If you are looking for a new indoor plant to upgrade your living space, then the rubber tree is one of the best options to consider. We’ve prepared this beginner’s guide which will give you everything you need to know about how to take care of these plants so that they look great and last a long time.
Are rubber trees good indoor plants? Rubber trees (ficus elastica) are one of the best indoor plants. These plants are easy to take care of, can be kept small or grown to a large height, and have large, glossy green leaves. Rubber trees are perfect as extra decor or as a beautiful plant that reaches the ceiling.
Below, we are first going to describe rubber trees in more detail. Next, we will provide a comprehensive guide for exactly how to take care of these plants. Finally, we will end with some additional important information worth considering.
Rubber Tree Plants: Important Details
Rubber trees first became popular in Malaysia and India as they were used to produce rubber. While the plants themselves are not made of rubber, when cut, they release a thick, white sap that oozes from the leaves and stems. This is what is used to produce rubber. The sap is an irritant and should never be ingested. If you do come in contact with it, thoroughly wash it off as soon as possible.
Rubber Tree Aesthetics
Rubber trees are known for their thick, large, and glossy oval-shaped leaves that range in size anywhere from 5” to 12” long. The color of these leaves is most often dark, rich green and can be marked with deep maroon, white, pink, or yellow. These leaves should be kept a distance away from other objects since once they are damaged, they need to be cut off.
Depending on how the plant is pruned, it can appear either very clean with each leaf separated from the others, or it can appear more natural with more leaves clumped together. Unless the tree is heavily pruned, the stem is usually not going to be visible, since it is fairly thin.
Overall, this plant is stylish, and as long as it is cared for properly, it can look good in almost any place of residency.
Rubber Tree Sizing
Regarding sizing, rubber tree plants naturally tend to grow tall. In nature, these trees can grow up to 80’ tall. The good news is, however, that they are versatile and can be kept tall and skinny or small and wide if you want. If you want to keep your rubber tree small, simply grow it in a small pot (anywhere from 6” to 10”) and cut off the top of the plant once it reaches your desired height. Keep in mind that once you cut off the top, it will start branching outwards. This can help you create a more wide look if that is your goal.
Otherwise, if you want to let your rubber tree grow out naturally to a medium to tall height, placing it in a standard medium to large size pot and caring for it properly will lead to it eventually hitting the ceiling. To restrict the size of the plant, we would recommend pruning it.
Due to this versatility, the size of a rubber tree plant is ultimately whichever size you decide to make it. This is a good thing since you don’t have to deal with having a plant that you love that is either too small or too tall for your space.
Rubber Tree Species
A cool feature of rubber trees is that there are so many different species. This means you have the opportunity to select the perfect style to suit your space. The most common name for this plant is Ficus elastica, however more modern cultivations and similar varieties such as Ficus robusta (a plant considered to be more robust than ficus elastica) exist as well.
There are even more specific versions as well:
- The Ficus Decora is a super small and compact rubber tree
- The Black Prince is a rubber tree with dark green leaves
- The Ficus Burgundy has dark red leaves
- The ficus tricolor has gray and green leaves with splashes of cream and pink
Variegated rubber plant types are also some to look out for. These have more strict light requirements; to look great, you must provide variegated rubber trees with consistent bright light. If done, these are some of the most beautiful rubber tree options. Some examples of these include:
- The Ficus Ruby, which has leaves with purple and pink flushes
- The Doescheri which has yellow splashes on leaves with simple shades of green
- Rhe Ficus Tineke which is a more compact version of the Doescheri
How Fast Do Rubber Trees Grow?
Rubber trees grow fast when growing in ideal conditions. These plants can increase their height by 24 inches or more every growing season. This means that the plant will reach its full size in only 13 years.
In nature, these plants can grow up to 80’ tall. When kept indoors, rubber tree plants will usually grow between 2 to 10 feet tall. This means a plant that starts at 12 inches tall will reach 9 feet tall (potentially hit your ceiling) in about four years.
You could speed up the growth of your rubber plant by placing it outside during the summer. This will cause a bunch of new leaves to grow. When doing this, make sure there is not too much sun exposure, which can damage the plant. Summers, where it is often wet or cool, can also lead to disease and the plant becoming overwatered, so you might have to bring the plant inside if this is the case.
Be sure to always monitor the growth of your rubber tree plant. Since this plant tends to grow tall or wide in certain directions, you might find yourself pruning the plant often to keep it at your desired size and shape. This will mainly only apply during the growing season of spring and summer, since rubber plants that are pot bound do not grow during the winter.
Rubber Tree Plants: Care and Maintenance
Now that you know some important details about rubber trees let’s dive into everything you need to know about caring for and maintaining these plants. By following the advice provided below, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of having a beautiful indoor plant and avoid the headaches of dealing with a dying plant.
Rubber plants grow best when exposed to a lot of bright light, but not direct sunlight. The best spot to place a rubber plant would be a spot where you can block out direct sunlight with sheer curtains, or somewhere well-lit with indirect sunlight. The idea is to place the plant somewhere with a lot of light but where it will not get very hot to prevent it from burning.
These plants will have trouble growing in low-light settings. You can tell if your plant needs more light if its leaves lose some luster and sheen, it becomes lanky, leggy, and spindly, and if some of the leaves on the bottom of the plant fall off. If your living space does not get enough natural light necessary for the plant to grow, consider investing in an artificial grow light.
