Ficus elastica, also known as the rubber plant, is an unusual-looking varietal native to the tropics of Southeast Asia. This long-lived plant boasts oversized, oval-shaped leaves with a rich emerald hue and can grow quickly, reaching up to 100 feet tall in its natural habitat. It's not the easiest plant for beginners because it's not very forgiving if it doesn't get the care it needs. However, it's more often grown indoors as a houseplant, where it can be planted and cared for year-round, and its size is kept more manageable.
When it comes to caring for a rubber plant, care is straightforward. It needs adequate light, moisture, and warmth (it is a tropical plant). Give it a southern or eastern exposure, but keep it several feet away from the windows, and you'll be rewarded with an exotic addition to your indoor plant collection.
|Botanical Name||Ficus elastica|
|Common Name||Rubber plant, rubber tree|
|Plant Type||Evergreen tree|
|Mature Size||50–100 ft. tall (outdoors), 50–100 ft. wide (outdoors)|
|Sun Exposure||Partial shade|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Bloom Time||Rarely blooms|
|Flower Color||Rarely blooms|
|Hardiness Zone||10–12 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to dogs and cats|
Watch Now: How to Grow a Rubber Plant (Ficus Elastica) Indoors
Can You Grow Rubber Tree Inside?
While rubber plants are a pretty hardy varietal, they tend to be more challenging to care for and have a few specific care requirements to thrive. They need the right balance in their environment with lots of light, moist (but not soggy) soil, and enough fertilizer to keep it healthy. Indoors it can grow about 10 feet tall, although outside, it can grow up to 100 feet in its natural habitat.
The most common varieties for growing indoors include Ficus elastica 'Tineke', Ficus elastica 'Burgundy', Ficus elastica 'Ruby', and Ficus elastica 'Robusta'. They all grow well indoors when given the right conditions, such as ample sunlight, but not bright, direct sunlight that can easily scorch its leaves.
How to Grow Rubber Tree Indoors
The rubber plant has waxy-looking leaves that start with a pink-coral hue, eventually deepening to dark rich green. As the rubber plant grows, it will begin to droop, so you must help support its leaves by using a long wooden dowel (or bamboo stalk) to help keep them upright.
Like most plants in their genus, rubber plants love lots of bright, diffused light. They can tolerate soft morning sunlight but should be moved out of the line of harsh direct rays in the afternoon as they can singe the leaves. Plants that do not receive sufficient light will become leggy, lose their lower leaves, and their leaf color will become dull instead of glossy and vibrant.
Water your rubber plant frequently—they like to be kept steadily moist but not soaked. Rubber plants also are vulnerable to excessive dryness and don't tolerate drought well. To check if its time for another watering, check the moisture levels in the first few inches of soil—if they're dry and crumbly, it's time to water your plant again.
Temperature and Humidity
Like other types of ficus trees, these plants are vulnerable to cool drafts. Unhealthy plants will become leggy, with stretching internodes, and the leaves might first turn yellow and then brown before dropping off entirely. Generally, rubber trees are best kept in moderate to warm temperatures between 60 degrees Fahrenheit and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with moderate humidity as well. If your home tends to be dry, invest in a space humidifier to increase the levels.
Feed the plant a weak liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season. They are relatively heavy feeders when healthy. Some experts recommend only lightly fertilizing indoor plants to prevent stretching and plants becoming root-bound because they grow too fast.
Potting Soil and Drainage
When it comes to their soil composition, rubber plants aren't picky. Typically, any good, fast-draining potting soil will likely do—many indoor gardeners opt for a cactus mix. In addition, rubber plants prefer an acidic soil mixture. Like fiddle leaf fig trees (which many believe they resemble), they also "eat" their soil and will eventually have their roots exposed. When this happens, simply top your pot with additional soil and it will not be an issue.
Propagating Rubber Plant
Rubber plants can be propagated from leaf-tip cuttings, but it is not particularly straight-forward and is probably easier to just buy a potted plant. If you take cuttings, use a rooting hormone and be vigilant about high humidity and plenty of warmth. Do not be discouraged if they do not propagate easily. It is an inexact science that takes some time.
Repotting Rubber Plant
Rubber plants grow fairly quickly under the right conditions and will need to be repotted every year until the plant reaches the height you want. Larger plants can be difficult to repot, so if you can't move the container, scrape off a few inches of potting media and replace it with new potting soil.
Common Pests and Diseases
Rubber plants are vulnerable to a variety of pests that typically infest indoor houseplants, including aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites, scale, and thrips. If possible, identify the infestation as early as possible and treat it with the least invasive option, like neem oil.
Ficus elastica. Missouri Botanical Garden.