Rubber trees (Ficus elastica), also known as Indian rubberplants, are members of the Moraceae family. These trees often are used as specimen trees or as a screen. While rubber trees generally are free from damaging pests and diseases, they can turn brown and droop if not cared for properly.
Rubber trees can be used as shade trees and often are placed around decks or patios as a privacy screen. Home gardeners also grow them in containers indoors as houseplants. Rubber trees can reach heights of 30 to 45 feet if not pruned back and develop spreads of 25 to 30 feet. These trees grow rapidly in full sun or partial shade and tolerate a variety of soil types.
Rubber trees are susceptible to the effects of overwatering, especially during the winter months when plants do not require as much moisture. According to the National Gardening Association, ficus will continue to take in water until its the leaf cells are over-full and burst. This causes plant leaves to turn brown and droop. Over-watering also causes rubber trees to develop root rot diseases that affect the health and appearance of the plant.
Root rot diseases are common in overwatered plants, and rubber trees in this condition have an unhealthy appearance including brown, wilted leaves and brown rotted roots. Affected roots will have a stringy appearance; they easily are stripped from the plant. Eventually, rubber trees with root rot will drop their brown, droopy leaves.
Check the soil of your rubber tree to determine if water is necessary. Place your finger into the soil; if it is moist 1/2 to 1 inch below the surface, water is not needed. Check every day and provide water only when your plant is dry 1 inch below the soil surface. When growing rubber trees indoors, be sure to place them in a container with good drainage o the tree does not sit in water. Remove any excess water in the drainage pan and discard.