Killing a piece of my past
November 22, 2007 3:26 PM   Subscribe

I live in Montreal and have a rubber tree about 40 years old that I put outside every summer. I hope I haven't killed it this time.

This year winter came very late and I brought it indoors only about two weeks ago, as the overnight lows were approaching freezing. A week later I noticed its leaves were becoming blotchy and wilted and now they are all shrivelled and blotchy and pale with little tiny black dots. I went with a couple of leaves to the jardin botanique today, where I was told it may have gotten too much water.
Anyway, it is now out of the pot lying on the kitchen floor.

How would I recognize root rot visually or tactile-ly? Also what would you do at this point? I am going to pick up a couple of bags of fresh earth. Should I wash the roots before repotting?
posted by maremare to Home & Garden (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't wash the roots - just rough them up with your fingertips a bit so that they'll poke out into the new soil.

Healthy roots are generally light in color. Rotten roots are dark brown, break easily, and are mushy. If the crown of the plant (where the stem meets the soil) is mushy then you may have some rot issues.

Letting the root ball air out is a good idea. Plant it in a pot that is just a little bit bigger than it's current pot. Putting it in a pot that's too big for it will make the problem worse as the roots won't be able to absorb all of the water from the soil and the soil around the perimeter of the pot will stay wet.

Make sure that the bottom of the pot has drainage holes. If the pot has no drainage holes, the potential for overwatering problems grows. The water collects at the bottom and the roots drown.

Make sure that the new soil is potting soil - it contains perlite or vermiculite to keep things light and help with drainage.

It's entirely possible that you just shocked the plant by moving it from a cool environment where the temps were near freezing into your warm home. Sudden temperature and humidity changes can cause the same leaf symptoms that you describe. I have done this to many plants! In fact, I have a dragon tree that is about 15 years old. I thought that it was dead after I brought it inside, so I ended up cutting back the stems to just a few inches above the soil. Soon, it started sending up new shoots. It's as healthy as ever now. It is possible that your plant will send up new shoots as well.
posted by Ostara at 4:08 PM on November 22, 2007

Also, ficus tend to suffer leaf drop when moved from high light levels to lower light. Moving it from the direct sun to the indoors has probably shocked it a little.
And seconding everything Ostara said, except I wouldn't increase the pot size at all.
posted by nprigoda at 4:47 PM on November 22, 2007

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