27 Tips For Rubber Tree Plant Care

by | Apr 9, 2021 | Growing Guides, Tips | 0 comments

Rubber trees are fast-growing houseplants that are easy to maintain and grow. Their big, glossy leaves are a beautiful addition to any home – and they also make great air purifiers. In this article, we’re tackling the best practices and care tips for this stunning green houseplant.

How Do You Take Care Of A Rubber Tree Plant?

When it comes to rubber plant care, here are the key things to think about:

While we won’t spend a great deal of time discussing it in this article, the rubber plant’s growth rate is something you should consider. These houseplants are ideal for accenting a room with high ceilings because they can grow up to ten feet in just a few years. With proper pruning, you can help manage this growth, making this plant a good option for smaller homes and apartments.

black rubber tree plant in white

What Is A Rubber Tree Plant?

The rubber tree plant – also called the rubber tree, rubber plant, and ficus Elastica – was once cultivated for its latex-rich sap in its native Southeast Asia. They earned their name because of this milky sap, and their leaves have a rubbery and shiny appearance.

Rubber tree plants are considered domesticated houseplants and can live both indoors and outdoors in plant hardiness zones 10 or 11.

  • Scientific Name: Ficus elastica
  • Common Name: Rubber plant, rubber tree, rubber tree plant
  • Mature Size: Rubber plants can reach heights of 100 feet in their native Southeast Asia. Rubber plants can reach a height of six to ten feet as domesticated houseplants. 
  • Outdoor Growing: If you live in zone 10 or 11, you can grow rubber plants outside.
  • Sun Needs: Bright, indirect light

Where To Buy A Rubber Tree Plant?

There’s a wide variety of rubber tree plants available. Here are some of our favorites from nurseries: 

amazon plant for sale rubber tree

Do Rubber Trees Need Direct Sunlight?

Rubber tree houseplants need bright light but prefer indirect light that is not too hot. Some indoor growers suggest placing the plant next to a window covered with a sheer curtain. This allows for plenty of indirect light.

Rotate your plant regularly to ensure even growth on all sides, and dust the leaves often to ensure effective photosynthesis.

Can Rubber Trees Survive In Low Light?

In most indoor temperatures, the rubber tree plant thrives in both full, indirect sun or low light. Just be careful not to shift it too quickly from one extreme to the other, or it will lose its leaves. Typically, losing leaves is a sign of stress. It’s a good indicator that you’re doing something that’s making your rubber plant unhappy.

How Often Should I Water My Rubber Tree?

You should let the top few inches of soil dry between waterings to protect the plant from root rot and pathogens. A water meter works well for measuring this – but you could also use your finger to gauge the water level.

The frequency you water depends on the light, heat, and season. Typically, you’ll water every 7-14 days. In warmer or brighter months, your rubber plant is growing the most, meaning it’s drinking more water than in the colder months. In a warmer season, you may need to water your rubber tree plant more.

How Much Should I Water My Rubber Tree?

Using room-temperature water (cold water can cause stress), drench the soil until excess water runs out of the drainage holes in the pot. For this to work correctly, you’ll need to have soil that drains well, too.

Overwatering is the most common cause of this plant’s death. Yellowing or falling leaves are a sign that you’re watering too much. 

That said, the plant’s older leaves will yellow and fall off as well – even if the plant is watered correctly. If you see this, pay attention to which leaves are falling off and check the soil moisture levels before taking action. Changes in place, light, and temperature can stress the plant and cause it to drop leaves too. A leaf drop or two is nothing to worry about on a rubber tree.

Humidity And Temperature

Since rubber trees are tropical, they grow in hot, humid climates and struggle in colder, drier climates. Temperature-wise, you should keep them between 60 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit to simulate their natural habitat. 

You should try to keep your humidity level near 40%, which is within the range of normal room humidity. If you live in a drier-than-normal location, another option is a humidifier. Humid air is a must for a lot of our favorite houseplants.

