Rubber Plant: How to Grow Rubber Plant
If you’re looking for an eye-catching ornamental tree that’s long-lasting yet low maintenance, then you might want to consider growing rubber plants. These fellas are popular for their glossy leaves and towering form, which can easily add some flair to your room.
Even though they’re relatively easy to take care of, my first shot at cultivating a rubber plant still took me a bit of patience and some trial-and-error. So I thought I’d share with you all the handy tips and know-how that I had learned from my experience about how to properly raise one.
Ficus elastica (more widely-known as rubber fig, rubber tree, or rubber plant) is a species of fig plant in the Moraceae family. It is characterized by its medium-to-tall build, large waxy leaves, and milky sap. Even though a rubber plant can live for a hundred years in its native tropical regions, when grown as a houseplant, it can last up to 30 years in suitable conditions.
Most people find the Rubber plant to be the easiest among the ficus genus to look after, which I find myself agreeing with. They’re much easier to deal with compared to their infamously temperamental cousin, the Fiddle Leaf Fig. As long as you give it enough water, fertilizer, and sunlight, you’re pretty much good to go!
One thing I like about rubber plants is that they can have either monochromatic or variegated leaves. Depending on which mood you’re going for, you can mix and match them with any room or space. Monochromatic leaves give off a clean and chic look, while variegated ones can be the perfect pick if you’re looking for a splash of different colors.
There are several varieties of rubber plants that you can choose from. Here are some of the more popular choices:
- F. elastica ‘Black Prince’ - as its name suggests, it has dark, almost-black leaves with a red leaf sheath
- F. elastica ‘Burgundy’ - deep green leaves with reddish undertones; dark red leaf sheaths
- F. elastica ‘Ruby’ - dark green leaves with light pink variegation; red leaf sheaths
- F. elastica ‘Tineke’ - green leaves with cream edges; pinkish leaf sheaths
- F. elastica ‘Doescheri’ - dark green leaves with creamy yellow variegations and muted green splotches
Facts About Rubber Plant
Ficus elastica is an evergreen tree native to northern Peninsular Malaysia, Indonesia (Sumatra, Java), Myanmar (Burma), and northeastern India (Sikkim, Assam). It has also become naturalized in the West Indies, Sri Lanka, and Florida. Currently, it is grown and cultivated worldwide in plantations, greenhouses, and indoors as ornamental plants.
The reason why it's called elastica or Rubber plant is because of the milky white latex found in the bark of its stem, which was primarily used to produce rubber in the past. Meanwhile, its genus name ficus comes from the Latin term for the edible fig.
The number one secret to making sure that your rubber plants grow tall and healthy is balance. They don't need an excessive amount of attention, but you do need to ascertain that your plant is getting the right amount of water and shade (which I'll be talking about in more detail later).
Here are the most common mistakes that beginner planters usually make when caring for the rubber plant:
- Over-watering: Rubber plants need moisture, but you have to make sure that you don't drench it with water. Since they can tolerate dry soil quite well, it is safer to lean towards under-watering than overdoing it.
- Too much or too little light: Finding the right balance between light and shade can be tough, but always remember that although rubber plants thrive in luminous areas, they shouldn't be exposed to direct sunlight either.
- Moving the pot around too much: There may be times when you can't help but think that your indoor plant isn't in the right place and you're tempted to move it from one area to another to find the perfect spot. This is a no-go because Rubber plants are usually delicate to change and may need some time to adjust to its new surroundings.
You can easily tell if you're not doing something right because its leaves usually tell a story. If it's too droopy, you might want to check its water levels. If it's turning yellow or brown, it is possibly due to a lack of light or too much water. If leaves are starting to fall, it may be caused by cold air drafts, not enough light, or overly dry climates.
The most prominent thing about a Rubber plant aside from its eye-catching leaves is its massive height. Rubber plants found in their native environment can reach up to 100 ft. in height, while ornamental Rubber plants can grow up to 6 to 10 ft. tall.
The maximum reach of your plant can vary depending on where you choose to place it. Rubber plants can keep growing to impressive heights when grown outside, especially if there’s enough space for it.
If you wish to keep your rubber plant on the more petite side, placing it indoors and putting it in smaller pots can significantly hinder its growth.
When you see a Rubber plant, the very first thing that catches your eye is its magnificent leaves. It has large, glossy, oval leaves that are connected to the stalk by thick stems. A leaf blade can grow at a length of 8 to 12 inches.
Rubber plant leaves are usually in shades of green with some being darker or lighter than others, depending on its variation. As I've previously mentioned, its leaves can either be monochromatic or variegated. Variegated leaves are commonly accompanied by patches of white, cream, yellow, or pink.
New leaves are grown inside reddish coverings called a sheath. When the leaf has grown big enough, the sheath will loosen and eventually fall off. You can usually find a sheath on the very top of the stalk. Hence, new leaves can only form at the tip of the plant and not regrow around the sides.
