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Rubber Plant Root Rot: Signs, Causes & Treatment!

Root rot in Rubber plants (ficus elasticas) is one of the most common issues. But how will you identify that your houseplant is suffering from root rot? Let’s find out. 

Signs of root rot in the Rubber plants are discolored leaves, wilting, swollen and mushy stems, foul smell, and brown and mushy leaves. Excessive moisture causes this issue. Remove the rotten roots, apply some fungicide, and repot your plant. 

This article will explore how to identify and treat root rot in the Rubber plants. We will also share the reasons behind it so that you remain careful the next time and prevent it from further occurring. 

Rubber plant repot

I have done my best to address all of your concerns in the article below. However, if you still have any questions or are confused about the article, you can receive personalized one-on-one assistance from me by leaving a comment below. I will respond to your comment within a few hours.


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Identifying the Root Rot symptoms in the Rubber plants 

Root rot affects the roots first, and the signs first appear on the rubber plant leaves.  

This disease occurs due to prolonged wet conditions. 

Several situations are responsible for it. 

The fungal infection decays the roots and kills the plant. 

Signs of Root rot appear later as the disease progresses from prolonged exposure to wet conditions. 

Some plants appear to be fine during the early stages of the disease. 

I get several questions where readers ask me to share the signs of root rot so that identification becomes easy and they can take immediate action. 

From my experience and research, here are the signs I have discovered when Rubber plants suffer from root rot: 

1. Brown or black spots on the leaves 

Brown or black spots on the leaf surfaces indicate that the plant has infected roots with fungus and started spreading. 

Initially, the spots will be small, signifying you still have time to save your plant. 

Eventually, the spotting will enlarge, and your plant will show the other signs. 

2. Yellow leaves and wilting 

Rubber Plant yellow leaves and brown spots

Rotten roots start interfering with the plant’s ability to absorb moisture.

When the plants don’t receive proper moisture, the leaves begin to wilt as a survival mechanism to preserve moisture. 

Over time, if the problem stays unsolved, the leaves will stay wilted and then become yellow or brown. Later on, they fall off the plant. 

3. Stunted growth 

Since the plant’s roots will be heavily damaged, nutrient uptake also gets affected. 

Due to the nutrient deficiency, the new shoots and leaves grow much later and smaller than usual. 

After some time, you will also notice slow or stunted growth in the Rubber plant. 

4. Swollen and mushy stems 

As the root rot progresses and moves up to the plant, the stems at the base appear swollen and mushy. 

It indicates that the stems have absorbed too much moisture, making them seem swollen and mushy. You must act quickly. 

5. Foul smell 

Foul Smell in soil

As the root rots, it releases a foul smell

First, you get this odor when you bend and smell the plant’s base. 

But as time goes on and root rot progresses, you will get the smell whenever you are close to the plant, especially when inspecting its condition. 

After this, check the roots once. 

6. Brown and mushy roots 

Take out the plant from the pot and remove some soil to see the condition of the roots. 

The good roots will be white and firm. 

The rotten roots will be brown, smelly, and mushy, indicating how the disease has progressed. 

The multiplication of fungal spores in the roots leads to brown and mushy roots. 

7. Leaves falling off 

Rubber Plant dropping leaves

When the roots of the Rubber plant decay, the plant struggles to absorb the nutrients and moisture. 

The leaves will start falling off the plant. 

8. Shoots dieback and sluggish response to watering 

Decayed roots prevent the plant from absorbing enough moisture and nutrients, halting further shoot growth. 

It will cause shoot dieback. Sometimes, the fungus spreads to the leaves and damages their tissues, leading to leaf dieback. 

Wilted leaves are a result of underwatering. However, wilting won’t recover even after watering. 

Note: Signs like yellowing, defoliation, or wilting also occur from overwatering or poor drainage, but rotting has not started yet. If you take immediate action, you may save your plant from rotting. 

Causes of Root Rot in Rubber Plants 

You know the signs of root rot, but what exactly are the reasons behind root rot? 

Exposure to excessive moisture levels for prolonged periods invites fungi like Pythium, Phytophthora, Rhizoctonia, and Fusarium. 

These fungi thrive best in prolonged moist conditions and cause root rot by decaying the roots.

Several reasons make the plant exposed to excessive moisture for too long: 

Overwatering consequences 

Rubber Plant watering (2)

One of the most common reasons behind root rot is overwatering

Rubber plants love to stay consistently moist, neither too wet nor too dry. 

When you water too much, oxygen reduces, roots suffocate, and the plant’s ability to absorb moisture and nutrients decreases. 

Over time, the fungus develops in the roots, the spores multiply in wet conditions, and the roots decay. 

The fungus further kills the cells and negatively impacts the overall physiology and growth of the plant. 

