Rubber plant care sounds like it would be difficult, but it’s actually pretty easy. In this detailed article, I’m going to show you everything you need to know about growing rubber plants. I’ll also give you tons of information, answer your FAQs, troubleshoot common problems, and much more!
Do you ever wonder why rubber plants are commonly sold as houseplants at your local garden center? Well, that is because they are one of the easiest you can grow.
They adapt very well to being indoors, and don’t require a ton of work on your part. So, if you love the look of those beautiful glossy leaves, but worry that rubber plant care will be too hard, I’ve got you covered!
This comprehensive guide will give you everything you need in order to be successful growing rubber plants. From watering to light, soil to pruning, repotting, pest control, fertilizer and propagation… you name it, you’ll find it here.
This is what you will find in this detailed rubber plant growing guide:
- Information About Rubber Plants
- How To Grow
- Propagation Tips
- Troubleshooting Common Problems
Information About Rubber Plants
The rubber plant (Ficus elastica, aka: rubber tree) is a member of the Ficus plant genus, which includes many other popular houseplants.
This unique plant is easily identifiable by the distinctive large, thick glossy leaves that are such a dark green, they almost appear black at first glance.
These large, glossy leaves, and the general ease of care, have always made the rubber tree a popular houseplant.
How Big Do Rubber Plants Get?
Native to India and Southeast Asia, rubber plants can grow to be well over 50′ tall trees in the tropical rainforest.
As an indoor houseplant, rubber trees stay relatively small by comparison. But they can still become quite large indoor trees, and will continue to grow as you move them into bigger containers.
Types Of Rubber Plants
Among the different Ficus species, there are several types of rubber plants. These days, there are varieties that have even more beautiful foliage than the native form. There are also dwarf versions, which are smaller and more compact.
Consider growing the cultivar Ficus elastica ’Ruby’, which has pink veined stems and cream-colored variegated foliage.
The variegated rubber plant varieties are no more difficult to care for, and they can be especially striking when placed next to the ones with solid colored leaves.
While it is possible for rubber plants to flower, it’s very rare, especially when they are growing indoors. The flowers are bright red, but are small and not very showy.
Flowers are definitely not their biggest asset, it’s the gorgeous foliage that makes this such a popular houseplants.
Rubber Plant Benefits
Not only are rubber plants very easy to grow, but they have other benefits too. Just as the name suggests, the sap from plant can be used for making rubber.
It’s also an excellent natural air purifying houseplant. In a list compiled by NASA, the rubber tree was found to have the highest capability to clean toxins out of the air than any other indoor plant.
Rubber plants are toxic to pets (see the ASPCA plant list for more). So, if you have pets or small children around, then it’s best to keep this one out of reach.
The sap can also cause skin irritation, though I have never had this problem. But, if you have sensitive skin, then you should try not to touch the sap. And always wash your hands after pruning or taking cuttings.
How To Grow Rubber Plants
In order to have the best success, it’s important to understand a few things about growing rubber plants. The good news is that, no matter what type you have, the basic requirements are the same for all.
Hardiness Of Rubber Plants
Even though they are commonly sold as houseplants, rubber plants are actually tender evergreen perennial trees. So, if you live in zone 10 or higher, then you can grow them in your garden.
Though they are hardy down to 35F, they prefer warmer temperatures. So be sure to bring them back indoors before it gets below 50F outside, or they may suffer from the transition.
Where To Grow Rubber Plants
Most people in the US will have the best success growing rubber trees as interior houseplants. But you can put them outside during the summer to bask in the humidity and warmth. Just be sure to keep them out of the full sun.
They make excellent patio plants, and can even be grown in your annual garden if you don’t want to bring them indoors.
If you do live in a warm enough climate, plant them in your garden in a partial sun location that has good draining soil. And be sure to give them plenty of room to grow, they are trees after all!
Rubber Plant Care & Growing Tips
Yes, growing rubber plants is simple, but they aren’t completely hands off. So they will require some help from you, especially when they are kept indoors. For the best success, follow these rubber plant care instructions…
The biggest mistake people make with growing rubber plants is overwatering them. However, they do not do well when allowed to dry out either.