Also, try keeping your rubber tree away from cold drafts or places where temperatures drop suddenly (like next to a front door).

Should You Mist Your Rubber Tree Plant?

Wiping the leaves with a damp cloth or misting them is recommended during the growing season (summer) to help with humidity and water needs. 

Soil

Rubber plants aren’t picky when it comes to soil composition. Any fast-draining potting soil will usually work well. Rubber plants often prefer an acidic soil mixture. Like fiddle leaf figs, their root balls may poke out of the soil as they grow. This is no reason to worry. If it occurs, just add more soil to your pot. Long-term, this is a sign that you’ll need a bigger pot. 

Potting

Choose a pot that’s no more than ⅓ larger than your plant’s root ball. While the type of pot doesn’t usually matter, it should have drainage holes to keep water from standing in the soil – this could cause root rot for your plant.

A simple terracotta pot works well for most rubber plants.

Fertilizer

Rubber tree plants should be fertilized from early spring to fall. Fertilize once a month with a houseplant fertilizer (a balanced NPK is fine) – but make sure you follow the box’s dilution and administration directions. Be sure not to over-fertilize the rubber plant.

Here are some of the basic fertilizers that work well for rubber plants:

How And When To Prune Your Rubber Tree

Rubber tree plants are pretty hardy and can technically be pruned at any time of year – but they respond best to pruning in late spring or early summer. This is also an excellent time to take cuttings since they typically root faster and have a better success rate. Here are some quick steps to pruning your rubber tree plant when the time comes.

six rubber tree leaves pruning

Remove Dead Or Diseased Branches Throughout The Year

Remove any leaves and branches from your rubber plant that appear to be dead or dying. This improves the rubber plant’s overall appearance as well as its health. You can remove dead leaves with your fingers at any point in the year. 

Cut Just Above The Nodes

Leaf nodes are the points at which a smaller stem branches off from a more central main stem.  On this main stem, cut just above where the smaller stem branches out.

Shape Your Plant

Rubber plants can be tall and thin or small and bushy, depending on how you groom/prune them. You want to make sure your plant fits in your space rather than overwhelming it. With the proper care, you can turn this plant into an excellent accent piece.

For instance, If you have the rubber plant in a room with a low ceiling, you may want to prune it to a short, round shape. And if you have a high ceiling, you could condition it to grow upward like a beautiful slender tree.

Cutting The Top

Prune the top leaves of your rubber plant until it has reached the desired height. This will prevent the rubber plant from creating more vertical chutes and allow it to expand horizontally instead. If you want a low, bushy rubber plant, cut off the top when it’s about 4–5 feet tall.

Pro tip: Keep in mind that if you don’t cut off the top leaf or leaves from your rubber plant, it will keep growing. Rubber plants can reach up to 10 feet indoors.

How To Stop Sap From Dripping

Since the latex sap of a rubber plant dries at room temperature, it shouldn’t drip long. So there’s really no need to be concerned about a little dripping. To protect your floors, place plastic mats or trash bags on the floor around the plant. 

The sap has also been known to irritate skin, so we recommend you wear gloves during pruning. 

Repotting

To maintain your rubber tree plant’s health and growth, you should provide new space when it gets a certain size. It’s particularly important to repot it if the root ball appears to be girdled or is rising around the pot’s edges. This means that it’s past time to switch your plant to a larger container.

Rubber plants grow at a moderate to rapid rate. It depends on the growing conditions and the size of the pot.

When Is The Best Time To Repot A Rubber Plant?

The best time to repot your rubber tree plant is in late winter, spring, and early summer (in temperate climates).

How To Repot Your Rubber Tree Plant

When moving from a small pot to a new pot – or a larger pot – you need to make sure you’re causing the least amount of stress to your rubber tree plant. Check out these tips for repotting successfully.