The rule is to water the rubber plant with 1 inch of water once a week and let the top few inches of the soil dry before watering. 

Soil drainage issues 

If you are watering correctly and your plant suffers from root rot, the soil is the issue. 

Rubber plants need well-draining potting soil, which drains excess water while retaining the required moisture. 

A poorly drained soil holds the excess water and remains stagnant around the roots. 

The fungus starts developing when roots suffocate with excessive moisture for too long. 

Adding drainage materials, like perlite, vermiculite, or coarse sand, improves soil drainage. 

Poor drainage with pots and other issues 

Three pot-related issues can lead to root rot in the Rubber plant: 

  • A pot without drainage holes doesn’t allow the extra water to drain out. As a result, they remain stagnant for a long time around the roots. Over time, the plant gets infected by the disease. 
  • An extremely big holds a lot of soil that retains moisture for too long. The roots also stay wet with the soil and start decaying. 
  • Impermeable pots do not allow the moisture to wick away. For example, plastic pots can hold moisture for prolonged periods. Watering without checking the soil can result in overwatering and root rot. 

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent such conditions: 

  • Your pot must have at least one drainage hole to release the extra water. 
  • Always use a pot 1-2 inches bigger than the old one. Don’t jump into a huge pot. 
  • If you habitually water too often, go for terracotta pots. They are porous and wick away moisture much faster. But stick to plastic if you forget to water your plant. 

Watering during cold weather or off-season 

When the temperature reduces, the soil drains slowly and takes time to dry out. As winter arrives, the plant goes dormant.

Watering the Rubber plant in such conditions as spring and summer is unnecessary. 

It won’t accept so much moisture during the cold weather. 

If you water too much, the extra water stays stagnant in the soil, and the roots suffer. Slowly, fungi develop, and root rot occurs. 

You can’t stop watering in winter, but you should reduce the frequency.

Always check the moisture level, and the best time to water the plant is only when the soil is almost dry. 

Treating Root Rot and protecting the Rubber plants 

Once your plant has started rotting the roots and the disease has progressed, you don’t have any other option than to repot your rotten plant.

If the root damage is less than 50%, you can save your plant by repotting and applying some organic or chemical fungicides.

Let’s begin with repotting: 

Repotting the Rubber plant 

Rubber Plant repotting (2)
  • Check the soil and let it dry out. Ensure the drainage holes are not blocked, the saucer under the pot is empty (if any), and remove the debris from the surface. 
  • Remove the damaged leaves and plant parts using a sanitized pair of scissors. 
  • Remove 50% of the leaves for improved airflow and reduced humidity to prevent the disease from spreading. 
  • Since root rot affects the roots, address the rotten roots first. Slowly take out the plant from the pot and check the roots. 
  • Remove maximum soil from the roots to see the condition of the roots. 
  • The white and firm roots are healthy, and the brown and mushy roots are rotten. Remove the brown and mushy roots. 
  • If maximum roots require removal, you cannot save the plant. You can save the plant if the damage level is below 50%. 
  • Use sterilized scissors to remove these roots. 
  • Spray some fungicide to kill the remaining spores and let it be for a full day in a well-ventilated area unless all the pathogens have died. 
  • Don’t be too late to repot the plant, as that might dehydrate the roots. Please keep it away from sunlight. 
  • For repotting, use a new pot 1-2 inches bigger than the old one and fill it with well-drained soil. If your pot is already big enough, don’t change it. The pot must have drainage holes at the bottom. 
  • Use a terracotta pot. It can wick away moisture faster. 
  • Water the plant and make sure the soil is consistently moist. Let the top few inches of the soil dry out before your next watering.  
  • You can line the bottom of the pot with pebbles. It won’t allow the water to sit at the bottom. 
  • Until you see any new growth or signs of recovery, put it under bright direct sunlight, and don’t feed. 

You cannot save the plant by repotting if there is severe root rot. In that case, find some good parts of the plant and propagate them in the soil. 

Ensure the cuttings are 3-6 inches long and healthy. 

Remove a few lower leaves, dip the cutting into rooting hormone, and plant the cutting in a sterile, well-drained potting mix

Water the plant, place the pot under bright indirect sunlight, and ensure warm temperature and average humidity. Don’t feed now. 

If you notice new leaves, try to check for root growth. Repot it to a new pot, start feeding, and maintain all the other requirements. 

Organic and chemical treatment 

As a beginner, you will want to avoid jumping to chemical treatments. 

But you can use it if you ask for advice from experts. 

I have used both forms. 

A few months back, I was asked by some of my readers about some organic treatments for root rot. 

I did some research and found some options. 

But I wanted to use them for my plants before sharing. 

