The rubber tree is the type of houseplant that seems to satisfy many tastes and needs. It looks like a tree but it doesn’t require much space. Their succulent and meaty leaves come in different colors and some are variegated making sure they grab your attention wherever you grow them.
As with some houseplants, the rubber tree needs more care and maintenance than usual. But if you’re growing a plant for its beautiful and showy foliage, then the extra care is well worth it. Once it matures, the rubber plant will become an essential part of your interior design that you couldn’t imagine your decor without.
So what makes the rubber tree so exceptional for indoor growing? And which variety best fits with your landscaping needs and weather conditions? This post has comprehensive answers to help you get a good start with the rubber plant.
Rubber Tree Facts
The rubber tree (ficus elastica) is a member of the fig tree family. You can either grow it as a small houseplant that brightens a dark corner of the room or as a tree. While it will not reach large proportions, the indoor tree variety becomes the focal point and acts as a living component of the decor.
A native of Asia, it has USDA hardiness zones between 10 and 11. But since you’re growing it indoors, it can flourish just about in any house with moderate to warm temperatures. On average the plant grows to 4 or 6 feet. Outdoors tree will grow to 50 feet in the right conditions.
One of the trickiest parts about growing the rubber plant is how to get them to adapt to your indoor living conditions. To get over that problem, experts recommend that you buy the plant at a young age rather than getting a mature plant. If you grow it as a tree, you’ll need to take it outdoors in the summer months. This speeds up its growth more than if you keep it inside the house all the time.
On the other hand, if you want to keep the rubber plant compact in size, then keep it in a small container. The limited soil and space will stunt its growth and keep it small and manageable. This flexibility and versatility along with the stunning foliage make the rubber tree an ideal houseplant for many households.
Rubber Plant Varieties
While the original rubber tree is still flourishing in its native habitat in Asia, many of the houseplants varieties are actual cultivars. The cultivars respond well to indoor conditions and are more disease-resistant than the original species. Here are some of the varieties to grow.
- Doescheri: A popular cultivar that is distinguished with its variegated leaves. On a background of dark green, cream batches dot the large leaves and create a dynamic design.
- Tineke: Similar to the Doescheri except that the edges of the leaves are laced with stunning pink. The color combination is breathtaking, especially in the right lighting. This variety requires little maintenance and can handle neglect very well.
- Black Prince: As the name implies, the leaves here are dark green and almost black. However, the bronze undertones and red edges all combine to create a stunning visual effect.
- Ruby: Red is the prevailing color here. It paints the edges of the leaves as well as the spine. The leaves themselves are green with batches of cream, but it’s the red hues that make them stand out.
- Burgundy: You get a combination of red with green and cream shades all blended together to create this amazing variety. Sometimes the leaves will have dark-red edges that accentuate the burgundy and frame the whole leaf elegantly.
In summary, most of these cultivars have the same qualities in terms of their growing conditions and tolerance to the occasional drought. The differences are mainly related to the colors of the leaves. But as an ornamental plant, that’s the main attraction of the rubber tree.
How to Grow the Rubber Tree
So you picked the right cultivar that goes with the rest of your decor, and you’ve decided to give the rubber tree a try. How would you go about it? Or let’s say you already have a fully grown plant and you’d like to grow another one just like it. There are two ways to do this. Either with seeds or a cutting. Remember it’s always best to grow the indoor plant yourself than to buy a mature one. Here is what you need to do in easy steps.
- Choose a healthy stem in a fully grown plant and make a slanted cutting using a sharp and sterilized blade. Always wear gloves to protect your skin.
- The cutting should be about 5 inches long with at least a couple of nodes in it.
- Select a pot of any size you like. If you want to manage the plant’s size, then a small to medium container will do.
- The rubber tree prefers well-drained soil. You can use a potting mix or you can make your own. Add perlite to improve the drainage of the soil.
- Dig a deep hole in the soil and place about one-third of the cutting into the hole then fill it with soil. Don’t bury the leaves otherwise, they’ll rot.
- Water the pot then cover it with a plastic sheet to maintain the temperature of the soil.
- It will take between a week to two weeks for the roots to grow. You can keep the plant in the current container or move it to a bigger pot.
- Remove the plastic once the roots are about 2 inches long.
- Keep the soil moist but not overwatered.
- Place the pot in a well-lit area that doesn’t get direct sunlight. If you keep it on a window sill, make sure to draw thin curtains to protect the plant.
Rubber Plant Care
Usually, it’s that balance between good sunlight and shade that can prove a little hard to achieve. However, the rubber plant is famous for its tolerance to dry soil, varying lighting conditions, and even some neglect on your part.
For a plant that doesn’t like too much water, the best soil for the rubber tree is one that is both well-drained and well-aerated. While most general potting mix products in the market will do, you can still make your own. Mix equal portions perlite, pine bark, and peat. This mix is ideal for the roots of the plant as the soil is loose enough and won’t retain water. If you’re growing it in the garden, then make sure to break the topsoil and add perlite then mix well.
You need a combination of sunlight and shade for the rubber plant to grow successfully. Too much sun is not considered a good thing. However, the pot needs to sit in a well-lit room. Dim light can stunt the growth of the plant and impact the color of the leaves. You can place the pot on a window sill facing the east to get the early sun. Otherwise, you can draw a thin curtain across the window to cut the glare of the sun.
Most experts recommend that you always keep the soil moist during the summer months. This is the time for the rubber tree to grow so it will need more water than usual. But be careful not to soak the soil. On average you would need to water it once a week in the summer. For the rest of the year, you can cut back on irrigation. This plant can handle dry soil better than waterlogged pots. When in doubt, you should err on the side of holding off the water than irritating it. If the leaves droop and lose their bright colors, it’s a sign the plant is dehydrated. In dry conditions, consider misting the leaves once a week.
Since we’re talking about an ornamental plant that steals the thunder from other houseplants, then you need to keep the rubber tree in good shape. Pruning does more than improve the looks of the plant. It triggers new shoots and improves the stability of the rubber plant in general. This also helps you manage the growth and keep the overall size of your pot under control. The best time to prune it is in the spring right before the growth cycle. Avoid pruning in the winter since the new shoots don’t survive the cold weather.
Pests and Diseases
The common bugs that invade your rubber plant are usually aphids, mealy bugs, scales, and mites among others. Treat them the way you would with any other plant. Just pick them off one by one and drown them in a bucket of water and detergent. If the infection is widespread, use a swab soaked in rubbing alcohol and give the whole plant a good rub. Get rid of the dead pests immediately.
As for diseases, the most common are brown or yellow leaf spots. They can damage the plant’s appeal and give it a leggy look. The main culprit is usually the Cercospora fungus. You’ll need to use a fungicide spray to combat this disease.
While the rubber plant is not considered toxic to humans, it can have nasty side effects if your pets ingest any part of it. Cats in particular like to nibble on the juicy leaves. This could give them mild to serious gastronomical irritation. You should take your pet to the vet immediately to avoid any complications.
When pruning or propagating the plant, you should always wear gloves to protect your skin against the sap of the plant. It could cause mild skin itching. Wash the exposed area immediately with cold water and apply an ointment to relieve the irritation.