This post shares everything you need to know about rubber plant care! Rubber tree care is simple and rewarding; you can grow and beautiful plant for your home with very little work.
How to care for the gorgeous, glossy rubber plant
Rubber plant time! My huge rubber plant is one of my older plants. I’ve had it several years, and it has really taken off in the corner of our living room. It’s a beautiful and bold houseplant with glossy green rubbery-looking leaves—some quite large.
Rubber plants are quite forgiving and easy to grow. Like many houseplants, they come in different varieties that can grow to be different sizes. They can grow up to 10 feet in a container! Here’s hoping mine gets there.
Likewise, some varieties have branches that spread out more. While most have green leaves, some have red-tinted or outright red leaves or variegated patterns. All of them are gorgeous and have the same thick, glossy look.
Table of contents
Like many of my care posts on popular houseplants, there is a lot to say! So this is a long post. You can navigate quickly to the topic you want to read about using the table of contents below 🙂
- Where is the ficus elastica from?
- Do rubber plants need direct sunlight?
- Where should I place a rubber plant in my house?
- How often should you water a rubber plant?
- What is the best way to water a rubber plant?
- How do I know if my rubber plant needs water?
- What does an overwatered rubber plant look like?
- What is the best soil?
- What temperature is appropriate?
- Do rubber plants like to be misted?
- Do rubber plants like big pots?
- How large does a ficus elastica grow?
- How do you make a rubber plant bushy?
- Cleaning rubber plant leaves
- Pest issues & how to spot them
- How do you propagate a rubber plant stem cutting?
- Additional rubber plant FAQs
Where is the ficus elastica from?
The rubber plant (also known as the Ficus elastica) is part of the moraceae family, ficus genus. It is native to eastern parts of South and Southeast Asia. However, it also grows from Nepal to Indonesia, Bhutan, Northeastern India, Myanmar, Yunnan in China, and Malaysia.
It also grows in many tropical regions of the world, including Hawaii and the West Indies. In Europe, it also grows in mild locations through the Mediterranean area. Interestingly, while researching ficus elastica, I read that people in India guide the roots of large rubber trees over chasms to eventually form living bridges.
Do rubber plants need direct sunlight?
No, a rubber plant does not need direct sunlight; instead, shoot for medium to bright indirect light. However, unlike many houseplants, they can tolerate some direct sunlight. But keep in mind that too much direct sunlight can cause the leaves to fade or scorch.
If the plant is getting too much light, the leaves may become pale or yellow. Slowly acclimate it to direct light to ensure it can build up its tolerance and not burn. Especially if you’re moving the plant outdoors for spring and summer.
If the plant is not getting enough light, it may become leggy and the leaves may lose their color or drop from the plant completely. A leggy plant has stems that are longer than they should be and leaves that are smaller and farther apart than normal. This leads to a “leggy” look, as opposed to the full, lush look we associate with healthy plants.
Where should I place a rubber plant in my house?
In my old house, I first had my rubber plant in a medium indirect light area, and it still grew well (first pic below). I later moved it closer to the corner, so it had windows on two of the plant’s sides (second pic below).
This is the location it really took off! I had it up on a small plant stand, and it still grew to reach the ceiling. It was the first time I had to do some major pruning on the plant. And when we moved, I kept it on our front porch until I was able to move it into the sunroom.
Now in the sunroom (third pic below), I have it on the back corner where it gets light all morning and into the early afternoon. It seems happy, but I’m monitoring it to make sure it doesn’t need more light!
How often should you water a rubber plant?
Like other common household plants, rubber plants don’t require a lot of water. I recommend allowing the soil to dry out slightly between waterings. A good rule of thumb is to water the plant once a week in the spring and summer after the several inches or so of soil feels dry. Just stick your finger in or use a moisture meter to see.
In general, rubber plants prefer to be kept evenly moist but not waterlogged. Overwatering can lead to root rot and sometimes yellowing leaves, while underwatering can cause the leaves to droop and turn yellow. Don’t worry you occasionally lose an older leaf. I’ve had this plant for many years and have found that it is normal for it to occasionally kill off an older leaf and drop it.
What is the best way to water a rubber plant?
In the townhouse, it was easy for me to carry my plant over to the sink and completely drench the soil with water. I would let all of the excess water flow out of the drainage holes and then put the plant back.
Now the plant has gotten so big that it is harder to move. I put a large plastic drainage saucer under it to catch all of the excess water that drains out. The water usually evaporates in a day or so, so it isn’t in danger of rot.
My absolute favorite way to water my rubber plant, though, is to drag it to either the shower or the patio. That way, I can hose down all of the leaves. This is a fantastic way to help clean off the big, glossy leaves that are absolute dust magnets!
How do I know if my rubber plant needs water?