How To Propagate A Rubber Tree Plant

Can’t get enough of the rubber plant? Make more through propagation! The two most common methods of propagating a rubber tree plant are cuttings and air layering – the latter of which is most recommended. Typically, it makes sense to propagate this plant in the spring.

Air Layering

The process of air layering is pretty simple. You start with about a four-inch cut in a stem or branch and apply a rooting hormone and peat moss. This causes new roots to develop from that point on the stem. After the roots develop, you cut the stem or branch below the new roots and repot as a new plant.

Air layering is typically used for plants that grow very tall and collect leaves at the top of a bare stem, such as rubber trees.

Materials Needed

  • Gardening/Floral Knife – a sharp and clean knife can help protect your cuttings and your parent plant from infection.
  • Peat Moss – Forest moss works well, too. This is going to be the growing medium in which your cuttings grow.
  • Rooting hormone – A rooting hormone helps improve your cutting success rate – and can make your roots stronger.
  • Plastic baggy – Cut a small plastic bag and wrap it around the moss (plastic wrap works well, too).
  • Twist ties – These are used to keep the bag tightly wrapped around the moss and the cuttings.

Steps To Propagating Through Air Layering

This is a pretty old-school video, but it does a great job of showing the basic steps for successful rubber tree plant propagation using air-layering.

Propagating With Cuttings

If you’re already pruning your rubber tree plant, you may as well put those cuttings to work! You can either use tip cuttings (the new growth at the end of a branch) or a stem with at least one leaf at the top. Similar to air layering, you’ll need a sharp knife, rooting hormone, and a plastic baggie. For this method, a chopstick is typically used, as well.

  1. Pick a healthy-looking stem from your mature plant. You can do this during your already scheduled pruning session to minimize stress to the plant. 
  2. Cut off a 6-inch section of a healthy-looking branch with a clean, sharp blade just above a leaf node. A cluster of two or three leaves should develop at the tip of the cutting, while one or two leaves should grow at the top of the stem section. 
  3. Remove any lower leaves on the cutting.
  4. If you’re using rooting hormone, apply it now.
  5. Using an all-purpose soil, plant your cutting in a small pot.
  6. Put chopsticks in the soil around the cutting (this will keep the baggy from touching the cutting.
  7. Add a plastic baggy around the pot – a gallon-sized baggie is a good idea.
  8. Seal the bag – but leave a small gap, allowing gasses to enter and escape.
  9. Place your cutting in a warm place that receives moderate indirect light. Note: this likely won’t be next to your mature rubber tree plant, which likes bright, indirect light. It may need to be further away from the window.
  10. Roots should grow within two to three months from planting. At that point, you can now remove the plastic bag.
  11. Enjoy your new rubber tree plant!

What Are Rubber Trees Good For?

The latex sap from the rubber tree was first discovered by the ancient Olmec, Maya, and Aztecs and was once used to create rubber balls, waterproof clothing, and even shape handmade shoes. While not the primary source of rubber in modern days, it has retained the name that we’ve all come to know.

Is A Rubber Plant Tree An Air Purifier?

Rubber plants aren’t just pretty to look at! They double as living air purifiers. In certain studies, rubber tree plants have been proven to remove formaldehyde from the air, which is used in cleaning supplies and furniture.

Does A Rubber Plant Tree Make Rubber?

Technically, the rubber tree plant produces a (pretty) inferior rubber that hasn’t been widely used in generations. There’s a lot of competition in the rubber space, with over 200 species of rubber trees that produce latex. But 99% of the world’s natural rubber comes from latex produced by Hevea brasiliensis, another – unrelated – rubber tree species.

Types Of Rubber Tree Plants

Rubber plants come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Ficus robusta is the closest relative of the original rubber tree plant, which has been replaced for indoor use by the more resilient Ficus elastica. Ficus elastica decora has broader leaves with a reddish central vein, while Ficus elastica burgundy has dark leaves.

