also need brighter light – rubber plants do ok in lower light, but if it’s struggling, brighter light can really help. Keep me updated!

  5. Okay so, my Fiancé Chad and I are house sitting for three months for our friends here in Portland Oregon, to be exact, West Linn Oregon.
    Also keep in mind rainy or overcast 24/7 is the time of year here.

    Alright well, our friends have a 20+ year old rubber tree in the corner of their living room. Yes you read that right.. 20plus years… Oh boy, tell me about it.

    It has dropped as many as 28 leaves.. if not more.

    >Me finding them – ‘whhaahuts this?!’

    Also they recently told us this plant MEANS EVERYTHING TO THEM EXSPECIALLY THE WIFE.

    me- ‘Uh oh, ugh Chad? Have you seen this big tree thing in the living room???’

    Now, I consider myself a great plant keeper/ is Chad.. But this rubber… It’s the freaken bain of my existence!!!

    Okay J+C, friends/owners of the rubber, left us detailed instructions on all the plants. Water 2cups every 10 to 14 days.

    Me- Mmmkay easy enough..

    …Except for the first 3 weeks or so we watered it probs once maybe twice.. And like a 1 1/2 cups.. Because all of the other plants get strictly 1 cup. So I misread the instructions and thought this was one of the 1 cuppers..i added the extra 1/2 cup because I thought it is way to big of a plant for so little water..

    So our first thought to all these dropping leaves and bone dry soil was, ‘Hell! it needs water!’ .. So I picked up watering it once every 10 days and the leaves… They keep falling…

    So we FINALLY tell J+C and sent them into a panic while telling us, ‘YOUR OVER WATERING IT!! DONT WATER IT FOR A WHILE!!!’

    Now They’ve had this plant for 20plus years they obviously know what they’re talking about right??

    Well…MORE leaves have dropped and Chad and I are both thinking after both if us stick our fingers down into it, ‘This plants soil is soo dry on top there is no way its being over watered!’

    So we start reading and reading and reading… Over watering it, under watering it, nope it’s over watered… Oh wait no it’s underwater.. Nono Aaactually this site, somthing like-‘Rubbers survival guide’ or ‘How to bring your rubber back from the dead’ … Something like that, says we are DEFinitely over watering it!!

    Me- well sh**.

    Sooo now that I’ve lost complete faith in looking anything up on Google. I started typing in maybe its the electric fireplace we kept on a lot the last few weeks… Bingo!
    That’s probs it. So some other wedsite..somthing like, ‘Death from heaters for rubbers’ or ‘Rubbers gettin to hawt’ – Somthing like that..says to mist the leaves also make sure the soil is aerated with a chopstick by breaking up the roots a little and getting plenty of water in them.. Also place it in a light but not light, kinda some light is okay, but not to direct.. Maybe some indirect light.. Just show the light to it basically… Oh rubbers are light lovers tho..yup just show it to the light. Or maybe put it in the north easterly west facing Southern corner of your house. That should do the trick.

    Me- well sh**.

    So I start misting the hand goes to my forehead.. I’m staring at this poor rubber tree.. And realize my misting the last couple days only seems like it’s not doing it any good.. It’s telling me it needs help. It’s owners do such a good job with it. They keep it outside in the summer and bring it in in the winter. Year after year.

    Now here’s the real facts.

    -The plant is 20+ years old.
    -Its soil does NOT hold any water. When it’s watered it just pours out the bottom,onto the hardwood floor.
    -Its a big a$$ tree. There’s no picking it up to test the weight of the huge ceramic pot it’s in for water presence.
    -The leaves are NOT black on the tips.
    -It gets indirect light next to a large window but all the leaves are standing upright vertical almost.
    – The soil hasn’t been replenished and I read on one or those aforementioned sites that they eat their soil? Is this correct? So does it need to be topped off?
    – The leaves that have dropped have yellowing coming from the inside of the middle going out to the edges (I think) and when you look at the leafs they are striped with yellow stripes going horizontal all the way down the leaf.
    – leafs are Def thin and curling from the edges inward. (I think)

    So my questions are:

    -Do we need to take this tree out of its pot to check its roots?
    -Should I be saturating the dirt with water and waiting a couple hours then making sure it’s all drained out?
    -Or soaking the dirt completely and draining it and leaving it alone?
    – Move it to another area in house with more light?
    – Adding more dirt to its roots?
    -Feed it some type of ‘rubber tree food’ in its water?

    I’m sorry for such a long comment. I’m so lost on what to do with this plant. I’ve never let a plant die… Ever. I’m normally the rescuer so my heart is literally in pain for this big guy.. Or.. girl.. Erm…this big tree!

    Thank you for your help and reading my novel I’ve just written you. You are awesome and I can’t wait for your reply!!

    With hope,
    Tess and Chad.

  6. I LOVED your essay. I shall write one back.

    First things first, I don’t think you’re overwatering it – if the soil’s dry and the water’s running straight through, I think it’s under watered. It needs bottom watering and/or repotting – basically the roots have displaced the soil so there’s nothing to retain the water. Breaking up the soil with chopsticks helps, but sometimes the soil becomes so hydrophobic that it needs to be soaked.

    The heater was probably not helping, and dried the soil out, but it’s probably just bad timing – it sounds like it’s run out of soil and nutrients. I LOVE the idea that rubber plants eat their soil, but I think they just displace it with roots.

    Rubber plants like to be tight in their pots, which is probs why it’s managed just fine for so long, but there comes a point when the soil can’t retain any water – if your friends want to keep it in the same pot they’ll need a saucer underneath it to bottom water it and to add fertiliser to it regularly.

    Repotting is definitely a job for your friends, so I think a solution for you would be to water it INCREDIBLY slowly – easiest way would be to get a plastic bottle with a screw cap and drill three holes in the cap, fill with water, screw the cap on, and stick it upside down in the soil – the water should drip out slow enough for the roots to absorb the water (why do they not have a saucer underneath it? This is wild).

    If that’s too much of a ball ache you could try wicking water into it – get a bowl of water and a piece of string (or multiple) – put one end of the string in the soil, and one in the water – the soil will (eventually) wick water through the string. This does work but can take freaking AGES.

    You could also take the whole thing out of the pot and soak it in a bucket of water.

    The yellow veining does seem like a nutrient issue, but don’t fertilise until the soil is evenly moist – you risk burning the roots. A better solution would be adding some worm castings to the top of the soil and mixing it in with a chopstick.

    I don’t think you need to worry about misting or light, because unless your friends moved it before they went away, this would have been an issue before. Everything points to it being a issue with the plant not being able to get any water/nutrients.

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