Horticulture Magazine

Ficus Elastica ‘Rubber Plant’ Care & Growing Tips

green ficus houseplant

Ficus Overview

Official Plant NameFicus Elastica
Common Name(s)Rubber Tree, Rubber Plant, India Rubber Plant
Plant TypeHouseplant / Tree
Native AreaEast Himalaya to North Malaysia
Hardiness RatingH1B
ToxicityNone
FoliageEvergreen
FlowersInconspicuous
When To Sow (Indoors)Year-Round
Flowering MonthsMay, June
When To PruneFebruary, March
Sunlight

Preferred
Full Sun

Exposure
Sheltered

Size

Height
2.5 – 4M

Spread
1 – 1.5M

Bloom Time
Summer

Soil

Preferred
Most Soil Types

Moisture
Moist but well drained

pH
Any

If you or your friends keep houseplants, it’s very likely that you’ve seen at least one ficus elastica in your life.

This popular plant is ideal for growing at home thanks to its distinct and attractive aesthetic, its resistance to pests, and its generally low maintenance requirements.

ficus elastica in a terracotta plant pot
Popular, and with good reason

Whether you’re researching easy to grow houseplants, or planning to propagate a healthy rubber plant already growing in your home, this guide is for you. We’ve rounded up a wealth of rubber plant care and growing tips to answer any questions you may have, and point you in the right direction to achieve your houseplant goals.

Background

Firstly though, a proper introduction. Ficus elastica is the botanical name for a plant more commonly known as rubber plant, rubber tree, Assam rubber, India rubber fig, and many other names.

Confusingly, another plant called hevea Brasiliensis also goes by the names ‘rubber tree’ and ‘rubber plant’. This species is the primary source of natural rubber, and has therefore played a far greater role in world history than the humble houseplant we’re writing about today.

rubber being drained from Hevea Brasiliensis
Hevea Brasiliensis is the source of rubber, not ficus elastica

If your rubber plant is damaged it may leak a milky white liquid called latex, however this version is far less viable commercially than that sourced from Hevea Brasiliensis. So if you were planning to supplement your houseplant habit with a lucrative sideline in rubber manufacture, we regret to inform you that you’re out of luck.

Why choose a ficus plant?

Ficus elastica ticks many of the boxes that houseplant enthusiasts look for:

  • It’s pretty to look at, boasting thick rubbery leaves that hold a lot of colour.
  • There are a variety of shades and colours available, from greens through to burgundies.
  • It’s not too big. While the plant can grow over 20 metres tall in its natural habitat, a houseplant will clock in around a metre.
  • It’s easy to look after, requiring no special treatment and fairly infrequent watering.
  • It’s unlikely to attract pests, meaning there’s less scope for things to go wrong.
  • It’s easy to clean..! Not something we always consider with plants, we’ll be honest, but if yours are liable to get dusty, ficus elastica’s strong leaves lend themselves well to a gentle rubdown.

With a list like that it’s easy to see why rubber plants are high up the shopping list for anyone looking to bring a little green to your home. Easy enough to appeal to beginners, but versatile and attractive enough to remain appealing to even the most seasoned experts.

How to grow and care for a rubber plant

Buying a mature rubber plant is probably the most popular way of incorporating one into your squadron of houseplants, and they’re fairly cheap to buy from most gardening shops.

If you’re feeling adventurous, though, they’re not too challenging to grow from seeds or cuttings.

Growing from seed

Unlike many seeds, you don’t need to bury a rubber plant seed in soil to get it growing. Instead, leave it in a tray or container in indirect sunlight, and spritz it a few times a day to keep it moist. You can place a light cloth over the seed whilst you spritz it to ensure better coverage.

Once the seed has sprouted, usually after a week or so, you can relocate it to a pot. Aim for loam-based compost, and continue to keep the seedling in indirect light while it builds strength.

Be gentle when moving the seedling as it will be very delicate.

