While it’s true that Rubber Trees are low-maintenance, easy-to-care-for houseplants, it should be noted that they are still susceptible to common health issues like leaf discoloration or drop, wilted or droopy stems, and leggy growth. Although it can be a bit distressing to see your beloved houseplant suffering, it’s important to know what you should do to help it out.
What is wrong with your Rubber Tree plant? Although your plant may be suffering for one of many reasons, the most common issues are usually caused by the same culprit: overwatering. Other causes like underwatering, improper light exposure, nutrition issues, and shock can all take a toll on a plant, as well.
When you see your Rubber Tree in distress, it is critical to properly diagnose the issue so that you understand how to take action to save it. Below, I’ve gathered some of the most common health issues that Rubber Trees are susceptible to and tried to explain their potential causes and viable solutions to keep your plant happy and healthy.
The chart below can be used to evaluate your plant’s symptoms in an effort to uncover the root cause of the plant’s distress. Further down, I try to explain ways you can correct these issues to help solve the health problem.
What’s Wrong with My Rubber Tree?
Anytime we come across an unhealthy houseplant, it can be a little concerning. Even if we aren’t entirely sure what’s going on, most symptoms are caused by a handful of common factors, many of which are relatively easy to correct once you’ve figured out the issue.
Use this chart to identify the symptoms you are witnessing, and then review the potential causes in the next column. Further down in the article, I dig into each of these causes and offer steps to help your plant recover.
|Rubber Tree Symptom||Potential Causes|
|Leaves Turning Yellow||Overwatering/Poor Drainage or Underwatering or Underfeeding|
|Leaves Turning Brown||Overwatering/Poor Drainage or Underwatering|
|Leaves/Stems Drooping||Overwatering/Poor Drainage or Underwatering|
|Losing Leaves||Underwatering or Overwatering/Poor Drainage or Shock or Old Age of Leaves|
|Leaves Curling||Underwatering or Too Much Light or Low Humidity|
|Burned/Scalded Leaves||Too Much Light or Overfeeding|
|Leggy/Etiolated||Not Enough Light|
But First, Is Your Rubber Tree New to You?
Before we really dig into things, it might be beneficial to ask the question, “Is your Rubber Tree new?”
Like many plants you bring into your home, Rubber Trees are tough but still sensitive to changes in their environments. All the basic factors that make a plant grow, like light, humidity, and temperature, can vary drastically from place to place. Your home may have a wildly different environment than the plant shop or nursery you just brought your new plant home from.
If you notice your plant has taken a slight turn for the worse soon after you brought it home from the store, it might just be a case of your Rubber Tree working to reacclimate itself to its new environment. In fact, it is pretty standard for Rubber Trees to stop growing temporarily or drop a few leaves any time they move to a new home.
If you are thinking this might be the case with your plant, show it some extra love by giving it a primo spot in your home with the perfect conditions for it, even if that means you have to shift some furniture or other plants around. After a week or so, you can begin to move it to a forever spot in your house, which by then, your Rubber Tree will have figured out its new digs and won’t be so quick to get shocked by additional changes.
A Reminder About Dormancy
To accurately diagnose your plant’s health issues, you’ll want to make sure you are considering all the different variables. This includes taking note of the time of year. Why, you ask?
Like many plants, Rubber Trees tend to go into dormancy during the winter months. Although they are still plugging away, busy shoring up their root structures and such, their growth slows tremendously, which often means they don’t need as much water or nutrients during this time.
This makes the plant more susceptible to overwatering or overfeeding, leading to many of the health issues outlined below. By knowing if your Rubber Tree is currently dormant, you can usually rule out common issues like underwatering or underfeeding as potential causes of the symptoms you might be noticing. This can go a long way towards correctly diagnosing your Rubber Tree quickly.
A Reminder About Rubber Tree Toxicity
The last thing I’ll mention before we dive into all of this is that Rubber Tree leaves and stems have a sap containing latex, which is a known skin irritant for many people.
Because you may have to handle your Rubber Tree to solve some of these health issues, consider wearing gardening gloves, an apron, or old clothes to avoid coming into contact with the sap. Any break or cut will cause a heavy flow of sap, so just be prepared to clean it up with old rags or a damp sponge.