The best way to know if your rubber plant needs water is to check the soil. You should wait until the top several inches of soil dry out before watering the plant again. You’ll get into a rhythm of watering once you get to know your plant, too.
If your plant gets thirsty, its leaves will begin looking soft, which is a noticeable change from the firm, shiny leaves of a healthy rubber plant. They will also begin drooping a bit. If you don’t let it get too far, you can generally reverse this by giving the plant a good drink.
What does an overwatered rubber plant look like?
On the other hand, signs of an overwatered rubber plant can be confusingly similar. If a rubber plant is overwatered, the leaves may turn yellow and fall off, and the stem may become soft and bend or break easily. The plant may also develop brown or black patches on the leaves or stem, which can indicate the presence of fungus or bacteria.
Because some drooping and yellowing leaves can be a sign of both under and over-watering, make sure to check the soil. If it has remained wet for a while, let it dry out. It may not be beyond saving—I have definitely gone through bouts of overwatering with my plant!
It is also a good idea to check the pot’s drainage and make sure that the plant is not sitting in standing water. If the soil is extremely waterlogged or you need to trim off some rotting roots, you may need to repot the plant in fresh, well-draining soil. The plant may lose more leaves from shock, but it will probably rebound.
What is the best soil?
Soil is a critical part of your rubber plant care routine. Rubber plants enjoy well-draining soil that is also well-aerated (something with coco coir mixed in would be nice) and a pot with a drainage hole since they are prone to root rot.
Any soil mix designed for houseplants or indoor plants will do the trick. These soils come premixed with everything you need to encourage both lightweight moisture retention and the flow of water through the soil. It also helps to ensure oxygen is able to get to the plant’s roots, which is much harder in dense soil.
What temperature is appropriate?
Rubber plants prefer a temperature range of 65-80°F and do not tolerate cold temperatures well. While this is the ideal range, they will likely be fine with gradual nighttime dips in temperatures into the 50s (at least mine was when it was on my front porch). They are also definitely not frost hardy.
Ficus elastica should be kept away from drafts and cold windows. I recommend keeping them in a spot with consistent temperatures and avoiding placing them in areas with drastic temperature fluctuations. So, draft winters, heat and AC registers, etc. Extreme temperature fluctuations can lead to shock and leaf drop.
Do rubber plants like to be misted?
Rubber plants enjoy a bit of extra humidity, and misting is one way to achieve this. However, it is a very temporary increase in humidity. The best choice for the rubber plant is to put it in a room with a humidifier and group it with other plants.
However, I don’t use a humidifier for my rubber plant now, and I have never used a humidifier for my rubber plants. I find it is quite tolerant to drier indoor air—though keep an eye out for spider mites in the winter. My large variegated rubber plant fell victim to them last year.
Do rubber plants like big pots?
Rubber plants like a pot that is only about an inch or so larger than their root ball. So, when it’s time to report your rubber plant, don’t put it in a pot that is too big. This will lead to the soil retaining too much water.
Because my large rubber plant has grown very well over the years, I have had to repot it yearly. I actually repotted it at the very end of the growing season last year, so I think I will keep it in its current pot for a while. (I generally recommend repotting only in the spring and summer, but sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do.)
How large does a ficus elastica grow?
Rubber plants can grow to be quite large under the right conditions. In its natural habitat, it can grow up to 100 feet tall, but it is typically much smaller when grown as a houseplant. Rubber plants grow slowly, so it may take several years for them to reach their full size.
Indoors, a rubber plant can grow up to 10-15 feet tall, depending on the size of the pot and the care it receives. The leaves can grow up to 10 inches long and 4 inches wide. Its thick, woody stem can spread up to 6 feet wide.
Once your plant gets larger, you may want to add some support. You can see my post about How to Keep Tall Plants From Falling Over for tips on this. You can see in the pic below that I had bamboo stakes in the pot. Now I have a bamboo arch in my big rubber plant. I use vinyl plant tape to tie the plant up.
How do you make a rubber plant bushy?
I find that many people are afraid of cutting their plants. Don’t worry, I used to be afraid of it, too. But then I realized that pruning your plants promotes healthy growth! And this is especially true with rubber plants.
In addition to adopting a proper care routine, the best way to make your rubber plant bushy is by grabbing those pruning shears. That’s because, when you cut a piece of the rubber plant off, the plant will shoot out new growth from just below that cut point. And the new branch will grow off to the side.
This branching effect makes your rubber plant appear bushier and fuller, but it isn’t something that will happen overnight. Prune strategically and have patience—it is well worth it! Here are a few shots of a prunes spot on my rubber plant. Remember to wear gloves when pruning since the sap can be irritating.
Cleaning rubber plant leaves
I mentioned earlier that I like to water my big rubber plant in the shower or on the patio as a way of cleaning off the leaves. I don’t do this often—maybe once every 1-2 months. But these leaves are total dust magnets, so it’s worth it! The plant looks so lovely afterward.