It’s best to keep them watered consistently, especially during their active growing season. They do best when the soil is kept consistently moist, but never soggy.
If the leaves begin to turn yellow or brown, or start dropping from the plant, it’s a good indication that you’re overwatering.
In that case, you should allow the soil to dry out more between waterings. But never let dry out to the point where your rubber tree starts drooping. An inexpensive soil moisture gauge makes it super easy to give them the perfect amount of water.
As an indoor plant, rubber trees enjoy a spot near a south-facing window where they will get bright, indirect sunlight. Outside, they will grow best in a spot where they get partial shade, or dappled sunlight.
Whether growing rubber plants inside or outside, keep them out of the full sun, or the leaves could burn. They don’t like it too hot either, so be sure to move yours out of the sunny window during the summer.
If the leaves start to fade, turn white, or look like they’re burning, then it’s probably getting too much sun. Move it to spot where it will get indirect bright light.
Though rubber plants can adjust to lower light conditions indoors, they will become leggy if they don’t get enough sunlight. If that starts to happen with yours, then move it to a brighter spot, or add grow light.
Rubber plants aren’t heavy feeders, so you don’t have to worry about giving them the perfect amount of fertilizer. Start feeding them in early spring to stimulate new growth, and continue through the summer.
Feed your rubber plant with a water-soluble fertilizer once a month to give it the nutrients it needs. Compost tea (either tea bags or a liquid concentrate) is a great option. Or you could add a granular fertilizer into the soil a few times throughout the summer if you prefer.
Don’t worry if you miss a month or even two, because they will still perform well as long as they have access to adequate water and sunlight.
Just be sure to stop fertilizing in late summer, and do not feed them during the winter. Feeding rubber plants during the winter will result in weak, leggy growth, and you don’t want that to happen.
Rubber plants enjoy being a little pot-bound, which means that they like to have their roots crowded within their container. However, keeping them in the same pot too long will stunt their growth.
Moving them to a larger pot will allow them to grow bigger. So, if you want them to get larger, it’s a good idea to repot rubber trees once they have outgrown their container.
Choose a pot that is one to two sizes larger than what it’s currently growing in. To help prevent overwatering, always use a container that has drainage holes for growing rubber plants.
They don’t love to be repotted though, so don’t do it unless it’s necessary. And do not be surprised if they look wilted for a couple of weeks afterward.
Choosing the best soil for rubber plants is pretty simple. Just purchase a standard potting mix that allows for good drainage.
There is no reason to spend extra money on specialized mixes, because the rubber plant is very tolerant to a wide variety of soil conditions.
Due to their large surface area, the leaves can become dusty and dirty pretty quickly. This not only looks bad, but it also inhibits healthy growth. So it’s important to clean them as a part of your regular rubber plant care routine.
A simple solution is to periodically mist the leaves with water, and gently wipe the surface with a soft towel. Do not use waxes or leaf polishes though. These products will clog the pores, restricting proper air exchange.
During warm weather, you can take them outside and hose off the leaves with a gentle stream of water. In the winter, you can accomplish this by placing your rubber tree plant into the shower (be careful not to overwater it in the process though!).
Pests are generally not a significant problem for rubber plants. If yours becomes affected by bugs, the most likely culprits are aphids, spider mites, or mealybugs.
Cleaning the leaves regularly will help to keep your rubber tree pest-free. However, if yours does become infested, you can gently wash the leaves with an organic insecticidal soap (or make your own using 1tsp mild liquid soap to 1 liter of water).
To make a rubber plant bushy and maintain the size, you can prune it regularly. It’s best to prune for shape and size in the spring or summer, but dead or dying leaves can be removed at any time. Always use sharp pruners to avoid damaging the stem.
Be careful though, pruning rubber trees can be a bit messy since the white sap will drip out of the wounds. So, you may want to cover the floor under the plant to protect it from the sap.
Also, it’s a good idea to wear gloves and eye protection while pruning. The sap can be a skin irritant, and you definitely don’t want to get it in your eyes.