Growing from a cutting

Taking a cutting from a mature plant is a great way to get a new rubber plant. You’re looking to cut about 10cm of stem from the mother plant; taking care to make sure there are 2 or 3 leaf nodes on the stem (a node is just the fancy word for the bit where the leaf joins the stem).

Then, you need to plant the stem in soil mixed with rooting medium. Plant up to half of the stem below the soil, with all the leaves above the surface. Then water the soil, cover the plant with plastic, and leave it to grow.

After a couple of weeks the stem will have rooted beneath the soil. When the roots are between 3 and 5 centimetres long, it’s safe to relocate the plant to a bigger pot. Again, be gentle!

Fertilising

For optimal condition, give your rubber plant a dose of liquid fertiliser every couple of weeks during the spring and summer months. Check the label of the fertiliser you use to ensure the correct dilution, as you don’t want to overfeed your plant.

Watering

One of the most common causes of rubber plant problems is over-watering, so read this section carefully.

plastic watering can pouring water on a ficus
“I tell them every time; don’t over-water your rubber plant!”

Rubber plants only need watering when the soil begins to feel dry. Poke a finger an inch or so into the soil and water when things are starting to feel dry. Don’t wait until it’s bone dry, and don’t water when the soil is clearly moist, either.

You should only keep rubber plants in pots with sufficient drainage. This gives water ample opportunity to be absorbed into the plant, while allowing excess water to drain out.

Pruning

As we mentioned earlier, in the wild, rubber plants can grow to enormous heights exceeding 20 or 30 metres. Unless you live in an equally enormous house, it’s unlikely you’ll want your plant to reach full height.

Thankfully, pruning rubber plants is easy. Simply trim the top off of your plant when it reaches the desired height.

You can also tidy up leaves further down the plant, cutting them back to keep things looking orderly.

Ideally you’d do this in the spring and summer months, but if you have a sudden desire to prune in the other seasons, your plant will be able to recover.

Propagating

Once your plant is mature, you can take cuttings. As we’ve outlined earlier, growing another plant from a cutting is fairly easy, and as a result these make great gifts to friends and family looking to expand their houseplant arsenal.

Or, if you’ve fallen in love with rubber plants, you can just grow another one (or ten) for your own home.

This is one of our favourite things about houseplants: Being able to spread the love. Why not keep a tally somewhere of how many babies your mummy rubber plant has had? You’ll enjoy a warm glow of accomplishment as clones of your favoured plant start growing in the houses of everyone you know.

Troubleshooting common issues

In the watering section we mentioned that over-watering is one of the most common issues. Here’s what else to look for in a rubber plant –

Losing leaves

Wilting, damaged, and dying leaves are the main symptom of over-watering. If you’re seeing this, water less frequently, remind yourself when to water, and consider repotting your plant into dryer soil.

Pests

When grown under glass, rubber plants are prone to mites, scale bugs, mealy bugs, and other pests. These critters cause various mayhem to plants, often involving feeding on the sap inside their leaves. With a pest infestation it’s likely you’ll be able to see eggs, excrement, or the bugs themselves with the naked eye.

The first step is to remove them by hand and gently clean the leaf. Then give it a few days and see if the problematic visitors return.

If so, you’ll want to move on to pesticides, choosing a product that discourages ongoing visits whilst avoiding damage to your plant. There are a variety of products available, ranging in strength and price.

Mr Rubber Man

Now you’re up to speed on rubber plant care and maintenance tips, you can rest assured that your ficus elastica will have everything it needs to thrive in your home. A well-watered, properly nourished rubber plant will stay strong for years to come, and will be healthy enough to propagate many times.

There’s a reason why rubber plants are an enduring favourite among houseplant amateurs and enthusiasts alike. It’s rare to find a plant with such perfectly balanced characteristics. Easy to care for, attractive, hardy, and fairly resilient to common pests: What more do you need?

So whether you’re already a member of the rubber plant fan club, or a curious onlooker wondering whether to bite the bullet and buy one, we hope this guide has been of use.

Happy growing!

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