A Comprehensive Guide to Caring for Rubber Plants

Rubber Plant Care Guide

Rubber plants, often overlooked in the world of tropical plants, deserve more recognition. They are not only affordable and readily available but also hardy and capable of growing into towering 6-foot trees. With beautiful variegated varieties to choose from, rubber plants have a lot to offer. In this guide, we will explore the different types of rubber plants and provide valuable tips on how to care for them.

Types of Rubber Plants

Non-Variegated Rubber Plants

  • Ficus elastica ‘Decora’: This variety features typical shiny, green leaves.
  • Ficus elastica ‘Robusta’: Similar to ‘Decora,’ but with larger leaves.
  • Ficus elastica ‘Burgundy’: Sporting gorgeous, almost black leaves and stems.

Variegated Rubber Plants

  • Ficus elastica ‘Tineke’: Exhibiting varying shades of green, yellow, and cream.
  • Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’: Showcasing beautiful pink variegation.
  • Ficus elastica ‘Doescheri’: Boasting slightly narrower leaves.

PART 1: How to Take Care of Rubber Plants

Regardless of the variety, caring for rubber plants follows similar guidelines. The only difference lies in the light requirements, as variegated plants need more sunlight than non-variegated ones.

Rubber plants belong to the Moraceae family, which includes figs and mulberries. It’s important to note that these plants are toxic, as they contain a white latex-like liquid that is harmful to humans and animals. Always wear gloves when handling or pruning them.

To care for your rubber plant, ensure it receives plenty of direct light and avoid overwatering. Now, let’s dive into the details.

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Rubber Plants Most Important Tips

How to Water Rubber Plants

Rubber plants require sufficient drying out between waterings. To determine if it’s time to water, check the moisture in the potting mix by using your finger. For small four-inch pots, let the top 1/2 inch of the soil dry out before thoroughly watering it again. For larger pots (around 15 inches), allow the top quarter of the soil (2-3 inches) to dry out before watering.

Always water your rubber plant thoroughly and make sure your pot has a drainage hole. Avoid letting the soil completely dry out, as it can stress the plant’s roots.

How Much Light Do Rubber Plants Need?

While rubber plants are often labeled as low-light plants, they are actually low-light tolerant. You can never provide too much light for your indoor rubber plant. Place it near a window, preferably one with direct sunlight.

If you have an Eastern-facing window, it will receive beautiful morning sun. Alternatively, a Western-facing window with afternoon sun works well too. In the Northern hemisphere, unobstructed Southern windows receive ample direct sunlight. Adjust accordingly if you are in the Southern hemisphere.

Keep in mind that the more light your plant receives, the faster the soil will dry out. Monitor your plant more frequently when it gets plenty of sun.

How Much Light for Rubber Plant

What Type of Soil Do Rubber Plants Need?

A well-draining, all-purpose potting mix is ideal for rubber plants. Consider using Espoma’s Organic Potting Soil Mix, which is highly recommended for indoor plants. For improved aeration and drainage, add perlite or orchid mix to your potting mix. A recommended ratio is three parts all-purpose potting mix to one part perlite.

What Type of Soil for Rubber Plant

How to Fertilize Rubber Plants

You can use any all-purpose houseplant fertilizer for your rubber plants. There are two options available: liquid fertilizer or slow-release fertilizer that can be added to the potting mix.

Liquid fertilizers are easy to use, but if you prefer a more hands-off approach, opt for slow-release plant food. These fertilizers typically last up to 6 months.

Now that you have a good understanding of rubber plant care, let’s address some frequently asked questions.

How to fertilize rubber plants

PART 2: Rubber Plant Frequently Asked Questions and Answers from Raffaele di Lallo

Why Is My Rubber Plant Not Growing?

If your rubber plant is not growing, it likely needs more light. Consider moving it to a brighter spot. Remember, rubber plants thrive in bright, direct sunlight.

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How Do I Get My Rubber Plant to Branch and Be Bushier Instead of Taller?

Pruning is the key to encourage bushier growth in rubber plants. Trim the plant wherever you desire, avoiding cutting it all the way down to the soil. By pruning, you stimulate the growth of new branches, resulting in a bushier appearance.

Another method to promote bushiness is air layering. This technique involves making a diagonal cut halfway into the trunk, adding sphagnum moss, wrapping it with plastic, and waiting for roots to form. Once roots emerge, you can cut the stem and replant it.

What Are the Best Ways to Propagate a Rubber Plant?

Air layering is an effective propagation method, especially for woody branches. Alternatively, you can try making individual node cuttings. Cut the stem where the leaf meets the branch, leaving half an inch on either side. Place the stem in water or soil to encourage root growth.

Keep in mind that propagating rubber plants in winter might have a lower success rate and slower progress compared to spring or summer when the plant is actively growing.

Why Are New Leaves on My Rubber Plants Smaller Than the Older Ones?

New leaves may be smaller due to variations in growing conditions. The optimal conditions in greenhouses differ from the conditions at home. Inconsistent lighting and improper watering during leaf development can also affect leaf size.

Why is My Rubber Plant Dropping Leaves?

Rubber plants dislike being moved, and they may drop leaves if they are placed in a dark location. If your plant is root-bound, it may struggle to absorb enough water, resulting in leaf drop. In such cases, repotting it into a larger container is necessary.

My Rubber Plant Looks Healthy, But the Branches Are All Over the Place. Why Is This Happening?

Indoor plants lack the strengthening effects of wind found in outdoor environments. To address this, you can gently tie up your rubber plant using a bamboo stake inserted into the root ball. This helps support unruly branches.

Why Are the Edges of My Variegated Rubber Plant Browning?

Improper watering may cause browning of the leaf edges in variegated rubber plants. Avoid letting the soil completely dry out or allowing the plant to sit in water for too long. Additionally, ensure that your rubber plant receives enough light.

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What Are the Tiny White Spots on My Rubber Plant?

The tiny white spots, known as lithocysts, are harmless to your rubber plant. These spots contain calcium carbonate and pose no cause for concern.

Which Rubber Plant Should I Get?

If you are new to rubber plants, it is recommended to start with a non-variegated variety, as they are generally easier to care for. ‘Robusta’ is an excellent choice for beginners. However, if you are fond of variegated plants, consider ‘Tineke’ or ‘Ruby’ cultivars.

For more information on rubber plants and houseplants, be sure to check out Raffaele’s blog and his upcoming book, Houseplant Warrior.

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast is dedicated to helping people successfully care for plants and find joy in their lives. Hosted by Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned passionate plant lady, the podcast features interviews with experts on various aspects of plant care. It emphasizes not only nurturing plants but also self-care along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Raffaele Di Lallo, an engineer and plant parent for over thirty years, is an expert in houseplant care. Initially focusing on gardening in cold weather climates, Raffaele’s blog, Ohio Tropics, quickly evolved to encompass all things houseplants. He shares his knowledge and experience to help beginners and plant enthusiasts alike.

Raffaele’s new book, Houseplant Warrior: 7 Keys to Unlocking the Mysteries of Houseplant Care, will be released on March 15, 2022. It offers a holistic approach to houseplant care, unraveling the complexities and interconnections involved in successful plant parenting.

Follow Raffaele:

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This comprehensive guide provides everything you need to know about caring for rubber plants. From understanding the different varieties to learning the best practices for watering, light, soil, and fertilization, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge to ensure your rubber plants thrive. Additionally, we’ve addressed frequently asked questions, offering valuable insights and solutions to common issues. So go ahead, cultivate a beautiful and healthy rubber plant with confidence!

For more information and to explore a wide range of rubber plants, visit the Ames Farm Center.