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Rubber trees are one of the house plant OGs. They’ve been cultivated for a VERY long time because they’re useful for making rubber (rumour has it they were used to make bouncy balls in 1400BC) though I’m not entirely sure how long we’ve been keeping them inside because they look cool.
Rubber plants are fairly slow growing by nature, which is probably a good thing, because they are definitely a tree. I went to the Eden Project a while ago and they had some freaking MONSTERS. A person with half a brain would have taken a picture of it, but I was too hot, and my brain doesn’t work very well in the warm.
Is Ficus Elastica easy to care for?
YES. I actually struggled to convince mine to grow, but I’ve never thought it was gonna die. In my experience, Ficus elastica just kind of sit there. If you give them a bit of light and an occasional drink, they’re happy enough.
In terms of optimal care, they’re simple to care for, but not exactly easy. They’re fairly pest resistant, tolerant of incongruent watering (so if you neglect it for six months so try to make for it by watering it twice a week for the next three months and then repeat, it won’t hold that against you), and are fairly chill about fertilising (or lack thereof).
The key to rubber plants is good light, but they’re really, really slow to respond to a change in environment so you have to be suuuper patient with them.
Once they do start growing, I’ve found that they’re quite, er…not fast, because it takes them a while to push a leaf out, but they’re always doing something if you know what I mean. They’re slow growers, but not lazy growers.
How often should you water a Ficus elastica?
I see a lot of people advising that you keep the soil quite damp, and other people saying that you should let them get super dry.
I personally let them dry out quite a bit, but I think we can probably glean from the experiences of others that they’re not particularly fussy.
You may be able to *gasp* put your rubber plant on a schedule, so in summer you could water it every couple of weeks or every week, depending on how big it is, the type of soil it’s in, etc etc etc.
I’m not recommending that you put it on a watering schedule, because its usually a recipe for disaster BUT if you want to buy plants that could potentially adhere to a schedule, a rubber plant is probably a good shout. See also Monstera and dracaena – these plants can tolerate a bit of both under and overwatering without breaking a sweat.
Rubber plants have thick, waxy leaves, which usually indicates that they’re quite drought tolerant. The leaves aren’t succulent, they’re just…tough.
Thicker leaves is an indicator this plant is not going to be fussy about water quality. Mine almost always gets tap water (sometimes aquarium water, which started out life as tap water)
Should you mist Ficus elastica?
I’m against misting in general (read why here) BUT you can mist a rubber plant. In fact, I recommend it. A bit. I mean, I don’t mist mine, but it might be a good idea.
Because misting is quite a good way to keep the leaves clean and my GOD rubber plants get dusty. It’s bad enough that they have big, wide leaves that collect dust, but their leaves stick out horizonally – they basically catch every bit of dust going.
Misting regularly can help get rid of the dust buildup.
I wouldn’t normally recommend misting rather than wiping leaves, because standing water on leaves can lead to brown marks HOWEVER rubber plants have such thick, sturdy leaves that a bit of water is unlikely to damage them.
Do rubber trees need direct sunlight?
I don’t think rubber plants need direct sunlight, like Monstera deliciosa don’t need it, but they certainly grow a lot quicker if they have it. The leaves can burn if it’s gone from a dark spot into direct sunlight, but they tend to recover quickly. I’d gradually acclimatise just to be safe
Getting Ficus elastica into the ‘correct’ light is a bit of a pain because they seem to take an age to respond to their new environment.
With most plants, you can usually see a difference in growth in a couple of weeks if you adjust the light, but it can take literally months for Ficus elastica. I put mine in a west-facing window (I tried everywhere else) and it did NOTHING for over SIX MONTHS. And then it decided it was happy and hasn’t stopped growing since.
Again, the thick leaves indicate that rubber plants can take a lot of light, and I’ve never had an issue with sunburn, even in a west-facing window. And one of my rubber plants is variegated and she loves the light.
I’ve not tried them under my grow lights, but I’ll have to give it a go. Currently, my grow lights are acting as a bit of a hospital wing after a recent thrips outbreak, but it’ll be business as usual soon enough.
How to propagate Ficus elastica
You can propagate a Ficus elastica in soil or water. Take a cutting by cutting off the top growth. I take a cutting with about three leaves.
Remove the bottom leaf or two and put the cutting in water. I like to add some java moss to oxygenate the water, but you can just change the water every three days if you’d prefer.
If you’re a bit unsure about cutting the stem, you can propagate rubber plants from a leaf cutting by sticking the stem of the leaf in water or soil.
Can you air layer Ficus elastica?
Yes, but it’s more of a faff than air layering, say, Monstera deliciosa.
Rubber plants don’t produce aerial roots like Monstera, so you need access to the stem.
To do this, you need to cut a chunk out of the stem. I like to cut a triangular piece by making a diagonally upward incision into the stem (about a third of the way through) and then a downward one, so you’re taking out a piece shaped like this: <
I also like to notch at a node – remove a leaf and notch where the leaf was.
Then you stick a tooth pick in the hole to stop it from sealing up. I didn’t do this and the notch just closed up. I can’t even see a scar. It’s like it never happened.
You don’t need to do all the crap with sphagnum and cling film like you do with Monstera AND airlayering produces a whole new plant, not just roots!
Okay, not exactly a new plant, but a new growth point! Which you could technically snip off once it gets going and root it in water.
Do Rubber plants have aerial roots?
Rubber plants do grow aerial roots! I know I just said before that they didn’t, but they can, they just don’t.