One thing that you need to remember is to periodically wipe off any dust or dirt on your plant's leaves to maintain its signature waxy appearance. Simply use a damp washcloth or sponge to remove any stray particles. Make sure to refrain from using any 'leaf shine'; using water alone is enough.
The first time I saw a bright red leaf sheath sitting prettily at the top of my Rubber plant, I made the rookie mistake of thinking it was a flower blooming. I know better now, but imagine my disappointment back then when I saw a leaf pop out of the sheath instead!
For the record, rubber plants CAN produce flowers. After all, they do belong in the fig family. But it’s probably not what you expect them to look like. Compared to its conspicuous leaf sheaths, a rubber plant’s flowers are small, green, and nondescript.
Don’t get your hopes up, though. Rubber plants that are grown indoors as houseplants are highly unlikely to yield flowers, anyway since they require a distinct species of fig wasp to pollinate.
Rubber plants are known for their graceful upright form. Their growth consists mostly of vertical extension rather than horizontal spread. You can manage the shape of your rubber plant by periodic pruning.
How to Grow a Rubber Plant
Soggy roots are a major no-no for rubber plants. You can avoid letting its roots soak in water for too long by potting it in well-draining and well-aerated soil. Since over-watering is one of the most common mistakes when raising rubber plants, it's important to find the right kind of soil that could subdue that kind of problem.
Cactus or succulent potting mix is a great option for rubber plants because it drains well. You can buy it from your local garden shops, but it's cheaper to create your own mix at home.
The recipe that I like to use calls for 3 parts potting soil, 2 parts coarse sand, and 1 part pumice or perlite. If you live in a very dry climate, you can add in a bit of peat to the mixture.
Rubber plants love to bask in bright light, but NOT in direct sunlight because it might lead to scorched leaves. The spot that would probably make them the happiest is one that's right across a window with some sheer curtains. This way, it can get the right amount of light without it being too hot.
If you’re planning to grow variegated rubber plants, it’s best to give them very bright indirect light to bring out the different colors of their leaves more.
You can rotate your plant every once in a while to let it evenly absorb the light, especially if it's placed in a corner. Also, make sure to not let it get too little light. Otherwise, its leaves might soon start dropping.
This is probably the step that most people struggle with at the beginning. I ran into a bit of trouble with it myself when I was just starting my rubber plant journey.
The trickiest thing about the Rubber plant is the fact that it thrives in moist soil yet abhor getting its roots soaked in water for too long. It’s important to make sure that the pot you’re using has enough drainage holes to allow any excess water to trickle out. What I like to do is to place a tray that’s lined with gritty sediments (like pebbles or coarse sand) under the plant to catch the leftover moisture.
As to how often you should water your plant, the short answer is whenever the soil dries out. I recommend watering it every 3 to 4 days, but it also depends on the season. During winter, you might need to cut the watering in half.
If you’re planning to go on a trip away for a week, you don’t have to worry about your Rubber plant suddenly dying on you by the time you get back. Rubber plants are fairly good at tolerating dry soil despite it favoring moist environments.
Rubber plants are capable of surviving a wide range of temperatures. It can grow in environments with temperatures of 50° F (10° C) up to 85° F (29.4° C). However, since Rubber plants are tropical, it’s best to keep them away from extremely low climate conditions. You might also need to water your plant more if the temperature gets too warm.
But even though they can tolerate a broad array of climate conditions, Rubber plants aren’t huge fans of sudden temperature drops. So keep in mind to place your plant in an area with a stable temperature.
In terms of humidity, Rubber plants aren’t particularly fussy. You only need to make sure to mist your plants from time to time whenever the air is very dry.
Feeding your Rubber plant with fertilizer isn’t necessary for its survival, but it needs the nourishment to keep its leaves plump and shiny. Mixing some high phosphorus fertilizer into the pots of young Rubber plants can help stimulate the development of roots. Upon growth, you might want to switch to a nitrogen-rich mix that can encourage the production of healthy foliage.
Apply fertilizer every 3 to 4 weeks during its growing season (usually spring or summer). Much like other indoor plants, you don’t need to mix in some fertilizer during winter or dormant seasons, and when new leaves aren’t growing out.
If you want your young Rubber plant to keep growing taller, you’re going to need to repot it annually. Failing to transfer your plant could cause damage to the roots which could subsequently hinder its growth. The frequency of repotting decreases the more your plant matures.
To successfully repot your Rubber plant, you first have to gently remove it from its old pot while making sure that its root system is unharmed. You also have to pick a new pot that’s around one inch bigger in diameter than the previous one. This will allow the roots to have ample room for growth. You must ensure that you’re using fresh soil when repotting so that your plant could absorb new nutrients.