Rubber Plant Propagation Tips
It’s pretty easy to propagate rubber plants by taking soft-wood cuttings. Take stem cuttings that are several inches long, and have a few leaf nodes on them.
Remove the lower leaves from the stem, and allow the wounds to dry completely before rooting. Dip the stems into rooting hormone before putting them into a pot filled with moist soil.
The trick to rooting rubber plant cuttings is to keep the soil moist, but never soggy. Then mist the cuttings to encourage them to grow roots.
You could also try rooting the cuttings in water. Place them into a vase of fresh water, making sure that none of the leaves are touching the water. Put them in a bright location, and keep the water clean as you wait for the stems to grow roots.
Troubleshooting Rubber Plant Care Problems
The most frustrating part of rubber plant care is when your baby becomes sick, and you don’t know why. The good news is that most problems are easily fixable. To help you troubleshoot, here are some common problems, and the solutions.
- Leaves dropping – The main cause of rubber plant leaves dropping is usually overwatering. But it can also happen when there’s not enough humidity. Ensure the soil is not wet, and mist the leaves regularly or use a cool-mist humidifier if the air is too dry.
- Drooping leaves – When a rubber tree droops, that usually means it’s not getting enough water. But, it’s also common for them to droop after being repotted, which is normal. To avoid this problem, ensure the soil stays consistently moist.
- Leggy rubber plant – If they don’t get enough light, rubber plants will grow tall and leggy. To keep them bushy, move them to a brighter location or add a grow light. Prune off the leggy growth to encourage branching.
- Yellow leaves – This is almost always caused by overwatering, but it could also be a sign that your rubber tree needs to be repotted into a larger container.
- Brown leaves – When the leaves turn brown, it’s usually caused by either over or under watering. In some cases, it could be due to sunburn, or extreme hot or cold temperatures.
- Leaves curling – If your rubber tree leaves are curling, then check for bugs like spider mites (look for webbing on and under the leaves). It could also be caused by improper watering, or freezing temperatures.
Rubber Tree Plant Care FAQs
In this section, I’m going to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about rubber plant care. If you can’t find the answer to your question, ask it in the comments below, and I will answer it for you as soon as I can.
How often should you water a rubber plant?
Check the soil weekly during the summer, and every few weeks during the winter. Only water your rubber plant when it needs it. Doing it on a set schedule can lead to overwatering. See the “Watering” section above for more details.
Do rubber plants need direct sunlight?
No. Rubber plants love bright, indirect sunlight. Full sun can burn their leaves.
Why do the leaves fall off my rubber plant?
The main reason leaves drop from rubber tree plants is because it’s being overwatered. But, it can also happen when the air is too dry (they like humidity). Keep the soil consistently moist, and mist the leaves if the air is dry.
Do rubber plants grow fast?
Yes, when given the proper care, rubber trees are very fast-growing. They can grow a foot or more each year.
When should you repot a rubber plant?
Spring is the best time for repotting rubber plants. But only repot it when it has become pot-bound, and is no longer growing larger. They don’t love to be repotted, and usually wilt for several days afterward. See the “Repotting” section above for more details.
How do I know if my rubber plant needs water?
Stick your finger one inch into the soil. If it feels dry, then your rubber plant needs water. A soil moisture meter is also a great tool to help you get it right every time. See the “Watering” section for more information.
Can you grow rubber plants outside?
Yes, absolutely! Just make sure you keep them out of the full sun, and bring them back indoors before freezing temperatures arrive in the fall. You can even plant them into the garden if you live somewhere that stays above freezing year round.
Rubber plant care isn’t difficult once you get the hang of it. With relatively minimal maintenance, you will be able to breathe easy, and enjoy this large houseplant as a striking addition to your home decor or garden.
Do you struggle to keep your houseplants alive through the coldest months of the year? Then you need my Winter Houseplant Care eBook. It will show you everything you need in order to keep your indoor plants thriving all year long. Download your copy today!
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Share your rubber plant care tips in the comments section below!