Calling the rubber tree plant a tree is a very accurate description of this houseplant, seeing how it can grow to over 50 feet tall, which makes it less of a houseplant and more of an indoor tree in its own right.
Its large, glossy leaves do look like they’re made of rubber, resulting in a peculiar-looking decorative plant that may not be to everyone’s taste.
Yet, Ficus elastica (Rubber Fig) has had its share of popularity with nearly every plant-loving household having had this plant in its arsenal at some point.
After a few years of being pushed aside in favor of other en vogue houseplants, the rubber plant seems to be making a comeback.
If you are a fan of rubber tree plants and curious about it’s upkeep requirements, read my rubber plant care tips below.
Rubber Tree Plant Care Tips
Of all the ficus plants, the Ficus elastica is the easiest to look after and does well in an apartment or office that gets plenty of light.
Rubber plants are native to Southeast Asia, where they can grow to up to 100 feet in their natural habitat. Domesticated rubber plants will grow to about 6 to 10 feet indoors, or around 25 feet outdoors.
This plant is known as a fast-growing plant that gains around 24 inches in height in each growing season. The Ficus elastica can reach its full height in about 13 years.
The Ficus elastica enjoys medium to high light conditions. While the plant loves bright light, it should be indirect light, otherwise you may notice damage to the leaves from exposure to the hot sun. Low light isn’t going to work for this plant.
Direct sunlight should be avoided during summer months. When temperatures rise above 80 F, outdoor plants should be moved into the shade, while indoor plants that are kept in windows should be sheltered by the afternoon sun.
Striking a good watering balance is important for the rubber tree plant. The soil should be kept moist during spring and summer with weekly watering, while in winter watering should be limited to one or two times per month. The soil should be damp, not soggy.
Temperature & Humidity
Indoor temperature in the 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit range is perfect for these plants. Humidity levels in their native habitat are higher than what we can offer these plants in our homes, so it’s a good practice to wipe the plant’s leaves with a damp cloth or mist the plant to increase humidity.
Freezing or near freezing temperatures are dangerous for Ficus elastica plants. Low temperatures can affect the plant’s health — leaves develop necrotic patches because of the loss of hydration and will eventually result in the loss of the plant’s leaves.
Not to mention how low temperatures will cause the plant to stop growing. To avoid all these issues, make sure temperatures don’t get below 40 F.
The ideal nighttime temperature range for this plant is between 60 and 65 F. At these temperatures, slow is not slowed down and leaves don’t dehydrate.
In their native habitat, the rubber tree plant grows in fast-draining soil that is rich in humus. You should pick a good organic potting soil for your plant and make sure that it drains well.
Fertilizing can be started within a month after planting. You can use a balanced organic liquid fertilizer or worm compost. Don’t overdo it, once in spring and once in the summer is plenty for this plant. Make sure to follow the instructions of the fertilizer to dilute it correctly as too much of it can cause burns.
Potting & Repotting
Depending on the conditions you’re offering it and the plant’s growth rate in your home, you will need to deal with repotting every 2 years or so.
Repotting is best to be carried out during late winter or early spring when the plant is still dormant or semi-dormant to minimise transplant shock.
Pick a pot that’s one or two sizes larger than the pot your plant is currently in. You’ll need to give its roots room to grow and develop.
When repotting, it’s best to wear gloves and a long-sleeve t-shirt to avoid any irritation to your skin in case a leaf breaks. The sap of the plant is classified as a level 4 toxin that causes contact dermatitis.
Rubber Tree Plant Propagation
There are two efficient methods of plant propagation that work well for the Ficus elastica — propagating from a cutting and air layering.
First, to propagate from a cutting, you’ll need to get a good cutting that you can do when pruning the plant. Instead of throwing away a cutting, you can use it to propagate your rubber tree plant.
Ideally, you should get a 6-inch cutting with two sets of leaves. Remove the bottom set of leaves and place the cutting in a well-draining, moist potting soil.
The cutting should be covered with a clear plastic or jar, but without touching the leaves. You can remove a portion of the leaves that is not attached to the stem.
Next, you should place the cutting in a warm place in indirect sunlight. In only 2-3 weeks, the cutting will root and you can remove the cover.
The air-layering method is a rooting method that doesn’t involve planting a cutting in a different container, but allowing it to root on the rubber tree.
The idea behind this method is to choose a stem that at least 12 inches long. You will turn this into your new plant.
Remove the leaves above and below the area you will want to root the stem. With a sterilized knife, remove a 1-inch wide strip of bark all the way around the stem, which will reveal a “naked” ring around the stem.
As a next step, remove the soft tissue, leaving only the hard center wood intact. You can put a little rooting hormone on this ring, take some damp sphagnum moss to cover the moss and secure with a plastic covering, so everything is completely covered.
Within three weeks, the rubber plant will have developed roots, and the rooted stem can be cut from the parent plant and planted in its own container.
Different Types of Rubber Tree Plant
The rubber tree plant comes in many different varieties, some more special than the others. Some varieties require extra attention and care compared to the common variety, so they may not be an ideal choice for a beginner.
Here are some of the most popular rubber tree plant varieties:
- Ficus Burgundy
- Ficus Carica
- Ficus Microcarpa
- Ficus Benghalensis
- Benjamina ficus
- Variegated elastica varieties.
Of these, the Ficus burgundy and Abidjan varieties have darker leaves for those looking for a rubber tree plant variety with dark purple-red leaves.
Variegated varieties are at the top of my preferences since these are quite unique compared to varieties that have only all-green or dark-green leaves.
Another reason why I prefer them over non-variegated options is because I find they brighten up a room much better than the dark-leaved varieties. Plus, caring for them is just as easy.
If you don’t have enough space in your home, you can pick dwarf varieties, which won’t get as high as the common Ficus elastica.
Rubber Tree Plant FAQs
Still have unanswered questions about this plant? See if you can find your answer below:
Is the Rubber Tree Plant Toxic?
The rubber tree plant is mildly poisonous both for humans and pets. Don’t let your pets chew on the plants and wear protective clothing when repotting or handling the plant.
Do Rubber Tree Plants Bloom?
No, rubber tree plants don’t technically bloom, but they do produce a flower of sorts or a small fruit of sorts. However, not all varieties are capable of this.
Does the Rubber Tree Plant Purify Air?
Yes, the rubber plant does have some air purifying effect and helps absorb airborne chemicals and break them down.
What is the Lifespan of Rubber Tree Plant?
Rubber tree plants have a long lifespan, they can live as many as 100 years in the wild, but the ornamental varieties we keep in our homes usually last only 20-25 years, which is still a lot when it comes to houseplants.
Like other houseplants, the Ficus elastica can also be invaded by pests like mealybugs, scales, and spider mites. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of each of these pests, so you can detect them as soon as possible and take action.
Pests, bad keeping conditions, extreme temperatures are all things to watch out for if you want to enjoy your Ficus elastica for many years to come.
If your home has enough natural light and plenty of space, this indoor tree-like plant can thrive and develop without issues.
If you don’t mind offering your plant a little extra attention, you can experiment with other Ficus varieties that may be a bit more sensitive to temperature changes, but also more aesthetically appealing.