How to grow and care for Rubber Plant Indoors

Houseplant, Rubber Plant, Ficus elastica

Botanical name: Ficus elastica
Family: Moraceae

Rubber Plant is a popular tree-like houseplant, an excellent specimen plant that is easy to grow and easily adaptable to indoor growing conditions. It is native to Eastern parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia. It has a high tolerance to drought but prefers high humidity conditions. The rubber plant of earlier days had narrow, drooping leaves and a rather fussy nature but it has been replaced by a number of larger leaved varieties. According to a study carried out by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), Ficus elastica was found to get rid of common VOCs; specifically formaldehyde from indoor air.

There are several varieties of Rubber Plant. Ficus elastica decora, the green-leaved one is the most common. Ficus elastica robusta (Bronze Rubber Plant) has even larger, wider leaves which are purplish-green. Ficus elastica Black Prince has near black foliage and more rounded leaves. There are also variegated types with yellow or cream splashed leaves like schrijevereana, tricolor, variegata among others.

How to Grow Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)

Light

Rubber Plant prefers bright light with some direct sunlight. An east- or west-facing window is ideal. However, the plants can adapt to lower light but they grow slower. The variegated Rubber Plants require bright light to maintain their variegation. Learn more on how to ensure your plant receives the correct light in this guide on understanding light for houseplants.

Water

Keep soil moist at all times for Rubber Plant but reduce watering in the cold months. Avoid waterlogging as it may lead to root-rot. Use tepid, chlorine-free water to avoid spots on the leaves. Learn more on how to water houseplants.

Temperature

Average warmth with a minumum of 120C is ideal for Rubber Plant. Protect it from draughts. Find out more on temperature for houseplants.

Humidity

Average room humidity is ideal for Rubber Plant. Occasionally mist the leaves. Clean the leaves by damp-wiping with a soft cloth to get rid of dust. If the air is too dry especially where temperature is high raise humidity by more frequent misting or set the pot on a wet pebble tray.

Feeding

Feed Rubber Plant monthly during the growing period with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer. Withhold feeding in the cold season as growth is minimal and feeding at this time can lead to fertilizer burn. Find out more on how to feed houseplants.

Repotting

Repot Rubber Plant at the beginning of the growing season only when it has become pot-bound. Avoid frequent repotting as Rubber Plant prefers to be pot-bound; repot only when the plant has outgrown its current pot, when roots begin to grow through the drainage holes. Use a pot 1 size larger and one that has drainage holes. The soil should be free-draining and rich in organic matter. Never allow the roots to sit in waterlogged soil as it may lead to root-rot. Use a heavy pot as the plant can become top-heavy. For large Rubber Plants which may be difficult to handle, annually replenish the top 2-4 in. of soil with fresh soil.

How to Prune Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)

Pruning Rubber Plant is easy. Remove dead and yellow leaves to maintain the plant neat and tidy. To encourage branching, pinch off the growing tips for a bushy and compact growth. When the plant has reached maximum height or it has become leggy, cut back the branches during the growing season to rejuvenate growth. The foliage emating from pruning can be used to propagate new plants. Learn more on how to prune houseplants.

How to Propagate Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)

Rubber Plant can be propagated during the growing season by air layering or by stem and stem-tip cuttings.

Propagation of Rubber Plant by Air Layering
Air layering consists of notching the stem of a healthy Rubber Plant, coating the notch with a rooting hormone and surrounding the area with damp moss. Cover the notch with a polythene film or clear plactic wrap and allow time for roots to develop. After the roots have formed, sever the stem just below the covered part. Remove the polythene and carefully pot the rooted plant. New shoots will sprout from the shortened stem of the old plant. Place the new plant in a cool shaded place and maintain the soil moist until the plant is well established.

Propagation of Rubber Plant from Stem and Stem-tip Cuttings
Take non-woody stem or stem-tip cuttings of about 6 in. long, strip off the lower lower leaves leaving 2-3 leaves on top, allow the sap to dry, dip the lower cut end of the cutting in a rooting hormone and insert it in moist rooting soil. To hasten rooting, create a mini-greenhouse by covering the set up with a polythene bag. Ensure the leaves do not touch the bag too much by propping it up with sticks. Place the set up in warm, well-lit spot and maintain the soil moist through out until new growth emerges. New growth indicates the cutting has rooted. In about 3-4 weeks, rooting will have taken place. Gradually remove the plastic bag cover to acclimatize the plant over a period of two weeks. In 4-6 months, there will be adequate root development and normal Rubber Plant care can begin.

Common Problems in Growing Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)

  • Sudden leaf drop
  • Waterlogging Rubber Plant will cause the sudden drop of the leaves. Other causes are low temperature and cold draughts, too little light and overfeeding.

  • Loss of the lowest leaf
  • This is a normal occurence in Rubber Plant. As the plant matures, a it losses the lower leaves leaving a bare stem with a crown of leaves at the top. Cut back the stem at the desired height to rejuvenate growth.

  • Yellowing of leaf edges
  • Underfeeding Rubber Plant is the reason for this. Feed more regularly with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer but only during the growing period.

  • Droopy leaves

    Droopy leaves in Rubber Plant is an indication of underwatering. Immediately water the plant and the leaves should perk up. Never allow the soil ball to dry out completely; maintain the soil moderately moist at all times.

  • Pests
  • Common pest in Rubber Plant are Aphids, Mealy Bugs, Scale Insects and Spider Mites. Isolate the affected plant to prevent spread to other plants. Keep the plant properly pruned at all times to reduce the hiding places for these pests.

  • Diseases
  • Rubber Plant is prone to Root-rot Disease which is enhanced by waterlogging. Ensure there is free drainage of both the soil and the pot and also reduce watering in the cold season.

Toxicity

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) is toxic to humans and pets. The plant produces a milky white latex which is an irritant to the eyes and the skin. If the plant is ingested it can cause irritation in the mouth, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and abdominal pains.

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