If you can’t or don’t want to drag your plant to the shower or patio, you can use a simple microfiber cleaning cloth to wipe down the leaves. Sometimes I do this between showers if the plant is looking extra dusty. I do not use a leaf shine product; instead, I dampen the cloth and spray it with a very heavily diluted bit of neem oil.
Neem oil helps to add some natural leaf shine to your plant. But it is also a great thing to adopt into your pest prevention routine. If you can stomach the smell, that is! It’s not that bad when it is super heavily diluted, though. Below shows some super dusty leaves in the first pic, wiped down leaves in the second.
Pest issues & how to spot them
Normal household plant pets can infest the rubber plant, but they aren’t especially vulnerable. Look for signs of these pests on your plant during routine pest inspections. Catching them early is key to getting rid of them fast!
- Aphids: Small, pear-shaped insects often found on the undersides of leaves and on new growth. They feed by sucking sap from the plant, which can cause stunted growth and yellowing.
- Scale: Small insects that can be found on the stems and leaves. Look for yellowing leaves and sticky residue on or around the plants.
- Mealybugs: Small, white insects that secrete a waxy substance that can coat the leaves and stems of the plant. They feed by sucking the sap from the plant, which can cause yellowing and wilting.
- Spider mites: Tiny spider-like insects can be found on the undersides of leaves. Look for fine webbing, especially around the area where the leaves meet the stem and on the leaf tips.
If you notice any of these pests on your rubber plant, you can try removing them by hand or using a mild soap solution. If the infestation is severe, you may need to considering using a store-bought insecticide spray.
Also note that rubber plants can develop sooty mold, which is a black dusty mold that can grow on leaves. Remove it by wiping the leaves with a diluted dish soap mixture, and avoid letting moisture sit on the leaves in the future.
How do you propagate a rubber plant stem cutting?
Rubber plants can be propagated by using stem cuttings. I have a whole post on rubber plant propagation, but here is an overview. It starts with taking a good cutting. Look for a stem with 4-5 leaves; after you take the cutting remove the bottom two leaves to expose the growth points. Let’s talk about propagating in soil, water, and LECA.
1. Rooting a rubber plant cutting in soil
To propagate a rubber plant cutting in soil, grab a small container and some well-draining soil. You can dip the cutting in rooting hormone or gel to encourage root growth, making sure to cover the nodes. But even with that, this will be a slower process.
Plant the cutting and water lightly. Keep in a warm, bright location out of direct sunlight. A grow light can also be used to provide additional light if necessary. Keep the soil moist, but not wet. After several weeks or months, you should begin to see new growth on the cutting.
2. Rooting a rubber plant cutting in water
You can also choose to root the cutting in water first. I did this with a top cutting I lopped off of my big plant. One of the stems was dramatically taller than the others, leading to a weird lopsided look. Here’s what I did.
Put the cutting in a glass jar and set it in a sunny window. Refreshed the water every few weeks. Otherwise, I basically ignored the cutting. When the roots get to be a few inches long, you can transfer your cutting to well-draining soil and keep that evenly moist for a few weeks while the water roots become at home in the soil. (I gave this cutting away before planting it.)
3. Rooting a rubber plant cutting in LECA
A final method I’ve used to propagate a rubber plant cutting is in LECA. Check out my post How to propagate cuttings in LECA if you’re new to the medium. Otherwise, I just added about two inches of LECA to a jar. Then I added the cutting and filled in more LECA around it.
I finished it off by adding water to that bottom two inches of LECA. Make sure the water just reaches the bottom of the cutting but that the cutting is not submerged in water. Refresh the water as it evaporates. Here are what my cuttings looked like after about 2 months (second picture below) and then just a week later (third picture below)!
Additional rubber plant FAQs
I think I’ve covered most of what I have to say about the rubber plant. But while putting together this post, I did notice a few other random questions I’ll address below!
1. Is ficus elastica toxic?
Ficus elastica is toxic to humans and animals if ingested. The sap of the plant can also cause irritation to the skin, and the leaves and stems can cause gastrointestinal upset if ingested. I always recommend keeping plants away from curious children and pets!
2. How long does a rubber plant last?
Ficus elastica and other closely related plants can live for decades in their natural habitat. As a houseplant, they can also live many years. My big plant is now about 7-9 years old, if I had to guess. I got it in 2016 at a local houseplant clearance sale!
3. What is the best fertilizer for rubber plant?
Rubber plants do not require frequent fertilization. A balanced liquid fertilizer applied at half strength every month or two during the growing season (spring through early fall) should be sufficient. Avoid fertilizing the plant during the winter months, when it is dormant.
An all-purpose houseplant fertilizer or a fertilizer specifically formulated for foliage plants should work well. You can also use a slow-release fertilizer, which will provide a consistent supply of nutrients to the plant over a longer period of time.