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Rubber plants are one of those common, easy-care plants that I just couldn’t seem to convince to grow.
I’m there now – both my regular burgundy and my variegated rubber plants have produced a plethora of gorgeous new growth this year, despite both having VERY rocky winters. So I feel like I’m qualified to talk on this subject.
(Tbh, bringing house plants back from the dead is definitely my area of expertise, as is, sadly, sending them to the brink of death).
By the way, by rubber plants, we’re encompassing Ficus elastic, Ficus robusta (which is very similar, but with bigger and glossier leaves) and Ficus Tineke, which is the variegated one.
In my experience, they all require pretty much the same care. The variegated forms tend to be more resistant to burning than other variegated plants, possibly due to their thick, succulent leaves.
Make sure you’re watering your rubber plant enough
Rubber plants are pretty forgiving of a bit of overwatering (though it will kill them eventually), but they’re REALLY forgiving of being underwatered.
This sounds great, BUT if you let them get too dehydrated, they’ll take longer to recover – if you wait long enough, they may never recover. Mine got to the point where the leaves were drooping, paper-thin, and actually dropping off.
If your rubber plant is losing leaves and you’re not sure if it’s due to under or over watering, checking the texture of the leaves should help you decide.
Overwatered leaves are squishy and often start to blacken at the tips.
Underwatered leaves feel like, er, all the water’s been sucked out of them.
I bottom water my rubber plants, simply because it’s convenient, and let them sit in the water for a good few hours.
My burgundy ficus is in a terracotta pot and desperately needs repotting (you can see her massive, weird root in this video, and no, I STILL haven’t repotted her) so she needs a thorough soak on a pretty much weekly basis.
Here’s a braggy photo of her new leaf:
Those Fuschia cataphylls are incredible.
Though the UK is currently having a heatwave, which obvs makes her dry up pretty quickly.
In winter, I tend to err on the side of caution. Make sure the soil is suuuper dry before watering. Don’t expect much new growth in the colder months, and if you get any, don’t be put off if it’s a bit smaller than usual. It’s perfectly normal.
…But don’t overwater your Ficus robusta
I know it sounds confusing, constantly worrying that you’re over/under watering, but once you get the hang of it, it’ll be fine.
A moisture metre is a godsend if you’re new to watering. Stick the pointy end in the soil and water whenever the metre reads ‘2’. Anything higher, leave it alone.
But as you get a bit more in tune with what your plant wants you should be able to tell when your rubber tree needs watering simply by picking up the pot.
The crucial thing here is to NOT put your plant in terracotta. Though they like it, it makes it waaaay harder to tell when to water.
Keep your Ficus in their nursery pot (the plastic pot they come in) as long as you possibly can. When the soil is full of water, it’ll be noticeably heavier than when it isn’t. When the pot is light, it’s time to water.
It sounds a bit out of reach for beginners, but I promise, one day you’ll pick up a pot and think ‘hey, this is lighter than usual’.
If you suspect you’ve been overwatering your plant, you’ll need to check the roots and dry out the soil. You can do this by removing the plant from the soil, and having a look at the roots.
Whilst you’re doing that you can dry out the soil using a hairdryer, radiator, whatever. Heck, you can spread it out on a dish towel and let it dry on the underfloor heating for all I care.
Add some drainage if you suspect the soil is too dense. Decent drainage materials gave two properties:
- Create air pockets in the soil
- Absorb water
It must have both, otherwise don’t bother. Orchid bark and perlite work well.
If the roots are brown and mushy, chop them off. If the rubber plant has barely any roots at all, I’d try rooting it in leca, just because I find it to be the quickest way to get plants to root (bar putting them in the aquarium, and I’d worry the bark would rot).
Give your rubber tree more light to encourage recovery
Increasing the light is the cheat code to helping the vast majority of house plants recover from whatever ailment they’re suffering from.
My rubber plant lives in a west-facing window and gets good bright, indirect light for most of the day. It could probably tolerate a bit more light, and could definitely tolerate a bit less, though they do appreciate at least SOME bright, indirect light to grow decent-sized leaves.
The reason that light is so good for helping revive plants is that it’s the best place for plants to get their energy. A plant with a lot of energy has the strength to either grow or fight off whatever is bugging it.
Make sure to keep your rubber plant’s leaves clean to help it recover
Rubber plant leaves are dust magnets. They’re big, wide, and generally grow parallel to the ground, so the dust lands on them and settles.
Now, I can tell you, from experience, that rubber plants aren’t THAT fussy about having dusty leaves, compared to, say, Monstera, which attract thrips with a single dust particle.
But having said that, keeping their leaves dust-free means that more light can get to the leaves, and the plant can photosynthesise more effectively.
I don’t recommend using any leaf shine products. When I dust my plants I either use a dry cloth (old t-shirts work well on leaves) directly on the leaf, or a spray a bit of neem oil/water mix on the leaves and then wipe off.
It just depends on how good of a plant caregiver I’m being that day.
How to revive a rubber plants that’s had a pest infestation
Rubber plants aren’t as prone to pests as other plants. Their thick, waxy leaves are too much hassle for all but the most ambitious thrips and spider mites.
You’re most likely to get scale insects, most commonly mealy bugs BUT I’ve not had either of those on either of my Ficus, so I think, at least for me, they’re pretty good at keeping themselves pest-free.
But if that ship has sailed and you’re left with a sad, pest-infested rubber plant, there are things you can do.
Firstly, you need to eradicate the pests. I like to go with this shower method, but you can add in a pesticide or horticultural oil if you’d like. Once the pests are gone, you can start with helping your rubber plant recover.
The first step is to check your plant’s position. Could she do with a little more light? How’s the humidity? Rubber plants aren’t that fussy about humidity, but making sure the room is at 40-60% humidity will really help.
If you think the position is ok, then you might want to have a look at her pot situation. Could she do with repotting? Or could you add some more nutrition to the soil?
I’d advise fertilising BUT if your rubber plant is in a really bad way, fertilising is as likely to hinder as is it is to help. Imagine if you’d been hit by a car and someone was like ‘have to something to eat!’. Nah mate, call an ambulance.
New soil with a natural fertiliser such as worm castings are a better way to go.
If you’re pretty sure the soil is fine, just leave it. It’s just worth a try if the plant hasn’t been repotted in a while, since the nutrients in the soil can (but not always) stimulate growth.
Then, I’m afraid, it’s just a case of being a good plant caregiver. Check the soil regularly and water when the soil is dry.
How to revive a rubber plant that’s been sunburned
Sunburn tends to affect the leaves rather than the roots, so there’s every chance that your plant will make a full recovery.
The soil provides a barrier to the heat and rays so the roots are protected BUT they will perish if they’re left to bake for too long.
Sunburned leaves are burned permanently, so chop them off if you don’t like the way they look. They ain’t coming back.
A sensible person would advise to OF COURSE move the plant. I mean, it’s being burned. But before you do so, consider where the plant lived before it got burned.
If you increased the light very suddenly, there’s every chance that the spot the plant is in is fine, it just wasn’t acclimatised properly.
In which case, just move your plant further away from the light and move it back slowly.
If you’re chaotic neutral like me, you can just wait for the plant to acclimatise where it is. Will all the leaves burn off? Yes. But unless you’re leaving the plant out in the direct afternoon sun, there’s every chance it’ll grow back bigger and better than before.*
*Reminder that I live in rainy England. Our sun may be a lot cooler than yours.
Rubber plants are one of those plants that WANT to live, but they require a little more effort to get to thrive. They’re easy to neglect because they always look totally fine, up until they’ve drained that last molecule of moisture out of their leaves and they flop like a hot rabbit.