Rubber Plant Care: How to Grow Ficus elastica


Are you looking for a bold, statement houseplant that’s easy to care for? Then the rubber tree plant (Ficus elastica) could be the ideal choice.

With its broad glossy green leaves, this beauty can be the centre of attention for a group of smaller indoor plants. Alternatively, a large plant on its own can be the ultimate statement piece.

Commonly called the rubber plant, rubber tree or Indian rubber plant, Ficus elastica earned its nickname because of the white sap that it exudes when cut. Although this has been used to make a low-grade rubber in the past, commercial rubber production now comes from a completely different species, the Para Rubber Tree, Hevea brasilienses.

In its native South and South East Asia, rubber plants can grow to 100 feet tall or more.  But don’t worry, as a house plant they generally grow to a maximum of 6 to 8 feet in height. They are easily pruned so you can keep them to the height you prefer.

They grow at a moderate pace and a fully grown plant can look truly spectacular in a sitting room or spacious kitchen.

rubber plant houseplant

Rubber plants are easy to look after and are suitable for beginners. They are not particularly fussy about the conditions in which they are kept and will not drop leaves all over the place like some other members of the fig family (such as the weeping fig).

Although the classic Ficus elastica has dark green oblong leaves, you may just fall in love with the colourful variants. ‘Tineke’ is a beautiful, variegated variety with splashes of cream and light green on its leaves and pink stems. ‘Ruby’ has slightly pink edges to its leaves and ‘Burgundy’ has burgundy-coloured leaves with pink stems.

Light requirements

Rubber plants like medium bright, indirect light. If placed in direct sunlight for a large part of the day their leaves will become scorched. Green leaved varieties are quite happy in dimmer environments and will happily grow if placed well away from a window.

Variegated varieties require more light. If they don’t receive enough, they’ll let you know by losing their cream colour and the leaves will appear greener. Placing them in a sunnier part of the room will bring back the natural coloring.

Temperature requirements

Rubber plants like a medium to warm environment, with temperatures around 60-75oC (15-24oC).

Watering requirements

Although they prefer moist soil, you should not over water your rubber plant as they are susceptible to root rot. Allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings and reduce the amount of watering that you do during winter.

These plants do like a humid environment, as they are originally from South and South East Asia. If your house is dry, you should consider having a pebble tray under your plant which you can fill with water. As the water evaporates this will provide some humidity for the plant.

Misting your plant is also a good idea to maintain humidity levels.

watering a rubber plant

Soil requirements

Use a well-draining potting compost. You can add perlite to a general-purpose house plant compost to help with drainage.

Special requirements

Rubber plants are generally easy to grow and don’t require specialist care.

The large leaves can attract dust, which can easily be removed using a damp cloth. Some owners like to show off the large glossy leaves to their best by using a leaf shine product on them.

Apply a liquid fertiliser monthly during spring and summer. Do not apply during the winter.

Propagating

Want to share your love of Ficus elastica with a friend? Here are a couple of ways that you can create new rubber plants:

  • Cuttings

This is probably the easiest way to propagate your plant. Take a clean pruning knife or secateurs and cut a branch of approximately 6-12 inches from the parent plant. Make sure that you’re wearing gloves during this procedure as the stem will exude a milky sap that is irritant to the skin.

Place the cut stem in rooting hormone and then pot up in well-draining potting soil (compost).  Ensure your new plant is kept humid by spraying with water.

  • Air layering

This method involves encouraging the formation of roots from a stem while it’s still attached to the parent plant. This stem can then be cut and planted up.

Wearing protective gloves, start by using a sharp pruning knife (or secateurs) to remove a leaf from the plant. This should be in the position that you want roots to grow – 12 inches (30cm) from the tip works well, although you can have a longer stem if you wish.

Clean the sap away that exudes from the cut area. Apply a small amount of rooting hormone powder. Wrap the cut area with damp sphagnum moss and fix in place using string. Cover the moss with black plastic to retain the moisture of the moss and prevent light getting through. Keep the moss damp over the next few weeks.

After several weeks, roots should start to grow. You can then cut the stem and pot it in its own container.

The photo below shows an example of air layering a rubber plant.

propagating a rubber plant by air layering

Pests & problems

Ficus elastica is relatively problem free when grown indoors. Aphids, scale insects, and mealy bugs are an occasional problem, but these can be easily dealt with using an insecticidal soap.

Root rot is the main avoidable problem that rubber plants are prone to.  This comes from overwatering or allowing your plant to sit in pool of water.  Prevent this issue by letting the top inch or so of soil to dry out between watering.

Common questions about rubber plants

Why does my rubber plant look thin and ‘leggy’?

Rubber plants can take on a leggy appearance if they do not receive enough sunlight.  Move to a lighter area of the room and your plant should recover its appearance.

Why are leaves falling off my rubber plant?

There could be several environmental reasons that cause this. A lack of humidity may be a factor, especially in the winter when heating can cause the air to be dry. A lack of light or being in a draft can also be behind this issue.

Are rubber plants toxic to pets and people?

The rubber plant is (mildly toxic) and should be kept away from pets and young children. All parts of a rubber plant contain a sap that’s a skin irritant and can cause digestive upset if a person eats it. In dogs and cats, it can cause irritation and numbness of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract if eaten. Symptoms include drooling, vomiting and diarrhea.

How can I make my rubber plant more bushy?

The key to a bushy rubber plant is pruning. Use a clean pair of pruning shears to remove growth above a node on the plant. New sideshoots will then start growing. Over time this will lead to a more bushy appearance.

About the author 

Paul - Better Houseplants

Loves orchids and foliage houseplants. Always trying to be a better plant parent. Let's get growing!

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