Rubber plant yellow leaves

Why does my inside rubber plant keep losing leaves? – Knowledgebase Question

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)
Posted by twistedted
A Rubber Plant can lose leaves for a number of reasons. If your plant has been losing leaves from the bottom up, it might be root related. Experienced growers say “problems with bottom leaves means a problem with bottom roots”. It could be too much or too little water but is nearly always too little water on the bottom roots. This happens because the plant may get water frequently but never gets enough water to soak the bottom roots. Roots always grow downward so it is not critical what the top of the soil is like but it is very important to get water down to the bottom of the pot. The plant should be in a pot that has a hole in the bottom. When you water you should give the plant LOTS of water. Even leave the pot in water to soak up water for maybe half an hour then drain off all extra water. Too much water is as bad, or worse, than too little. Leave the plant until it is quite dry on the top of the soil before you water again. Rubber plants like bright light, but never hot sun. When your new leaves are emerging, even less light is advisable, as this will promote larger leaves. Rubber plants are very susceptible to changes in environment, such as warm to a cool room. Keep them out of drafts, and away from heat sources. Good luck with your rubber plant.

rubber plant is dying

I wish you would have asked about the repot before undertaking it. I’m not saying that to chide you – just that we could have advised you that repotting a plant about to enter a period of quiescence (very slow growth – the plant sort of resting until days get longer) shouldn’t be repotted. The act of repotting is a very good thing for rootbound Ficus, just that the timing was off. The entire Ficus genus, except for the hardy fig F carica) should be repotted in the summer. The best time is the month before its most robust growth, which would be around Father’s day, for you. If you weren’t careful about keeping all the roots wet during the repot, you probably lost a large fraction of the important fine roots to desiccation, which is a significant setback.
If you take the plant’s natural rhythms into account and repot in summer when the plant is at peak vitality, the plant will tolerate bare-rooting very well. I’ve bare-rooted Ficus so large it took 2 good men to tip the pot over – probably 100 gallons + of soil, removing more than 3/4 of the roots, half the top growth, repotting into a pot half the size of the original … and the plant resumed growth within 2 weeks and acted like nothing happened.
What you DO have going for you is, you said the plant was growing well. Assuming the plant was healthy, it should recover, given time. The key is to keep the soil warm and the soil damp – DAMP being the operative word. With leaves falling, the plant will use very little water. It’s likely that even those leaves that haven’t fallen are forming an abscission layer at the base of the petiole (leaf stem) and will fall soon, which means even they are not using water. Your main job at this point is to make sure you never let the soil get soggy, and wait. No fertilizer is required until you see sure signs of new growth.
If you like, I can post an article I wrote about caring for Ficus in containers. It has a lot of useful information.

The mighty rubber tree has been a favorite houseplant since the Victorian era. It’s hardy, easy to care for, and actually removes toxins from the air in your home!

In this guide, we’ll take a look at exactly how to care for your own rubber tree plant.

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Rubber Tree Plant Overview

Quick Info about the Rubber Tree Plant

  • Common Name: Rubber tree, rubber tree plant, rubber plant
  • Latin Name: Ficus elastica
  • Family: Moraceae
  • Plant Type: Tree
  • Origin: India and Malaya
  • Temperature: 60-85°F (15-28°C)
  • Humidity: Medium
  • Height: 6-10′
  • Color: Green
  • Insects and Diseases: Mites, scales, aphids, whitefly, root rot

In its native environment, it’s normal for a rubber plant to grow to over 100′ tall. Don’t worry though — as a houseplant, rubber plants usually get to around 8-10′. With careful pruning, you can shape your rubber tree to be exactly as tall as you want.

Its sap is used to produce rubber, hence the name. The plants live for hundreds of years, but take 7 years to be harvested for the first time. After those 7 years, it will produce sap for rubber for about 30 years or so.

While it’s still used for rubber production today, indoor gardeners grow it for two reasons:

  1. It’s a beautiful and hardy houseplant
  2. It’s been proven to remove formaldehyde from the air​

Planting & Potting Your Rubber Plant

Rubber trees are finicky when it comes to change, so be sure to pick a spot to place it and don’t move it. This is especially true when it comes to fluctuations in temperature or air flow.

