Did you get a ficus elastica? Learn all about variegated rubber plant care, including how to help this gorgeous cultivar of the traditional ficus elastica thrive!
Variegated rubber plant care: Ficus elastica!
Today we’re talking about variegated rubber plant care! I have written about how to care for regular rubber plants in the past, as well as how to care for other ficus plants including the ficus lyrata or fiddle leaf fig and the ficus altissima. (And I have rubber plant propagation and fiddle leaf fig propagation guides!)
Today we’re talking about a very special rubber plant: the variegated rubber plant, or Ficus elastica Variegata. Regular rubber plants have dark green leaves. Variegated types, however, can have pink, white or dark red colorations. These different colorations can make this even more of a striking plant in your home or patio.
What are the different types of variegated rubber plants?
A few common types include “Tineke,” which includes white on all the leaves tips; “Ruby,” which has pink on all the edges of the leaves; and “Burgundy,” which produces a fully dark red leaf. This plant is native to South and Southeast Asia and can grow to over 40 feet tall in nature.
However, inside a home, they’ll likely be up to 10 feet. My non-variegated rubber plant is several year old now, and I had to prune it down last year. It was about to hit my ceiling when sitting on a plant stand!
Ideal variegated rubber plant care conditions
This unique plant is an inexpensive way to bring greenery and eye-catching colors into your home. The main difference between the care of a regular rubber plant and a variegated one is the amount of sunlight it requires to keep the beautiful leaves in their best condition.
Other than needing a more precise range of light, the care is very similar to a regular rubber plant. So let’s take a look at the specifics.
How much water does a variegated rubber plant need?
Variegated rubber plants will thrive under a lot of bright, indirect light like that from a south-facing window. If you want to have the plant outside, you can put it in a shaded spot or an area with dappled sunlight.
If you do have the plant in lower light conditions, it may be fine, but it will likely not grow as quickly and thrive as much as when in brighter light. Be sure that your light is bright, but indirect. If your light is direct, it can burn the leaves.
Allow the soil to dry out completely before watering the plant again. You can just use regular tap water. You’ll want to make sure that when you water, it flows through the soil and drainage holes and doesn’t just drip. Give the plant a good soak and let it completely dry out.
Since the rubber plant has large thick and shiny leaves, they can be dust magnets. (See my post on how to clean houseplant leaves.) I like to take my rubber plants either into the shower or out on the deck and hose them down completely with a shower head or hose. This cleans the leaves and thoroughly waters the plant. Win-win.
What is the best soil for a variegated rubber plant?
You’ll want to choose a soil that drains easily. Any well-draining houseplant soil could work. Look for something labeled “house-plant” or “well-draining container” soil. But if you’re a bit more advanced and want to make sure you’re providing best of the best for your variegated rubber plant, a great recommendation for a soil recipe is 1/3 regular potting mix, 1/3 cacti soil, and 1/3 perlite.
This airy, drier mix will allow your soil to completely dry easily between watering. My large variegated rubber plant is currently in a well-draining potting mix that came pre-mixed with perlite and coco coir or fine moss in it. I threw in another handful of perlite further help with drainage.
Variegated rubber plant care: Temperature & humidity
Variegated rubber plants do not require high humidity. Only about 20-30% is adequate. That’s well within most household humidity levels, even when you’re running central air or heating. If you do have browning leaves, this is normally not caused by humidity.
You don’t need to use a humidifier or take any extra precautions to provide your ficus elastica with humidity. They’ll be happy in normal room temperature levels. This is another thing that makes it a perfect houseplant…no extra fuss!
As a variegated plant, cooler temperatures are better since they will encourage more variegation. A temperature range of 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit works well.
You should repot your variegated rubber plant every 1 to 2 years. If you see roots on the top of the soil, are finding that you need to water more often, and are seeing smaller leaves and slower growth, it could be time for a repot.
When repotting, choose a pot that is 2-3 inches larger than your previous one to prove your plant plenty of space. Make sure you use fresh soil to ensure the plant gets all of the good stuff that comes in soil! When I repotted my rubber plants this spring, I also threw a handful of worm castings in for extra nutrients.
How to propagate a variegated rubber plant
To propagate a variegated rubber plant, simply cut along the stem between a node. You’ll see the nodes as lines along the trunk. Generally, you can cut between leaves. Wear gloves and have a paper towel handy, because rubber plants have a thick white sap that can irritate your skin.
Submerge the new stem in water and make sure to provide it with bright light. Replace the water every so often to ensure that no bacteria harm your propagation. Then, once you have a root system, you can plant in your well-draining potting soil.
You can also skip the water propagation stem all together and plant the cutting directly in soil. I’d also recommend dipping the cutting in rooting hormone first. Keep the soil moist while roots develop, and when you pull on the cutting and feel resistance, scale back watering and care for the plant as normal!
For more on different propagation methods, check out my posts on how to root plants in sphagnum moss and how to root plants in leca!
Common problems you might face with variegated rubber plants
Many of the issues you might encounter with your rubber plant are related to the amount of light or water your plant is receiving. If you have any of these issues, check the light levels to make sure that the plant is in the most ideal conditions.
1. Small leaves or no growth
If you’re seeing small leaves grow on your plant, be sure that it is receiving enough light. You may be able to solve this issue by moving your plant to a southern window if you have one available. If you completely do not have any new growth and all conditions are met, try adding fertilizer to speed up growth.
As a last resort, you could cut the top off to encourage new growth. Cut between the nodes and this is where you’ll see the new growth. It will branch out and create a bushier look, too, which is nice.
2. Root rot
Root rot could occur if you water too much, do not allow the soil to dry out completely between watering, or have the plant in a soil that is too heavy. I’d say overwatering and root rot is the number 1 killer of houseplants…we just love them too much!
The roots could appear slimy and black or gray, and they will likely be mushy and fall apart easily. Root rot could also be a result of the root ball still being trapped by its nursery mesh material so it can be beneficial to check and make sure that this isn’t still stuck on your variegated rubber plant roots.
I have a post about how to save a clearance houseplant that addresses fixing this issue. But in a nutshell, you take the plant out, remove the soil, trim off the mushy roots, pot in fresh, dry soil, and wait a day or so before you water the plant.
3. Not enough water…or too much water
Brown, drooping leaves that are folded and wrinkly may indicate underwatering. If you do not allow your pot to try out completely between good a watering, you can have brown leaves. If your leaves are turning yellow and dropping, it’s probably overwatering.
Interesting variegated rubber plant facts
Here are a few interesting facts that you may not know about your variegated rubber plant 🙂
- Rubber plants sap is toxic to both animals and people. If your pet ingests the sap, it can be super irritative to their stomach. Be careful to not touch exposed sap or let your pets take a bite!
- Variegated rubber plants are native to the Himalayan region in places like Nepal and Bangladesh.
- The rubber plant gets its name because of the thick, shiny leaves it has and because the sticky white sap it contains is sometimes used to make rubber.