Rubber Tree Care Ficus elastica
Many varieties of Ficus make excellent indoor plants and the elastica is one of the most popular, due to its sturdy central stem and shiny, oval, deep green, leathery leaves that grow to be up to 12” (30cm) in length. The plant itself can reach 10’ (3m) if well cared for and is commonly called the Rubber Tree. In its natural habitat it can reach 80’ (25m)! The emerging leaves are encased in an interesting rust-red protective sheath and the vein on the underside of the leaf remains red. They originate mainly in the tropics and subtropics of India and Malaysia.
Light and Temperature
Some direct sun light will not harm the Rubber Tree but they will do well in medium to bright light. Normal home temperatures are fine for this plant through spring and summer with maximum of 58°-65°F (15°-18°C) and minimum of 50°-55°F (10°-13°C) winter temps. The Rubber Tree does not like abrupt changes in temperature and does not like drafts.
Be certain not to overwater your Rubber Tree and let the soil dry down about 2/3’s of the way before re-watering. Water until you see it run out the bottom of the pot and then wait. Do not let the pot sit in this water. Too much water will cause root rot. During the dormancy period, from late fall until early spring, cut back even further on the watering. Use a soft cloth dampened with water to clean dust off the leaves as the thick broad leaf will collect a lot of dust which will inhibit the plant from ‘breathing’. Be very careful when handling the leaves as they only look tough but are very easily damaged. Any damage will not repair but will scar and remain throughout its life.
Use a diluted, balanced fertilizer every 2 weeks throughout the growing season from early spring to late fall and then do not feed at all again until early spring.
You will want to use a nice light medium for the Rubber Tree so there is not too much moisture around the roots for too long a time. 1 part aged compost, 1 part loam or humus, 2 parts coarse sand, perlite or bark fines makes a good mix. A soilless mix could be combined from 1 part sphagnum peat, 1 part perlite and 1 part vermiculite. If it still seems to be heavier than you want add another part perlite or sand. When potting your plant be sure to tamp the soil gently so you don’t damage the roots by over-firming. You can also purchase a quality commercial potting soil. Be sure it has a nice mix of things like peat moss, compost, bark, loam, composted leaf mold, and sand.
This plant will only flower if it reaches about 30 years old.
The Rubber Plant will grow best if slightly pot bound. When it is time to re-pot go only to the next size pot which is best done in the spring. When potting your plant be sure to tamp the soil gently so you don’t damage the roots by over-firming.
Air-layering is the best way to propagate the Rubber Tree and June or July is the best time to do it. This is also a good way to shorten a plant with a bare stem. Propagation can also be done with cuttings but they will easily dry out so care must be taken to keep things moist, not wet, until they root. Use a soilless mix of sphagnum peat moss and coarse sand in equal parts for cuttings. Never place these cuttings in the sun and a mister works will to keep the soil surface moist and the leaf hydrated.
Pests and Problems
Drooping leaves may indicate overwatering and eventually these leaves will fall off.
You can encourage branching, when young, by pinching the growing tip which will give it an attractive bushy appearance.
Older leaves will naturally yellow and fall off. A plant will look nice and full even after this happens if there was encouraged branching when young or if more than one plant is in your pot.
The sap that leaks from the plant when the stem or leaves are cut can be stopped with an application of charcoal dust or tobacco ash. This is where the plant gets its name as the sap was once used to make rubber.
‘Robusta’ – larger, wider leaves
‘Decora’ – shiny wide leaves with a white vein running through the center
‘Schrijvereana’ a variegated variety with marble white markings
‘Doesheri’ a variegated variety with greyish white and pink mid-ribs on the leaves
‘Variegata’ a longer, narrower leaf shape, edged in yellow and cream with dark and grey-green variegation