Underwatered Rubber Plant: How To Identify, Treat & Prevent It

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Rubber plants (Ficus elastica) are a popular type of houseplant known for their easy care and tough nature.

However, even rubber plants can suffer from underwatering.

Here’s what you need to know about underwatered rubber plants, including how to identify and treat them.

Why Is Underwatering a Problem?

Underwatering is a problem because it prevents plants from taking up the water and nutrients they need to survive.

Plants need water not only to hydrate their cells but also to help transport nutrients throughout the plant.

When a plant is underwatered, the cells in the leaves begin to shrink and wilt.

This can cause the leaves to droop, turn yellow or brown, and eventually drop off the plant.

In severe cases, underwatering can cause:

  • Stunted growth
  • Root rot
  • The plant to become susceptible to pests and diseases
  • The plant to die

How Does Underwatering a Rubber Plant Occur?

Underwatering a rubber plant can occur for several reasons, including:

Not Enough Water

This is the most common cause of underwatering.

If you’re not giving your Ficus elastica plant enough water, it will eventually start to suffer from drought stress.

Drought stress occurs when the plant doesn’t have enough water to meet its needs.

Symptoms of drought stress include wilting, yellowing, and browning leaves.

If you think your rubber plant is not getting enough water, check the soil to see if it’s dry.

If it is, water the plant thoroughly until water runs out of the drainage holes in the pot.

Incorrect Potting Mix

The potting mix you use for your rubber plant should be well-draining.

If the mix is too dense or doesn’t drain well, it can cause the plant to become waterlogged.

Waterlogging occurs when the plant roots sit in water for too long.

This can cause the roots to rot, leading to the plant’s inability to take up water and nutrients.

To prevent waterlogging, make sure you’re using a potting mix that drains well.

You can add perlite or vermiculite to the mix to help improve drainage.

Hot, Dry Weather

Hot, dry weather can also cause a rubber plant to become underwatered.

During hot, dry weather, the soil dries out more quickly than usual.

You may need to water your rubber plant more often to keep the soil moist.

To help protect your rubber plant from hot, dry weather, you can:

  • Move it to a shady spot
  • Mist the leaves regularly
  • Use a humidifier

Too Much Sunlight

If your rubber plant is getting too much sunlight, it can also suffer from drought stress.

Too much sunlight can cause the soil to dry out quickly and the leaves to scorch.

If you think your rubber plant is getting too much direct sunlight, move it to a shadier spot.

You can also use a sheer curtain or blind to filter some of the light.

Wrong Pot Size

Using a pot that’s too small for your rubber plant can also cause the plant to become underwatered.

A pot that’s too small won’t hold enough water, which means the plant will dry out more quickly.

To prevent this, make sure you’re using a pot that’s big enough for your rubber plant.

The pot should be about 2-3 times the size of the plant’s root ball.

Pot-Bound

If your rubber plant is pot-bound, it can also start to suffer from drought stress.

When a plant is pot bound, the roots have filled up the pot and are growing out of the drainage holes.

This can cause the plant to dry out more quickly because the roots cannot take up water and nutrients properly.

To prevent your rubber plant from becoming pot-bound, repot it every 2-3 years.

Use a pot 2-3 times the size of the plant’s root ball and add fresh potting mix to the new pot.

Lack of Humidity

Rubber plants prefer humid conditions.

If the air around your plant is too dry, it can cause the leaves to be brown and drop off.

To increase the humidity around your rubber plant, you can:

  • Mist the leaves regularly
  • Use a humidifier
  • Place the indoor plant on a pebble tray

Diseases

Certain diseases can also cause a rubber plant to become underwatered.

Fusarium wilt is a fungal disease that attacks the plant’s roots and prevents it from taking up water.

Pythium root rot is also a fungal disease that can attack the roots of the plant and cause them to rot.

When the rubber plant roots rot, the plant cannot take up water and nutrients properly, leading to drought stress.

To prevent diseases from attacking your rubber plant, use a sterile potting mix and clean pots.

You should also avoid overwatering the rubber plant, making it more susceptible to disease.

Pest Damage

Pest damage can also cause a rubber plant to become underwatered.

If the plant is infested with pests, they can suck the sap out of the leaves and stunt its growth.

This can make it difficult for the plant to take up water and nutrients, leading to drought stress.

Check the leaves regularly for signs of infestation to prevent pests from damaging your rubber plant.

If you see any pests, remove them by hand or treat the plant with an appropriate pesticide.

How To Tell If Your Rubber Plant Is Underwatered

It’s essential to catch underwatering early on, as it can quickly kill a rubber plant.

That’s why it’s essential to know the signs of an underwatered rubber plant.

Signs of an Underwatered Rubber Plant

Here are some of the most common signs of an underwatered rubber plant:

Drooping Leaves

If your rubber plant leaves are drooping, it’s a sure sign that the plant is not getting enough water.

When a rubber plant doesn’t get enough water, the plant cannot support the leaves, and they will droop.

This is often the first sign of drought stress in a rubber plant.

Wilting Leaves

If the leaves of your rubber plant are wilting, it’s another sign that the plant is not getting enough water.

When a plant doesn’t get enough water, the leaves will wilt and turn brown.

This happens because the plant cannot take up water properly, and the leaves start to dry.

Yellow Leaves

Yellow leaves are another common sign of an underwatered rubber plant.

The leaves will turn yellow and brown when a plant doesn’t get enough water.

This happens because the plant cannot take up nutrients properly, and the leaves start to die.

Brown Leaf Tips

If the tips of your rubber plant’s leaves are turning brown, it’s a sign that the plant is not getting enough water.

When a plant doesn’t get enough water, the tips of the leaves will start to brown and dry out.

