The Q&A Archives: Leaves Turning Black

Question: Why do the leaves on my rubber plant turn black and die? The plant is five years old. This condition began occuring about 1.5 years ago. About 1 year ago, I transplanted from the original plastic pot to a large clay pot. I use one teaspoon of Miracle Gro in one gallon water every 4 to 6 weeks.

Answer: Based on your description I am not certain what is causing the problem with your rubber tree (Ficus elastica), but here are some possibilities. These plants often lose lower leaves as they age, so it may be relatively normal. However, it might be a temperature problem (the ideal would be 62 to 65 degrees at night and 80 to 85 daytime), a light problem (in too bright a location the leaves may be sunburning, in too dark a location they may be simply dropping for lack of available light), or a draft problem -- this plant hates drafts both hot and cold. It also resents being abruptly moved from one temperature range to another. In the winter when the plant grows more slowly it should be watered a bit less and fertilized little if any and overwatering could cause it a problem. When it comes back into active growth in spring then go ahead and increase the water and fertilizer again. In terms of general maintenance it likes to be a bit root bound and repotting should be done in late winter or early spring, the leaves should be washed occasionally with plain water and a soft cloth to keep the dust off, and it can be pruned to increase bushiness or control its size. If you can solve the problem behind the dropping leaves then you may want to prune it to encourage branching and bring it back into shape.

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