The mighty rubber tree has been a favorite houseplant since the Victorian era. It's hardy, easy to care for, and actually removes toxins from the air in your home!
In this guide, we'll take a look at exactly how to care for your own rubber tree plant
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Rubber Tree Plant Overview
- Common Name: Rubber tree, rubber tree plant, rubber plant
- Latin Name: Ficus elastica
- Family: Moraceae
- Plant Type: Tree
- Origin: India and Malaya
- Temperature: 60-85°F (15-28°C)
- Humidity: Medium
- Height: 6-10'
- Color: Green
- Insects and Diseases: Mites, scales, aphids, whitefly, root rot
In its native environment, it's normal for a rubber plant to grow to over 100' tall. Don't worry though — as a houseplant, rubber plants usually get to around 8-10'. With careful pruning, you can shape your rubber tree to be exactly as tall as you want.
Its sap is used to produce rubber, hence the name. The plants live for hundreds of years, but take 7 years to be harvested for the first time. After those 7 years, it will produce sap for rubber for about 30 years or so.
While it's still used for rubber production today, indoor gardeners grow it for two reasons:
- It's a beautiful and hardy houseplant
- It's been proven to remove formaldehyde from the air
Planting & Potting Your Rubber Plant
Rubber trees are finicky when it comes to change, so be sure to pick a spot to place it and don't move it. This is especially true when it comes to fluctuations in temperature or air flow.
Rubber Tree Plant Care
Rubber trees do not require much light, but flourish in bright, indirect light. Many people put their rubber trees near a window where the light is filtered through a pair of sheer curtains.
If the plant gets less light while leaves are growing, the leaves will actually be larger! Fun fact.
While your rubber tree is in its growing season, you keep the soil moist. Water it deep. During the dormant season, keep the soil drier...but not too dry. It is possible to underwater it.
Be sure to clean the leaves of your ficus elastica so it can breathe easier, but don't use any kind of leaf shine on it. Be sure to mist them as well for pest prevention.
The container for your rubber tree should be large enough to grow a 4-foot tall tree. Make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom, otherwise you risk root rot.
Place a layer of small 1-inch rocks in the bottom to aid in drainage. Add equal parts of peat moss, sand, and garden loam. This will avoid the wet, soggy conditions that rubber trees despise. The soil will drain quickly enough for the rubber tree to feel right at home.
Fertilize your rubber tree during the spring and early summer, but not when it is dormant in the winter. Half-strength houseplant fertilizer will do just fine.
Cut below the thinner parts, just above the thick part of the branches. Cut right above leaf nodes. Try to prune the over all size of the plant. Everywhere you prune, new branches will spring up. Think of it as giving your Rubber Tree a haircut. Always keep one set of leaves, at least, so it can continue to make food for itself and re-grow.
The best approach to propagating a rubber tree is air layering. It is straight forward and always works well. For a complete guide, check out this video or follow the steps below:
- Find a healthy, leafing part of a branch.
- Make a cut on the stem below that.
- Cut half way into the stem.
- Then use a toothpick soaked in root hormone solution to spear the cut sideways and hold it open.
- Wrap the cut in thoroughly wet sphagnum peat moss.
- Wrap the peat in plastic, but loosely. Make it only tight enough to keep the peat on the cut.
- Watch for a few weeks and you will have roots growing in the moss.
- Finally, cut off that stem below these roots.
- Plant this in a pot and you have your new tree.
Pests and Diseases
Overall, ficus elastica is a hardy plant that can tolerate most growing conditions. Like many houseplants, it's still susceptible to a few different types of pests and diseases. Most are easily preventable with a bit of care, though.
Aphids, scale insects, and mealy bugs — the standard houseplant pests — can also affect your ficus elastica. In most cases, the best approach is to use a horticultural soap or organic liquid insecticide of some kind to get rid of most (if not all) of these pests.
If you catch any of them early, chances are you can simply wipe them off before they really begin to infest your rubber plant.
Rubber tree houseplants are resistant to most known diseases. In fact, most of the diseases they're susceptible to are brought about due to overwatering and creating the perfect environment for pathogens like Phytophthora.
To avoid most diseases, simply avoid overwatering your rubber plant. The only other affliction they suffer from are nematodes, to which there is no good control. It's best to just get rid of your rubber plant and buy a new one.
FAQs and Problems
Q. How can I prevent thrips or mites from affecting my rubber plant?
A. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and in this case it holds true. If you mist the leaves of your rubber tree plant to keep them somewhat moist, you will prevent most mites or thrips from settling in.
Q. My rubber plant is dropping a lot of leaves. They're dropping and turning yellow. What should I do?
A. The most likely problem is over watering. If you have a pot without drainage holes, you'll need to water much less often, otherwise the water will pool and rot your roots. Either repot to a pot with holes, or simply water less often.
If you've determined you have root rot, you should:
- Remove the plant from its pot
- Knock off the soil
- Trim off the damaged parts of the roots and re-pot.
If the leaves droop without falling off, you know you are underwatering your rubber tree. Water more often until the leaves perk up again.
If any leaves fall off, you can make a nick (not deep) with a clean knife just above the node and the new leaf will grow back faster. However, be aware that the leaves at the bottom fall off naturally. Don't freak out!
Q. My rubber plant has leaf spots. Am I overwatering, or what is causing these?
A. Keep the plant right up in front of the south facing window.How do you check for moisture in the soil? Watering weekly could be too much?what type of soil is it in? Did you pot up after you bought it?
Q. The leaves of my rubber plant are drooping downward, but I don't think I'm doing anything wrong. What gives?
A. Over watering or under watering is the most likely cause here.
The rubber tree is quite sensitive to light and water, so getting these right is a must for health, but with a bit of care, you will have a beautiful specimen in your house.