If you wish to restrict your Rubber plant’s growth, then pruning it is the best course of action. You can do this by simply cutting off the central stem at the desired height and wrapping the top of the stem with tissue to prevent sap from leaking out and creating a sticky mess. Also routinely prune your plant to get rid of any dead or unhealthy-looking leaves.
I find this part the most exciting when growing rubber plants, and it’s not too complicated either! There are two main ways of propagation: air layering or cutting. The method that I prefer to use is air layering, and I will be giving you a simple walkthrough of its procedures below:
- Step 1: Choose a healthy stem that’s at least 12 inches long and pick a spot where you wish the new roots would grow.
- Step 2: Make a diagonal cut upward the stem with a sharp blade and use a toothpick to keep the cut open.
- Step 3: Using twine or twist ties, wrap a fistful of moistened sphagnum moss around the opening to give the new roots a medium to propagate in.
- Step 4: Cover the stem with plastic to keep the moisture inside the ball of moss.
- Step 5: Within 2 to 3 weeks, you will notice new roots starting to grow. After a few months, cut off the stem just below the roots and transfer the young Rubber plant into a new pot with fresh soil.
Rubber Plant Health Benefits
Not only are Rubber plants great for sprucing up your living spaces, but they can also offer a variety of perks that could be good for your health. Here are some of the ways in which Rubber plants are beneficial for your well-being:
Improves Air Quality
Plants are known to be terrific air purifiers, and the Rubber plant is no exception. In a study conducted by NASA, it was proven that certain plants are capable of removing air pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene in indoor spaces.
In a book called “How to Grow Fresh Air” by Dr. Bill C. Wolverton, one of the primary proponents in the initial NASA study, the rubber plant was ranked fourth among the houseplants that are effective in eliminating chemical toxins that contribute to air pollution indoors.
Aside from this, the study also showed that it is capable of filtering dust from the air and raising the humidity.
One of the best things about houseplants is their ability to bolster productivity. It's the reason why I started keeping a rubber plant in my home office in the first place.
A study conducted by the University of Exeter shows that enriching your workspace with greenery can lead to a 15% increase in productivity. Having plants in your office or bedroom could significantly improve concentration, job satisfaction, and perception of air quality. This works by making you more physically, emotionally, and cognitively involved in your goals.
Antibacterial and Antiparasitic Properties
Another notable benefit that you can get from rubber plants is their ability to destroy or suppress the growth of bacteria. In a research conducted by the Guru Nanak Dev University in India, it was found that ficus elastica has antibacterial properties and may be used in traditional medicine.
In another study published in the Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences, findings support the use of ficus elastica in treating parasitic diseases.
Uses of Rubber Plant
As you’ve probably guessed, the most common reason why Rubber plants are grown these days is for decorative purposes. It’s popularly seen as a sophisticated yet easy-to-care-for ornamental plant that’s suitable for both home and office spaces. Houseplants are becoming trendier, and the rubber plant is slowly making a name for itself in the world of interior design.
The rubber plant produces latex in its stem, a chemical compound with a milky white appearance that is different from its sap. Its latex was previously used to yield rubber. However, the market trade for this plant’s latex was discontinued by 1920.
On the other hand, this shouldn’t be confused with the Rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis), which is the commercial source for latex of most of the rubber being produced today.
The rubber plant is an impressive evergreen tree that could be the perfect solution for your interior design woes. Not only is it good for livening up empty spaces, but it is also easier to care for compared to most temperamental indoor plants. It can be a bit tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it, raising one of these majestic fig trees can become a fun and relaxing routine.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are rubber plants toxic?
Yes, the sap found in Rubber plants can be toxic to both pets and human beings. According to the findings of the University of California, the rubber plant was included in the list of toxic plants. It received a toxicity rating of 4, which was the least dangerous among the different categories. This means that exposure to the sap may cause skin irritation or rashes.
The Pet Poison Helpline also stated that ingestion by pets may lead to irritation of the gastrointestinal tract and mouth.
Can rubber plant be grown outside?
Yes, the ficus elastica is a hardy plant that can survive in both indoor and outdoor spaces. Growing a rubber plant outside involves pretty much the same steps as when you’re keeping it in your home.
The factor that you have to consider the most, in this case, is the temperature conditions in your area. The rubber plant thrives the most in partial shade but it can stand direct sunlight as long as you monitor its moisture levels. You must also remember that these plants are weak to dry air and very cold climates.
Can rubber plants produce fruits?
Yes, much like its other fig tree cousins, the rubber plant is capable of producing fruits. Its small fruit looks like a yellow-green oval fig that’s only about an inch long. However, these are merely “fake fruits” that are barely edible. Inside the fruits are fertile seeds that are only present in places where the pollinating insect can be found.
However, similar to its flowers, the Rubber plant is highly unlikely to bear fruits, especially when grown as an indoor ornament.