Rubber Tree Plant Care


Rubber trees do not require much light, but flourish in bright, indirect light. Many people put their rubber trees near a window where the light is filtered through a pair of sheer curtains.

If the plant gets less light while leaves are growing, the leaves will actually be larger! Fun fact.


While your rubber tree is in its growing season, you keep the soil moist. Water it deep. During the dormant season, keep the soil drier…but not too dry. It is possible to underwater it.

Be sure to clean the leaves of your ficus elastica so it can breathe easier, but don’t use any kind of leaf shine on it. Be sure to mist them as well for pest prevention.


The container for your rubber tree should be large enough to grow a 4-foot tall tree. Make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom, otherwise you risk root rot.

Place a layer of small 1-inch rocks in the bottom to aid in drainage. Add equal parts of quality peat moss, sand, and garden loam. This will avoid the wet, soggy conditions that rubber trees despise. The soil will drain quickly enough for the rubber tree to feel right at home.​

Fertilize your rubber tree during the spring and early summer, but not when it is dormant in the winter. Half-strength houseplant fertilizer will do just fine.



Cut below the thinner parts, just above the thick part of the branches. Cut right above leaf nodes. Try to prune the over all size of the plant. Everywhere you prune, new branches will spring up. Think of it as giving your Rubber Tree a haircut. Always keep one set of leaves, at least, so it can continue to make food for itself and re-grow.​


The best approach to propagating a rubber tree is air layering. It is straight forward and always works well. For a complete guide, check out this video or follow the steps below:

  1. Find a healthy, leafing part of a branch.
  2. Make a cut on the stem below that.
  3. Cut half way into the stem.
  4. Then use a toothpick soaked in root hormone solution to spear the cut sideways and hold it open.
  5. Wrap the cut in thoroughly wet sphagnum peat moss.
  6. Wrap the peat in plastic, but loosely. Make it only tight enough to keep the peat on the cut.
  7. Watch for a few weeks and you will have roots growing in the moss.
  8. Finally, cut off that stem below these roots.
  9. Plant this in a pot and you have your new tree.​

Pests and Diseases

Overall, ficus elastica is a hardy plant that can tolerate most growing conditions. Like many houseplants, it’s still susceptible to a few different types of pests and diseases. Most are easily preventable with a bit of care, though.


Aphids, scale insects, and mealy bugs — the standard houseplant pests — can also affect your ficus elastica. In most cases, the best approach is to use a horticultural soap or organic liquid insecticide of some kind to get rid of most (if not all) of these pests.

If you catch any of them early, chances are you can simply wipe them off before they really begin to infest your rubber plant.


Rubber tree houseplants are resistant to most known diseases. In fact, most of the diseases they’re susceptible to are brought about due to overwatering and creating the perfect environment for pathogens like Phytophthora.

To avoid most diseases, simply avoid overwatering your rubber plant. The only other affliction they suffer from are nematodes, to which there is no good control. It’s best to just get rid of your rubber plant and buy a new one.​

FAQs​ and Problems

Q. How can I prevent thrips or mites from affecting my rubber plant?

A. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and in this case it holds true. If you mist the leaves of your rubber tree plant to keep them somewhat moist, you will prevent most mites or thrips from settling in.

Q. My rubber plant is dropping a lot of leaves. They’re dropping and turning yellow. What should I do?

A. ​The most likely problem is over watering. If you have a pot without drainage holes, you’ll need to water much less often, otherwise the water will pool and rot your roots. Either repot to a pot with holes, or simply water less often.

If you’ve determined you have root rot, you should:

  • Remove the plant from its pot
  • Knock off the soil
  • Trim off the damaged parts of the roots and re-pot.

If the leaves droop without falling off, you know you are underwatering your rubber tree. Water more often until the leaves perk up again.

If any leaves fall off, you can make a nick (not deep) with a clean knife just above the node and the new leaf will grow back faster. However, be aware that the leaves at the bottom fall off naturally. Don’t freak out!

Q. My rubber plant has leaf spots. Am I overwatering, or what is causing these?

A. ​Keep the plant right up in front of the south facing window.How do you check for moisture in the soil? Watering weekly could be too much?what type of soil is it in? Did you pot up after you bought it?

Q. The leaves of my rubber plant are drooping downward, but I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong. What gives?