Proper Watering Habits for Rubber Tree Plants
If you’ve already glanced over the chart above, you may have noticed that almost every problem listed can potentially be caused by a watering issue (either over- or under-watering). Rubber Trees are generally pretty forgiving plants, but when it comes to watering, you’d be surprised how fast most of us can screw things up.
Native Rubber Trees come from the rainforests of Southeast Asia, where forest beds are typically shallow, and water isn’t often the limiting resource (it is a rainforest, after all). Due to this, Rubber Trees have vast root systems that can secure water and nutrients from perpetually damp soil, while offering additional support as the trees grow high in search of light.
In cultivated varieties, this means that, although their stature and root structures tend to be much smaller, domestic Rubber Trees still prefer living in a kind of “Goldilocks” soil…not too wet, not too dry.
Too much water tends to waterlog the plant’s root system, which prevents healthy gas exchange, efficient uptake of nutrients, and promotes root rot. If you are watering your Rubber Tree too frequently or it is planted in soil that has poor drainage, you might start seeing symptoms of overwatering sooner than you’d think.
If you’ve overlooked your plant for a bit too long and the soil has dried out completely, you may also begin to see signs of stress like leaf curling, general wilting, or leaf drop.
So, what is the best way to achieve this seemingly allusive “perpetually damp soil”? First, make sure your Rubber Tree is living in well-drained soil. This means that water can flow freely through the substrate, which becomes damp and retains moisture, but any excess liquid can drain from it and out the drainage hole (you have one, right?) at the bottom of the pot.
You’ll know when it is time to water your plant when you stick your finger down into the soil and the top inch is completely dry. Even though the top has dried out, you can rest assured the deeper soil is still damp. This is a better approach than watering your plant on a set schedule because many factors can change how often a plant needs to be watered, so checking the soil multiple times a week is a quick and easy gauge.
When you do water, water deeply, allowing it to saturate the soil and run out the drainage hole. If you have your plant sitting in a saucer, be sure to drain any excess liquid from it. After a few days, return to the pot and check the top inch of soil to see if it is still damp. Once it eventually dries out, you can safely water again.
To read an article with everything you need to know about successfully watering your Rubber Tree, click here.
Diagnosing Your Rubber Tree
Now that we have all the basics out of the way, we can get down to business. In this section, I want to dive deeper into each possible symptom that might cause you to wonder if something is wrong with your Rubber Tree.
For each symptom, I cover the most likely reasons your Rubber Tree might be suffering and then offer some solutions you can try to get your plant back on track.
Why are My Rubber Tree Leaves Turning Yellow?
Let’s start with a common issue. Typically, Rubber Tree leaves are large, glossy, vibrant structures that, depending on the variety, showcase a myriad of beautiful shades of green, pink, and red. However, certain issues can cause these leaves to begin turning yellow and look unhealthy.
Why is it Happening?
OVERWATERING: Likely, the most common reason your Rubber Tree leaves are yellowing is due to overwatering. If the plant’s root system becomes soggy and waterlogged, the roots aren’t able to efficiently utilize nutrients in the soil and carry them throughout the plant’s transport systems. This results in leaves that begin to lose their vibrancy and gradually yellow over time.
UNDERWATERING: Rubber Trees are usually pretty tolerant plants, even when you forget about them for a while. However, if the plant has been underwatered for too long, you may start to see yellowing along the tips and edges of the usually glossy leaves.
NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY: Not as common an issue, mainly due to Rubber Trees being relatively light feeders, but if you’ve ruled out watering issues as the cause of yellowing leaves, you might be looking at a nutrient deficiency. Without rich soil or additional fertilizer inputs, your plant may lack vital nutrients, and you’ll start to see leaf tissue yellowing between the green or red leaf veins.
OVERWATERING: If you suspect your issue is caused by overwatering, return the plant to a proper watering schedule. Do not water again until the first inch of topsoil is completely dry to the touch. Also, check to make sure the soil is draining properly. If it is too compacted to let water drain correctly, you may need to repot the plant into new soil.
UNDERWATERING: Again, make sure you get your plant back on a proper watering schedule. A chronically underwatered Rubber Tree should bounce back pretty fast, but you need to make sure you are consistent with only watering when the top inch of soil has dried out.
Allowing your plant to get too dry between waterings is an invitation for certain fungal issues that can attack the root structures and cause rot. Remember, the goal is to maintain damp soil, so set a reminder on your phone to check the topsoil multiple times a week if you tend to overlook your houseplants more than you should.
NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY: If you have ruled out watering issues and suspect your plant is underfed, you’ll want to provide an application of feed to mitigate the problem. Use a well-balanced, liquid fertilizer that you’ve prepared at half strength. Rubber Trees don’t often need more than that to get back on track, so after the application, wait about a month before you feed it again.
Only apply feed during the plant’s growing season. You run the risk of scalding the plant or burning leaves if you apply too much feed when the plant doesn’t need it. For more info on fertilizing your Rubber Tree, read this article.
Why are My Rubber Tree Leaves Turning Brown?
You may be noticing brown spots cropping up on different parts of your Rubber Tree’s leaves. This can be in addition to, or completely separate from, leaves turning yellow, although the causes may be the same. Typically, brown is not a great color for houseplants and can indicate a severe health issue, but on Rubber Trees, it’s usually something that has an easy fix.
Why is it Happening?
OVERWATERING: If you notice brown spots on the edges or in the middle of your Rubber Tree’s leaves, the most common cause is overwatering. Plants that are oversaturated with water have soaked up as much as they can. Excess water in the leaves can begin causing brown spots, as cell walls burst under pressure and tissue gets mushy.
It is important to note that these mushy spots can lead to rot, which can spread, so action should be taken quickly.
UNDERWATERING: Alternatively, Rubber Trees can exhibit brown leaf tips when they have been severely underwatered. This is different from the brown splotches that appear in the middle and edges of the leaf when the plant is overwatered. Usually, with an underwatered plant, you’ll notice the leaf will lose their vibrancy and plumpness, and then the leaf tips begin to brown and shrivel.
OVERWATERING: As with yellowing leaves, it is important to evaluate and adjust your watering habits as soon as possible to get the plant back on an appropriate watering schedule. Because these brown spots often indicate potential tissue rot, the faster you fix this issue, the less damage will occur.
If your plant is severely waterlogged, you may want to consider taking the extra step to remove the plant from its pot to allow it to dry out faster or repot the plant into fresh soil. However, you run the risk of further shocking your plant. So only do so if the overwatering issue is really bad.
UNDERWATERING: If your Rubber Tree is exhibiting browned leaf tips due to underwatering, you’ll want to act fast, as the plant has been dealing with this stress for some time. Give the plant a proper deep watering and then alter your watering habits to accommodate the plant’s needs.
Shriveled, brown tissue won’t heal, but you can save the rest of the affected leaves. As new growth happens, you should see fully healthy leaves being produced without issue. In the meantime, feel free to prune off those old, dead leaves.
Why is My Rubber Tree Drooping?
Being a semi-succulent plant from the rainforest, a Rubber Tree typically stands tall and reasonably upright. However, you may notice that your plant is looking a bit wilted, with leaves tending to droop and the stems perhaps leaning over more than usual.
Why is it Happening?
OVERWATERING: Although Rubber Trees tend to grow quickly and can often be seen leaning over from their own weight, if you notice your tree’s stems are drooping more than usual, or that their usually upward-facing leaves are pointing more towards the ground, you might have an overwatering issue.
Water absorption in plants is an energy-driven process that requires oxygen, so when plants are waterlogged and gas exchange is hindered, the plant can’t actually absorb the moisture to maintain internal pressure and begins to wilt, regardless of the fact that water is plentiful in the soil.
UNDERWATERING: By contrast, if you’ve withheld water from your Rubber Tree too long, the soil has dried out and the plant can’t retain enough water to keep its internal turgor pressure up, weakening cell walls and causing it to wilt.
OVERWATERING: In this instance, in addition to altering your watering habits, you should make sure the plant has proper drainage. Be sure the soil remains porous and light. You may need to amend any soil that is too compacted. You should see this issue correct itself over time, but if it doesn’t recover with proper watering, you may have a secondary issue like root rot.
UNDERWATERING: Thoroughly water your Rubber Tree to provide it with the moisture it needs to recover and stand tall again. Adjust your watering habits to keep the soil damp, being careful not to let the soil cycle between really wet and really dry, as it can encourage disease.
Why is My Rubber Tree Losing Leaves?
It can be a little disconcerting when you notice your Rubber Tree is losing leaves. Typically, lost leaves are not ever replaced, so making sure you understand the cause is essential to your plant’s long-term health and beauty.