This happens because the plant cannot take up water properly, and the leaves are not getting the moisture they need.

Brown Spots on Leaves

If you see brown spots on the leaves of your rubber plant, it’s a sign that the plant is not getting enough water.

When a plant doesn’t get enough water, the leaves will start to brown and dry out.

This happens because the plant cannot take up water properly, and the leaves are not getting the moisture they need.

Curling Leaves

If the rubber plant leaves are curling, it’s a sign that the plant is not getting enough water.

When a plant doesn’t get enough water, the leaves will start to curl and turn brown.

This happens because the plant cannot take up water properly, and the leaves are not getting the moisture they need.

Leaf Drop

If your rubber plant is losing its leaves, it’s a sign that the plant is not getting enough water.

The leaves start to drop off when a plant doesn’t get enough water.

This happens because the plant cannot take up water properly, and the leaves are not getting the moisture they need.

Dry and Cracked Soil

If the soil around your rubber tree plant is dry and cracked, it’s a sign that the plant is not getting enough water.

When a plant doesn’t get enough water, the soil will start to dry out and crack.

This happens because the plant cannot take up water properly, and the roots are not getting the moisture they need.

Slow Growth

If your rubber plant’s growth is slowing down, it’s a sign that the plant is not getting enough water.

When a plant doesn’t get enough water, the growth will slow down, and the plant will become stunted.

This happens because the plant cannot absorb the nutrients it needs for growth.

How To Save an Underwatered Rubber Plant

A dying rubber plant due to underwatering can be saved if the problem is caught early enough.

Here are some tips on how to save an underwatered rubber plant:

1. Water the Plant Deeply and Regularly

When you water your rubber plant, water it deeply and regularly.

Water the plant until the soil is saturated and the water is running out of the drainage holes.

Then, let the soil dry out completely before watering again.

2. Use a Moisture Meter

Use a moisture meter to ensure your rubber plant is getting enough water.

A moisture meter will help you to know when to water the plant and how much water it needs.

3. Check the Soil for Drainage

When you water your Ficus elastica, ensure the soil has good drainage.

If the soil doesn’t have good drainage, the plant roots will sit in water and start to rot.

To check the drainage, dig a hole in the soil and fill it with water.

The soil has good drainage if the water drains out within an hour.

4. Use a Pot with Drainage Holes

When you plant your rubber tree, use a pot with drainage holes.

This will help to ensure that the roots of the plant don’t sit in water and start to rot.

5. Move the Plant to a Humid Location

If the air in your home is dry, it can cause your rubber plant to lose moisture.

To help the plant retain moisture, move it to a humid location.

You can also mist the plant regularly to help it retain moisture.

6. Use a Humidity Tray

You can also use a humidity tray to help your rubber plant retain moisture.

A humidity tray is a tray of water that you place under your plant’s pot.

The water will evaporate and create a humid environment for your plant.

7. Repot the Plant in Fresh Soil

If you think your rubber plant is not getting enough water, you can try repotting it in fresh soil.

When a plant has been in the same pot of soil for a long time, the soil can become compacted and won’t hold moisture either.

Repotting the plant in fresh, loose soil will help it to take up water better.

How To Prevent Underwatering a Rubber Plant

Here are some tips on how to prevent underwatering your rubber plant:

1. Use a Self-Watering Pot

A self-watering pot is a pot that has a reservoir of water at the bottom.

The plant will take up water as it needs it, which will help prevent underwatering.

2. Water the Plant in the Morning

Water your rubber plant in the morning, so the plant has all day to take up the water.

Watering in the evening can cause the plant to sit in water overnight, leading to root rot.

3. Check the Soil Before Watering

Before watering your rubber tree plant, check the soil to see if it is dry.

Stick your finger into the soil; if it feels dry, the plant needs water.

4. Use a Moisture Meter

A moisture meter will help you to know when the plant needs water.

You can find moisture meters at most garden stores.

5. Water the Plant deeply

When you do water the plant, make sure to water it deeply. Allow the water to seep all the way down to the plant’s roots.

6. Don’t Let the Plant Sit in Water

After watering, make sure that the plant is not sitting in water.

Drain any water in the saucer or pot and empty any water collected in the reservoir at the bottom of the self-watering pot.

7. Use Mulch

Mulch helps retain moisture in the soil, which can help prevent underwatering.

Be sure to use mulch that is organic and free of chemicals.

8. Group Plants Together

Grouping plants together helps to create a microclimate.

The plants will help to protect each other from the wind and sun, and they will also help to retain moisture in the soil.

9. Water Early in the Day

Watering early in the day gives the plant time to take up the water before the hot sun evaporates it.

10. Use Tap Water that is at Room Temperature

Use tap water that is at room temperature when watering your plants.

Don’t use too hot or too cold water as this can shock the plant.

Hot or cold water can shock the plant’s roots, leading to stress.

If you have to use water not at room temperature, let it sit out for a while to adjust to room temperature.

Final Thoughts

Rubber plant care is relatively easy, but like all plants, they can suffer from problems if they’re not cared for properly.

One of the most common problems is underwatering Ficus elastica plants.

Underwatered rubber tree plants will have leaves that are drooping and wilting.

The edges of the leaves may also be brown or yellow. If you think your rubber plant is underwatered, the best course of action is to water it thoroughly and then wait to see if the leaves perk up.

You may need to replant in fresh potting mix if they don’t.

To prevent underwatered rubber plants in the future, be sure to water them regularly and deeply. Allow the top inch or so of soil to dry out between waterings.

Underwatered rubber tree plants are a common problem, but they can be easily avoided with a bit of care.

By watering deeply and regularly, you can ensure that your rubber plant stays healthy and happy.