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House Plants/Sick Rubber Plant

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I've have a rubber plant for the past 18 years.  In the summer, I've kept it outside on the deck and it's done great sprouting new leaves and growing all summer vs indoors.  We've had a rainy spring and the pot was full of water.  I noticed it wasn't doing well so I replaced the potting soil and noticed when I did that the old soil had a very sour smell to it.

The roots were very wet, so I was hesitant to give any additional water to it and thought the new potting mix would absorb most the moisture and give the roots a chance to dry out a bit and recover.  It's did okay and was gone for a week.  Before I left I did water it some but when I got home, I noticed some of the leaves were turning yellow and others starting to fold and droop.

I'm at a loss here.  This happened a year or so back and repotting it took care of the issue.  I've given it some root growth hormone yesterday but haven't seen any change.  What else can I do?  I hate to loose it since it was a gift from my mother's funeral.  Please, any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Answer
Hi Jim,

Let's review what happened here so that you and others reading this will understand what happens when a pretty common plant care mistake is made.

When potted plants are moved outdoors they must be in pots that have drain holes that discharge any accumulated water. Even so, a week or more of very rainy weather will keep the soil so constantly wet that the roots begin to rot. You didn't indicate how long yours was sitting in water, but the smell of rotting roots certainly suggests that considerable
damage was already done to the roots when you took action. It is quite possible that it was already too late at that point.

It is not a good idea to replace soggy soil with dry soil. That process usually destroys the tiny root hairs that do most of the work. An over-watered plant or one that has been sitting in soggy soil has to be allowed to dry out on its own. You can hasten the process somewhat by increasing the temperature and light. But the only remedy is to allow the soil to dry out on its own and to be very careful, not to over-water in the future.

Roots start to rot as soon as they deprived of oxygen and that occurs when all the soil pores are constantly filled with water. The longer that condition lasts, the greater the root damage. When many roots are damaged, they cannot absorb moisture from the soil and use it for the rest of the plant. Consequently, the plant starts to wilt as if it were deprived of water even though the soil is wet.

If wilted leaves do not recover when the plant is in damp soil, then it is likely that it will not survive. There are no fertilizers, root hormones or other potions that will help. It is often best to take stem tip cuttings before they also wilt and propagate those cuttings. The remainder of the plant should be discarded.

I'm sorry to present the bad news, but I suspect you lost your Rubber Plant quite some time ago when it was sitting in water.

I have written articles on root rot and on Rubber Plant care that I will email for free to you (or anyone else) who emails a request to me at wcreed@HorticulturalHelp.com. I have also written an indoor plant care book in a PDF format that I can sell you if you contact me at my email address.

Please let me know if any of this is unclear or if you have any additional questions.

If this information has been helpful, please click the Rate Volunteer bar below and enter a rating and NOMINATION for me. I am a volunteer on this site so Ratings are the only compensation I receive for answering plant questions.

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Regards,
Will Creed, Interior Landscaper
Horticultural Help, NYC

Visit my website at: A link to HorticulturalHelp.com  

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Will Creed

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I am the only expert in this category with professional hands-on experience and knowledge of all indoor plants. I can answer questions regarding light, water, fertilizer, repotting, pruning and humidity and temperature requirements. I can identify plant pests and provide information on safe, effective treatments. My answers are based on 35 years of professional experience and scientific research and are clear and easy to understand. I do NOT use search engines to find answers to your questions. If you read my previous posts here, you will get a good idea as to how thorough and professional my answers are.

Experience

I have over 35 years of professional indoor landscaping experience caring for plants in homes, offices, building lobbies, stores, restaurants, and other adverse environments. I have written extensively on the care of indoor plants, including a 260 page book. My specialties include Ficus trees, low light plants, repotting, pest control, and re-blooming holiday plants. Be sure to check my ratings and nominations to learn why I am the top-rated indoor plant expert. I am the only House Plant expert consistently ranked in the AllExperts Top 20.

Education/Credentials
BA, Amherst College

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