Why is it Happening?
OLD AGE: There may be some instances where your Rubber Tree, looking completely healthy and without issue, loses a leaf from time to time. Most likely, this is just due to the natural aging of the plant. As the plant grows, leaves outlive their lifespan and are discarded.
SHOCK: Rubber Trees are a bit notorious for their ability to nearly scare us to death when we first bring them home. Anytime a Rubber Tree experiences a dramatic shift in its environment, whether because of being brought into a new home or being repotted, it will often drop a few leaves due to the shock.
Commonly, changes in light exposure levels (usually going from high light to low light) will cause your Rubber Tree to drop its leaves, as well.
UNDERWATERING: In some cases, a dropped leaf or two can indicate a low water situation. Like many plants exposed to dehydration, Rubber Trees will often conserve water any way they can. You may notice brown, curled leaf tips, but over time, the plant will begin to drop leaves one at a time to conserve water.
OVERWATERING: Alternatively, and much more seriously, overwatering can cause a more drastic leaf drop. As the plant becomes waterlogged and begins to droop, multiple leaves can drop within a short period, indicating that something very serious is going on. Keep an eye out for droopy leaves and stems or yellowing/browning leaves, as these are other indications of overwatering.
OLD AGE: Don’t worry too much about this. Your plant will inevitably drop a leaf from time to time due to old age. This typically happens only once in a while and usually targets the oldest leaves near the bottom of the plant.
SHOCK: To lessen the amount of shock your Rubber Tree experiences during moves, make sure to consider the environment it currently lives in to understand which factors should be met in its new home.
When bringing new plants home, make sure you place them in a prime spot with lots of bright, indirect light, consistent temperatures, and no drafts. If you do plan on moving the plant around your house, be mindful of the light levels and work to acclimate your Rubber Tree to new spots by gradually moving them over a week or two.
UNDERWATERING: Be sure to give your Rubber Tree a proper drink of water and then wait and watch to make sure the leaf drop stops. Adjust your watering habits accordingly and ensure you don’t allow your plant to dry out again, as the issue can quickly return.
OVERWATERING: If you suspect the severe leaf drop is due to overwatering, you will need to get the plant dried out as quickly as possible. As I said, Rubber Trees don’t regrow leaves, so a severe drop can seriously compromise the plant’s ability to carry out important functions. You may even need to consider removing the plant from its pot to dry faster, or even to repot it into fresh soil.
Why Are My Rubber Tree Leaves Curling?
Healthy Rubber Trees have big, flat, glossy leaves that tend to stick upward from the stems. When the plant experiences certain stressors, especially regarding higher heat or light situations, the leaves may curl to help maintain water and temperature regulation.
Why is it Happening?
UNDERWATERING: If you find your Rubber Tree leaves begin to fold at the midline of the leaf, usually upward, this is a sign that the plant is trying to maintain moisture due to low-water situations. The curling leaves help regulate the stomata on the leaves, which are small openings where water evaporation occurs.
TOO MUCH LIGHT: In very high light situations, you may witness your Rubber Tree’s leaves curling a bit. This indicates that the plant is receiving too much direct sunlight and is trying to shield itself to avoid leaf burn.
LOW HUMIDITY: Similar to the underwatering scenario, if your home has extremely low humidity, your Rubber Tree may react by curling its leaves in an effort to maintain a higher humidity around the leaf stomata so that they can better function and regulate the plant’s internal water.
UNDERWATERING: Adjust your watering habits so your Rubber Tree doesn’t experience drought-like conditions. Once the plant has enough moisture, the leaf curl should subside. Be sure to watch out for any leaf drop or burned leaf tips, as these can be indications that there is still an underwatering issue.
TOO MUCH LIGHT: If you suspect the leaf curl is due to too much light exposure, you should gradually reduce it by pulling your Rubber Tree back from a window or finding a more suitable spot with more filtered or indirect light. Be careful not to do this too quickly, as extreme changes in light can shock the plant, causing leaves to drop.
LOW HUMIDITY: In order to correct leaf curl due to lower humidity, you will need to correct the issue for the plant’s environment. Many people have had success in misting their Rubber Tree multiple times a week to create a more humid microcosm, however, a much more effective approach is to install a room humidifier.
You can usually find affordable options that can quickly increase a room’s humidity to about 50%, which is more than sufficient for a Rubber Tree.
