Rubber tree is bone dry but loses leaves even when watered a little


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Burt came home with us about 1yr ago. 5’, 3 stem, still lives in the plastic pot he came in, that sits inside a large decorative pot filled with gravel. No standing water or overwatering has occurred. He’s lives in room corner, farthest away from both south and west facing windows, not very bright spot. We recently moved him closer to the west windows hoping it would help. He grew a lot when he first came home. In winter he went dormant and we barely watered him. Since winter every time he’s watered, evenif only 2 cups of water he loses leaves. His top newest leaves are wrinkly, all leaves r droopy. He’s bone dry. I don’t know what to do, seems he needs water but that killing him too.
 

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Does the photo show what your Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) looks like before being watered or afterwards?

If a healthy plant is wilting from lack of water, it should stop wilting after being thoroughly watered.
However, if a plant is wilting due to damage to it's vascular system, watering may not help. The plant still needs water, but any water given cannot be taken up and may lead to rot.

Another possibility is the water is not penetrating the root ball during watering. Potting soils containing peat can become hygrophobic if they are let to over-dry. Such soil must be weighed down and soaked underwater to re-hydrate.

Does the plant put on new leaves to replace the old ones? All plants will drop their oldest leaves eventually. This is normal, as long as new foliage is being produced at the growing tip. Your plant does look like it may be becoming defoliated. Also, the plant will only retain it's lower leaves if it receives enough light at the base to justify their maintenance.

Recommendations:
• Take the plant out of its pot and examine the root system. Due this after watering. Did the entire root-ball become damp or are there dry areas? If there are, soak the root-ball in a bucket. Replace any soil that floats off with fresh potting soil as you replant.

• After repotting, fertilize the plant with a complete general-purpose again.

• Yes, a brighter spot may help. Near a window as possible. Rubber Plants want bright light. They grow in full sun in the tropics.
 
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Truthfully. I have yet to find a plant that can exist without water. In fact microbe to elephant, all forms of life have a dependance upon water.
Something most gardeners fail to do, is to consider the natural habitat of plants, large and small. Briefly, your Ficus survives in what we might call steamy forests. Not wishing to offend you but. You are treating your plant as if it were artificial. YES! sudden watering will be such a shock to your plant, and so first response is to shed it's leaves. Please try this. Trust me. It works. Give your plant a good soak. Once air bubbles stop. Stand it to drain. Never mind if the leaves fall off, they are only hanging on by a whim and a prayer. In a few days you will notice some changes. As soon as you see the plant is showing signs of improving. Repot it in fresh compost. Never feed a sick plant. Such action is far too much for the plants vascular system. Perhaps an added cane support will help to staighen the main stem. Avoid strong direct sunlight. If your accommadation is on the dry side. Perhaps a cellophane type of suit/dress protector can come in useful. Rig this up like a tent over the plant. As night temperatures change, air moisture will help treat your plant. Remove any such covering come day time. Soon your plant wil be looking good.

Back in the 70/80s I came across similar when working for the MOD at a Military hospital. Patient survival. 100 percent.
 
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Thank you. Your post says plant in compost. I’ve read other sources recommend peat (spelling?). Can you comment?
 
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The term 'Compost' has generally become accepted as being a growing medium/substance. You mention Peat. Here in the UK. Peat is being phased out, being used in horticulture, due to it's benefits in global warming etc. From a growing aspect. Peat has little to offer, apart from it's ability to absorb carbon dioxide etc and retain moisture. Many of the lower forms of plant life can and do survive on it.
 
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Thank you. Your post says plant in compost. I’ve read other sources recommend peat (spelling?). Can you comment?
A standard potting soil is best. It will be a blend of inorganic matter (such as sand, pumice, or perlite), and organic matter (often including compost and/or peat). Such a blend will maintain the best balance point between drainage and water retention.
 
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Tonight we pulled him out of the pot and took a look at his roots. There were lots of roots and it actually seemed he was really cramped in there. I could really pull apart his roots so I decided to soak his root ball and repot him into a larger pot. Pot has about 6-8” gravel in bottom. He’s also now in the brightest window spot, bright but little direct sunlight in late afternoon. We’ll say a prayer for him tonight and hope he starts looking better. One of his stems has failed. Lower portion of the stem does look alive still. Is there anything I can do to propogate new growth from that stem if he survives?
 
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The repotting and bright situation sound like positive steps Obviously having stem dieback is not good news, but it may re-sprout from the base. Actually it looks like there may actually be three separate plants in that pot. Houseplants are often grown that way for a fuller appearance. You certainly can grow Ficus elastica from cuttings, but you want to use strong healthy plant material for best results. Good luck with this.
 

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