Recently, when one of my Rubber plants suffered from the disease, I tried them. Fortunately, the results were great. 

So, here are some organic treatments that I have used personally for my Rubber plants:  

Hydrogen peroxide treatment 

You can make your own fungicide with hydrogen peroxide

Add an ounce of hydrogen peroxide with one-quarter of water in a spray bottle. 

Mix it well and apply the solution to the leaves and stems of the Rubber plant. 

You can also spray the solution to the new soil mix while repotting. 

Activated charcoal for prevention 

Using activated charcoal in your potting mix can prevent further root rot. 

Activated charcoal absorbs excess moisture and prevents waterlogged soil. 

It can also reduce bad smells and mold growth, eliminate impurities from the soil, and repel bugs. 

Spread a thin layer of activated charcoal over the bottom of the pot before you add the new potting mix. 

Cinnamon is a natural fungicide 

I have heard a lot of gardeners using cinnamon to treat root rot. 

It is non-toxic and a natural fungicide and won’t harm your plants. 

Cinnamon can keep the soil gnats at bay and prevent root rot. 

Sprinkle some cinnamon over the roots after you remove the diseased roots. 

You can also add this to the soil in small amounts. 

Chamomile as a natural fungicide 

Applying chamomile as a liquid will give the same results as cinnamon. 

With this natural fungicide and microbial agent, you can treat root rot issues in young Rubber plants much better than the older plants. 

Are Chemical fungicides safe? 

Chemical fungicides are safe if used correctly. 

It helps when the damage is severe. 

Eliminating the fungi is essential, but the healthy fungi can also be eliminated using chemical fungicides. 

It is not a good thing. 

Therefore, consult an expert before buying and using the chemical fungicides. 

Consult the local nursery staff and see if you can identify the fungus. 

Once you have made the correct diagnosis, you will get the proper fungicide to kill the root rot fungi while keeping the healthy fungi safe. 

Some tips for preventing Rubber plant root rot 

Rubber Plant growth

Root rot can kill your healthy plant within no time if left untreated. 

Hence, preventing it is the best way out. 

Even if you have treated the root rot, you should try to prevent this disease further. 

Below are some preventive measures: 

Improve the watering schedule for Rubber plants

Preventing root rot begins with improving the watering schedule and avoiding overwatering. 

You must water the plant once a week with 1 inch of water. 

Always check the moisture level before watering. 

Let the soil dry out between watering. 

Before watering, check whether the top few inches have dried. 

Consider deep and infrequent watering. 

It can keep the soil moist for prolonged periods without letting you water too often. 

During the winter, reduce watering to every 2-3 weeks. 

Use the right soil mix for Rubber plants

Use well-drained soil for the Rubber plants. 

For example, you can use:

  • 1 part pine bark
  • 1 part peat 
  • 1 part perlite or coarse sand 

This mixture can make the soil well-drained and well-retained. 

You will get more recipes if you visit our Rubber Plant Soil Requirement article. 

Use the right pot for Rubber plants

Rubber plant pot

Along with the soil, ensure good drainage in the pots. 

The pot must have at least one drainage hole. 

The size should be such that your finger can entirely pass through it. 

Use a pot only 1-2 inches bigger than the recent one. 

To avoid excessive moisture, use terracotta pots. 

They are made of porous materials and can wick away moisture faster. 

Loosen the soil 

Sometimes, loosen and aerate your soil. 

It will help in better drainage and allow the roots enough airflow and oxygen. 

If needed, add some coarse sand or perlite. 

The soil will drain better without letting the water pool at the plant base. 

You can also use some tiny pebbles to prevent the soil from obstructing the drainage holes at the bottom. 

Final thoughts 

Root rot can be a grave issue for Rubber plants. Immediate action is needed to help the plant recover faster and remain healthy. Common signs are yellowing and wilting, brown or black spots, defoliation, stunted growth, mushy stems, foul smell, soggy soil, and brown and mushy roots.

To fix the issue, take out the plant, remove the rotten roots, spray some fungicides, and repot it to a new pot with a well-drained soil mix. For fungicides, try the natural methods first. If the infection is too severe, you can choose chemical methods, but consult with an expert first. 

Water the plant when the top few inches have dried, use well-drained soil, and reduce watering in winter. Choose the right pot size having drainage holes and made of porous material. Take good care of the plant to keep it strong and healthy. A healthy plant can fight any disease much better than a weak plant. 

What are the signs of overwatering?

Yellowing, wilting, stunted growth, and defoliation are the common signs of overwatering.

When should I repot my Rubber plants?

Generally, repotting is done once a year during the growing season. But emergency repotting, like during root rot, should be done immediately. If it’s winter, take extra care so that it survives the off-season and comes back in spring.

Reference: Root rot in plants Wikipedia 


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