Rubber plants grow aerial roots that then root in the ground and provide support for the tree. They’re incredibly strong, here’s a link to an article on making bridges from rubber plant aerial roots.
But before you start planning your own bridge-building business, it’s important to know that it’s INCREDIBLY unlikely that you’ll be able to grow a rubber plant indoors that’s big enough to warrant it growing aerial roots.
Do rubber plants purify the air?
No, house plants don’t purify the air in any significant way. Rubber plants DO collect a tonne of dust though, so does that count??
Are Ficus elastica toxic to cats/dogs/kids/bunnies?
Yes! Ficus contain an enzyme call ficin (it’s latex, I think) which is toxic if ingested or gets on the skin. It’s not a case of instant death if consumed, but if a pet gets into a rubber plant it’s best to get them to the vet.
I’m guessing that you should be extra careful around rubber plants if you have a latex allergy. The sap is a skin irritant so wear glove when notching.
Do Ficus elastica bloom?
They do, but you are very, very unlikepy to get your Ficus to bloom indoors. The flowers are quite pretty – big, blousey and white.
The cataphyll of a rubber plant, as pictured right at the top of the article, is a very vibrant red/pink colour, which one might think is going to open to revieal a flower, but alas, it’s just the casing from a new leaf.
Why does my Ficus elastica have brown edges?
Ficus elastic don’t usually have issues with their leaves – at least, mine doesn’t and my plant care stlye is definitely a bit…neglecty.
Buuut they can have problems, like any plants. If you get brown marks on their leaves it could be any number of things (sorry):
- Sunburn – especially on variegated varieties
- Pests – luckily pests don’t typically like rubber plants. The only ones you’ll have trouble shifting are mealies
- It’s gotten cold
- It’s so dry it’s dying
- Physical damage
I have an article here on reviving a dying rubber plant, so check that out if yours a looking a bit worse for wear.
Can a rubber plant be a bonsai?
No, not really. If you’re an expert bonsai-er you perhaps could have a go, but Bonsai is more suited for plants that grow quickly and small leaves. You’d also be forever trying to notch it to get it to grow into a nice shape, and notching would alwasy be risky on skinny stems.
How much do rubber plants cost?
Rubber plants are fairly common so small ones are pretty cheap (I got my Tineke for £2.99) BUT since they grow slowly the large specimens are quite expensive.
A big one might set you back upwards of £100. There are also some rarer types, like…that variegated one that I can’t remember the name of that’s like (Moonshine!), £65 for a little one.
How big do rubber plants get?
Big. Really freaking big. They get as big as a tree. But like, a really big tree. A tree that would make you stop in the rainforest and say ‘christ, that’s a big tree’.
Can I put a rubber plant in the bathroom?
I think a rubber tree would do ok in the bathroom if you make sure that it gets enough light (so near either a window or agrow light).
The issue with bathrooms is that they’re usually pretty cold. I don’t keep plants in mine in winter. If you live somewhere warm then that won’t be an issue, but if you have cold winters, you’ll need another spot for your rubber plant in the colder months.
I don’t keep a rubber plant in my bathroom simply because it wouldn’t appreciate the conditions as much as some of my other plants. It’s perfectly happy chilling in my bedroom and putting it in the bathroom wouldn’t have that much of an impact on it.
My bathroom is currently filled with the victims of the thrips outbreak, so he’s better off staying where he is.
Why does my Ficus elastica have curling leaves?
Curling leaves is one of those signs that your plant is unhappy but it’s not prepared to disclose why it’s not happy. it cold be a sign that its:
- Not in high enough humidity
- Has pests
- Is getting too much light or
- Not getting enough light
I’m sorry, I didn’t make the rule that all plants have a couple of symptoms of five thousand problems.
Just be aware that new growth on a rubber plant is naturally curled, and will be more likely to curl until it’s fully hardened off. Don’t go overboard trying to diagnose an problem when it mght just be that your new leaf hasn’t finished forming yet.
How many types of Ficus elastica are there?
I honestly don’t know (aren’t you glad you found this article?). I’ve read up on the subject and there seems to be about a dozen, but loads of them are so similar they may as well be the same type.
There’s a green one, a burgundy one, and a couple variegated ones. Probably not enough to start a collection – at least not a very big one.
Does Ficus elastica need fertiliser?
This is an almost impossible question to answer, because if you google it, everyone has a different idea.
If you take good care of your rubber plant, you’ll find that you have to repot it so often that you don’t actually NEED to add additional fertiliser, but I like to feed mine every six weeks, alongside every other plant I own. Is it best practice? Probably not, but they’re both growing really well.
When to repot, and what type of soil/pot is best for rubber plants?
The roots of rubber plants seem to grow very quickly, so I probably repot mine every year, sometimes multiple times.
You can trim the roots if you’d prefer. It’s not ideal, bit neither is having a literal tree in your house. Seriously, they rubber plants seem to outgrow their new pot a week or two after you repot them. What’s their deal?
In terms of soil and pot, I prefer to tailor those to your preference, not the plants.
- If you water often, use a terracotta pot or a fast draining soil – both if your plants are accustomed to root rot.
- If you’re more neglecty, go for a plastic pot and a nice airy soil.
- If you’re seriously neglectly, use unamended store-bought house plant mix.
It’s not ideal but it’ll hopefully hold enough moisture between infrequent waterings to keep your rubber plant alive.
Aaaand we’re at the end. Leave any questions/tips in the comments, and good luck with your Ficus elastica!