Why Are My Rubber Tree Leaves Burned?
Finding leaf burn on your houseplants is always cause for concern, but there are typically only a few reasons this happens. Rubber Trees tend to have pretty thick, waxy cuticles and are better protected, but if you notice scalding or burned leaf tissue, something is going on.
Why is it Happening?
TOO MUCH LIGHT: A likely reason you will see leaf burn is due to excessive sunlight. Rubber Trees prefer bright, indirect light, which is basically light that reflects off other surfaces and doesn’t carry with it any heat. Direct sunlight can get too hot for the Rubber Trees leaves and they can scald as a result of being left in it too long.
OVERFEEDING: Because Rubber Trees are pretty light feeders, all things considered, overfertilizing can cause an excess uptake of nutrient chemicals that may burn the softer tissues of the plant, usually on the leaves. This can happen quickly by applying too much feed at once.
TOO MUCH LIGHT: Consider where you have your Rubber Tree positioned in your home. It may be too close to a window and is catching too much direct sunlight. Oftentimes, as seasons change, the angle of the sun is altered, so what was fine a month ago might actually be an issue today.
Move your Rubber Tree out of any direct sunlight, but be sure it still has access to a lot of bright, filtered light to avoid shock or leaf drop. Sunburned leaves may not fully recover, but any new growth should be just fine.
OVERFEEDING: If you suspect you’ve accidentally overfed your Rubber Tree, be sure to flush the pot with lots of water to remove any excess fertilizer to prevent scalding. Some leaves may be severely burned, so you may want to prune them off, while others may recover to some extent.
Wait about a week after flushing your plant of excess feed before you make any pruning decisions. Let the plant recover and acclimate before putting it under any additional stress.
Why is My Rubber Tree Leggy?
When Rubber Trees have access to lots of indirect light, they grow rather quickly with stems stacked with healthy leaf growth. If you notice new growth on your plant is starting to get spindly or stretched out, or if the leaves are smaller and not very vibrant and plush, you have a leggy plant.
Why is it Happening?
ETIOLATION: Etiolation is a fancy science word that describes the type of growth a plant puts out when it searches for more light. Because it is trying to secure enough light for itself, a plant will sacrifice normal, healthy growth for stretchy, spindly growth if it means it can reach just a little farther for a new light source.
Rubber Trees have evolved to grow quickly in search of light in dense rainforest canopies, so it might be harder to spot leggy growth, but if left in the dark too long, you’ll see that your plant produces weaker stems that lean more and much smaller leaves.
ETIOLATION: This is usually an easy fix. Give the plant more light. Rubber Trees want that bright, indirect light, so make sure you find a spot with high exposure but without hot, direct sunlight.
If you don’t have a great spot for your Rubber Tree in your home, you can always supplement with a grow light. These lights mimic natural sunlight, so your plants won’t suffer when you have to put them in the darker corners of your home. We love the Sansi 15W LED bulb.
Once you found a good spot for your Rubber Tree, consider strategically pruning any of the weak, leggy growth from the plant. Your Rubber Tree will come back stronger (and with more branches) after a few months.
How to Avoid Issues Moving Forward
As you can see, many health issues your Rubber Tree may experience can be caused by a combination of a few different issues. If you really want to keep your plant happy and healthy moving forward, I would suggest you take a good, hard look at the environment your Rubber Tree is living in.
Obviously, things like temperature, humidity, and light levels are factors you can control to a certain extent, so be sure you’ve found a spot that supports your Rubber Tree’s growth. The healthier the plant, the more resilient it will be when something is out of range.
Also, after seeing how many health issues can stem from overwatering, I hope by now you’ve realized the importance of watering best practices. You can avoid a lot of headaches and heartaches if you learn to properly water your Rubber Tree. Remember, only water when the first inch of soil is dry, make sure the soil is porous and well-draining, and put your plant in a pot with a drainage hole.
Usually, Rubber Trees are pretty easy-breezy plants and can handle a range of conditions. However, if you notice a health issue cropping up, I hope you now have the necessary tools to troubleshoot the symptoms and find the most likely causes.
Many of these ailments can be fixed by making minor adjustments, so remember not to panic. Your Rubber Tree is resilient. As long as you act quickly and thoughtfully, there’s a good chance you’ll witness a full recovery. Best of luck!