A. ​Over watering or under watering is the most likely cause here.

The rubber tree is quite sensitive to light and water, so getting these right is a must for health, but with a bit of care, you will have a beautiful specimen in your house.

The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:
Kevin Espiritu
Clarisa Teodoro
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Dear Gardenkeeper: I have to ask you a question about my rubber plant, and I hope you have the answer. Why do some leaves turn yellow and drop off? Is it getting too much sunshine? Not enough or too much water?
Louise Valeriano, Bethlehem
Dear Louise: The short answer is that leaf yellowing on a rubber plant usually occurs if the soil remains too wet. Make sure your pot and soil drain quickly and remove excess water from the saucer.
The rubber tree plant (Ficus elastica) is a popular houseplant grown for its glossy leathery leaves. Indoors, the plant can reach six to ten feet tall, and depending on pruning and growing conditions, about five feet wide. The leaves are green or deep maroon and can be marked with pink, cream, white or yellow.
The rubber plant prefers bright light and high humidity but will adapt to low light and the normally dry conditions in most homes. The ideal location would be an east-facing window that gets morning sun. Temperatures between 75 degrees F and 89 degrees during the daytime and 60 degrees F and 65 degrees F at night are best.
Plant in well-drained soil and allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings. Do not allow the pot to sit in water. Repotting should be done in the late winter or early spring. Wash the leaves regularly with plain water to remove accumulations of dust.
Rubber plants can be pruned to control size. Recognize that the plant will probably branch at the point of the cut. This is a rubber plant so any cut or broken stem will probably ooze a milky sap that can be irritating if it gets on the skin.
Propagate rubber plants by stem or tip cuttings or, for a more interesting challenge, try air-layering.
Dear Gardenkeeper: I always enjoy reading your Saturday column in the Morning Call, and am hopeful you’ll be able to help me with two items.
First, in spring I transplanted a scrawny rhododendron from the front of the house (where it was always getting piles of snow dumped upon it), to the side of the house. It looked great all summer, but this fall it began to droop and turn brown. My question is should I just give up on it, or can I try to trim it back in hopes of new, more compact growth?
Also, I’m in the process of redoing the front landscaping that was overgrown. I was wondering if you could suggest a good book and/or Web site that would help us determine plants that would do well in partial shade that might also give some color. And is there a type of seed we should use that will grow well in shade.
Beth Kroboth
Dear Beth: Concerning your rhododendron: If the plant has sentimental value than by all means baby it back to health. I’d give it a chance until maybe late spring to show how it weathered the winter. Give it a trim after flowering this spring and maybe it will have a growth spurt over the summer. If it still looks bad, try something else.
For your shade landscape: I just got a new book from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden: “Designing Borders for Sun and Shade,” Bob Hyland, author. (Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2006) ISBN: 1-889538-71-X. Order it directly from the garden’s online store ( or 718-623-7286) or (they say) it is available in bookstores. The book has good basic directions for planning a border and lists appropriate plants for sun or shade gardens.
Another book that is specifically for shade gardens is “Shady Retreats” by Barbara W. Ellis. (North Adams, MA: Storey Books, 2003) ISBN: 1-58017-472-8. The book has 20 garden plans for shady spaces. Although most are not front yards, the plans will help with ideas for suitable plants and effective combinations. There is also a section (although not a huge one on her favorite shade plants.
I’m sure there are many others but these two are fairly recent acquisitions that came to mind when I thought of shade gardening.
Good luck with the rhododendron and I hope these books help you design the perfect garden for your front yard.

Before you continue on and begin watering your Ficus elastica, check the bottom of the pot. Are there proper drainage holes? Watering your plant without these means that your Rubber Plant sits in water, increasing the chances of root rot. Water your Ficus through a series of misting sessions when apprehensive about the amount of water you are using.

When to water Ficus elastica

You may look at your plant and assume that it needs water, but hold your horses. Adding too much water to your Rubber Plant can actually do more harm than not watering enough.

To properly check if your indoor tree needs moisture, touch the topmost layer of soil, generally down to a few inches below the surface. If it is dry, then you may water. Ficus elastica tends to show clear signs when it is being overwatered.