Rubber plants require different amounts of watering depending on the season. In the main growing season of summer, this plant must be kept moist. The best way to do this is to wipe the leaves with a damp cloth, mist them, or spritz it with water. Depending on how much sunlight the plant gets, you might have to water the plant more or less frequently – but aim for about once per week.
During the dormant winter season, you only need to water your plant 2-3 times per month. You’ll be able to tell if it needs more water depending on if you see droopy leaves, and you’ll know if it’s over-watered if the leaves turn yellow or brown. If the air in the space where you keep the plant is dry, then you should mist the plant more frequently, including during the winter season.
For watering, best practice would be to water it, then let the top 25% of the soil including the surface fully dry out before adding water again. These plants should never sit in water, so if there is still water in the drip tray after about 30 minutes, pour it all out. In the wintertime, rather than periodically soaking the soil, simply keep it moist.
When misting or watering the plant, it is recommended to use lukewarm water. Best practice would be to allow cold tap water to stand until it reaches room temperature so that the chlorine inside the water can evaporate, reducing shock caused to the roots of the plant.
Since rubber plants should never sit in water for extended periods, a well-draining and well-aerated soil are important. Something like a 1 part peat, 1 part coarse sand or perlite, and 1 part pine bark would be optimal. While the exact kind of soil you use isn’t the most important factor, look for one with high-quality ingredients that retain moisture but still drain quickly.
Rubber tree plants do not require much fertilization, but should still be fertilized during the growing season. You should feed the plant about once per month with balanced plant food, preferably diluted to about ½ its recommended strength.
To produce the massive leaves rubber tree plants are known for, a weak balanced feed every two weeks or so during the spring and summer is best.
Make sure not to fertilize the plant during the winter, or if it’s been recently repotted for about 3-6 months. Also, if your plant is not producing any new leaves, do not feed it at all.
Rubber tree plants can grow in pretty much any size pot but prefer being root-bound in smaller pots. Using a smaller pot will be a way to keep the size of the plant constrained, so you might need a medium-sized pot depending on how big you want the plant to get – rubber plants don’t grow well in large pots. Whichever pot you decide to use, make sure it has drip holes in the bottom.
Rubber plants thrive in a broad range of temperatures; anywhere from 10°C (50°F) to 29°C (85°F). Anything hotter than this will cause the leaves to lose their inflated appearance. This plant will survive in temperatures lower than this, but you have to make sure not to overwater at this temperature or else you will kill the plant.
Generally, the optimal temperature for a rubber plant Indoors would be somewhere from 21.1C° to 26.7°C (70°F-80°F) during the day and around 18.3°C (65°F) during the night. Be sure to keep the plant away from air conditioners, fireplaces, cold drafts, and heaters.
If you want your rubber plants to grow, repotting them in a pot that is about an inch larger in diameter than the size of your previous pot is the way to go.
If your rubber tree plant is growing and getting taller fast, you might have to report more often – up to every 2 years – depending on the size of the pot it’s in at the time. Make sure the pot you replant your rubber tree in isn’t too big, but make sure there is enough space for the roots to grow and spread.
While one rubber tree plant is usually more than enough for most living spaces, sometimes you might want to try growing a second. There are two main methods to follow to get this done.
Propagating a rubber plant using this method involves the following:
- Cut off a branch of your plant that is about 6 inches long with two sets of leaves.
- Next, remove the bottom set of leaves from this branch and dip the branch in rooting hormone.
- After this, place the cutting in moist, well-draining potting soil.
- Cover the branch with clear plastic or a jar, but make sure no glass or plastic comes in contact with the intact leaves. (Cut the leaves in half if needed, discarding the half not attached to the stem).
- Place this newly-planted cutting in a warm place lit only by indirect light. Within two to three weeks, you should notice roots developing and can then remove the covering.
The second method for propagating a rubber tree plant is called air layering. With this method, we’re going to leave the cutting on our rubber tree while it is rooting before planting it.
- For this method, first, choose a stem that will become your new plant. This stem should be about 12 inches long.
- Next, remove all of the leaves near the spot where you will root the stem.
- Take a sharp knife and cut off a 1-inch wide strip of bark wrapping around the stem.
- Take this “ring” and remove all of the soft tissue from it, leaving the hard center intact.
- After this, soak this ring in rooting hormone and cover it with damp sphagnum moss.
- Secure this moss and retain moisture with plastic covering.
- In about two to three weeks, you will notice roots developing on the stem of the rubber tree. At this point, you can cut off the rooted stem from the mother tree and replant it in a new pot.
Other than removing dead and dying leaves, rubber trees do not require much pruning. Something important to remember, however, is that you should never cut off the top of your plant until it reaches your desired height. As soon as you cut off the top, the plant will start to branch out and grow sideways, which can then be pruned to your desired shape. When pruning, use a clean, sharp pruner and make clean cuts directly above growth nodes.
Are Rubber Trees Poisonous?
While rubber trees themselves are not poisonous, the white sap that gets released from its leaves and stem is. While this sap is not fatal, it should not be ingested, and if it is, medical attention might be required.
The best cure is prevention, so if you have small kids or pets that might be at risk of coming in contact with the tree’s sap, the best thing to do would be to prevent them from having access to it.
The main pests to be on the lookout for with rubber tree plants are aphids, spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects. These pests pierce the tissue of the plant and feed on the inner cell sap, as well as remove chlorophyll from the leaves.
While these pests aren’t usually a big problem, they should still be managed to prevent unchecked feeding that can cause the leaves to start dropping. The best approach would be to add some horticultural soaps or liquid insecticides to the soil, following the directions on their labels.