If you see the yellowing of leaves, decrease the amount of water that you are adding. Many plant owners either use their fingers to test the dryness of the soil, while others opt for a water meter. Regardless of the way that you check, you should expect to add moisture once a week.

More Watering Tips

After reading that overwatering can cause rain root, you might lessen the number of watering sessions you supply. One tip is in regards to the drainage holes. If you have these, you can confidently drench the plant until you see water run out the bottom. This actually allows your plant to get rid of any salt build up from the fertilizer that you add.


With how quickly the Rubber Plant grows, it is important to propagate. You may not feel qualified, but it is actually quite easy. Some even say that it is therapeutic or fun.

There are two different types of propagation for a Rubber Plant (stem tip cutting & air layering), each of which is somewhat different in their level of difficulty. More experienced houseplant owners usually complete a stem tip cutting as it can be challenging. For those who are starting out with their indoor plants, air layering may be the way to go.


To participate in this form of propagation, one needs have the proper gardening scissors. You then proceed to make an incision at the tip of the stem. The cut must be made below the new growth buds so as to properly cultivate a new individual. This new plant is then placed into a pot of its own until roots begin to form.


The process of air layering can be explained as taking a part of the branch and wrapping it in a moistened medium. This eventually starts the growth of new roots. This is among the easiest forms of propagation for the Rubber Plant. To try it for yourself, follow these steps.

Step 1: The first step is to gather the correct materials such as a floral knife of some kind, a plastic bag, natural moss, twine and a rag.

Step 2: Take the moss and place it in a bowl of water until it is thoroughly soaked. We recommend that you leave it submerged for about half an hour.

Step 3: Once your moss is ready, contemplate where you are going to make your cuts, typically far enough down on the stem.

Step 4: In the area that you have decided to make cuts, remove a few leaves. This is prepping the stem for what is about to happen.

Step 5: Now you may make the incision. Your cut should be horizontal to the plant at around ¼ inch underneath the top node.

Step 6: Make another cut about an inch below the first one, just in front of the bottom node. A trick of the trade is to make incisions that are deep enough to simply remove the outermost layer.

Step 7: With the outer layer removed, let it dry out completely.

Step 8: This step is somewhat optional. If you have a rooting hormone, add it now through cotton swabs.

Step 9: Finally take your wet moss and wrap it up into a ball. Place it completely around the area that you made a cut.

Step 10: Securely fasten the moss ball onto the cut sections so that the roots begin to grow. You can use your twine to make sure that the plastic is not going to budge.

After completing all ten of these steps, it is time to wait. Don’t remove the contained moss ball until a few weeks after you’ve started the process. This will give the roots ample time to grow into a new individual.


Learning the telling signs that your plant is unhappy or unhealthy in any fashion can save you from a dead plant later down the road. Although this plant is easy to care for, you should still immerse yourself in the potential and common problems found in Rubber Plants.


If your plant starts to look a bit sad and droops quite a bit, you may consider the amount of water that you are exposing your Ficus plant to. If your pot does not have at least a few drainage holes, transfer it to a pot that does. Droopy leaves that have been this way for over a month or two may have root rot. In order to save your plant from root rot, take the Ficus out of its pot and trim any section of the plant that is unhealthy.


With plants, it is all too easy to find yourself providing too much water or simply underwatering. If you start to notice small white dots on the tips of your Ficus plant’s leaves, check the moisture. Although less of a concern, underwatering is still an issue in some houseplants. Worried about adding too much water at first? Simply take a misting bottle to the top of the leaves.


Remember when we had spoken about propagating these tropical houseplants? Well, chances are that you’ve come across tree sap when making these incisions. Even the smallest of cuts can yield a hefty amount of sap. This then drips down until it lands onto the leaves underneath. The sap itself can be somewhat toxic to the human skin. To help avoid this problem simply wet a moist towel and wipe it off.


There are actually a few reasons as to why the leaves on your Ficus plant are falling off. The most thought of answers is when you provide too much or too little moisture. Is there curling in the tips of the leaves followed by a slight yellowing? If you see any of these signs, you may need to evaluate the amount of water being supplied to your Rubber Plant.

Another reason behind leaves falling out altogether is a sudden change in light or humidity. Though not the pickiest plant, the Rubber Plant is notorious for doing poor in drastic changes.

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