Here are the most common types of rubber tree plants:

  • Ficus elastica ‘Tricolor.’
  • Ficus elastica ‘Abidjan’
  • Ficus elastica ‘Burgundy’
  • Ficus elastica ‘Melany’
  • Ficus elastica ‘Robusta’
  • Ficus elastica ‘Decora’
  • Ficus elastica ‘Doescheri’
  • Ficus elastica ‘Tineke’

Dusting Your Rubber Tree 

The Rubber Tree’s big leaves gather dust, making it difficult for them to photosynthesize efficiently. To properly dust your houseplant, wipe both sides of the leaves with a damp, soft cloth regularly. Not only will this help it catch the suns’ rays, but it also keeps it looking stunning. 

Are Rubber Trees Difficult To Care For?

Ficus Elastica is a low-maintenance plant that’s fun to care for. It acclimates well to new spaces, and it doesn’t necessarily need a bright spot to thrive. It is, however, sensitive to overwatering, so be mindful of that. Is it killable? Absolutely. Does it require a green thumb? Probably not.

Rubber Tree Toxicity

While the rubber tree plant is beautiful, certain parts are mildly toxic to humans, cats, and dogs. Caoutchouc is the primary toxin in rubber trees that can cause skin irritation in humans. It can also irritate the mouth and eyes. That said, unless you’re highly allergic to latex, you shouldn’t have a severe problem. But be careful, nonetheless.

Are Rubber Trees Toxic To Cats?

Certain rubber tree plants, such as the Japanese rubber plant and the Indian rubber plant, are toxic to cats. Drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, irritated skin are all symptoms. While this can be painful to cats, it’s usually not life-threatening.

Are Rubber Trees Toxic To Dogs?

Similar to cats, some rubber tree plants are mildly toxic to dogs. They also may experience vomiting, decreased appetite, drooling, and irritated skin. If you’re concerned about your cat or dog, reach out to a veterinarian immediately for further information.

Do Rubber Trees Grow In The United States?

Rubber trees thrive in USDA Zones 9 to 11 in the United States. These trees prefer warm climates, so you’ll need to bring them inside during the winter if you live in the north. Indoor rubber trees continue to flourish, reaching heights of 6 to 10 feet (or more!).

What’s The Difference Between A Rubber Tree And A Rubber Plant Tree?

Rubber tree, rubber plant, and rubber tree plant are all synonyms for the same plant – the ficus elastica.

What’s The Difference Between A Rubber Tree Plant And A Fiddle Leaf Fig?

While sometimes mistaken for one another, the fiddle leaf fig and the rubber tree plant are different plants. The fiddle leaf’s scientific name is Ficus lyrata, and the scientific name of the rubber tree is ficus elastica.

While both plants have glossy green leaves, the rubber tree plants’ leaves are oval, and the fiddle leaf fig plant has a wavy leaf edge. If you’re viewing them far apart, there may seem to be some similarities. But up close and personal, you can easily see the differences between these two plants. 

Troubleshooting Rubber Tree Issues

rubber tree plant with dying leaves

Why Are The Leaves On My Rubber Plant Falling Off?

Over or underwatering are the most common causes of leaves dropping. You are most likely overwatering your tree if it has brown tips and a yellow edge, especially on the plants’ lower leaves. 

You’re likely underwatering if you see fully yellow leaves with crispy brown tips without yellow edging. 

Why Does My Rubber Tree Plant Have Yellow Leaves?

Inadequate soil moisture–particularly overwatering–is the most common cause of yellowing leaves in rubber trees. When the top 2-3 inches of soil are bare, water your rubber tree. The soil should be moist but not wet. Allow the plant to dry out a little more between waterings in the winter.

Common Pests

The most common pests that affect rubber tree plants are as follows:

  • Spider Mites
  • Thrips
  • Aphids
  • Scale insects
  • Mealybugs

Most insecticidal soaps work well against rubber tree plant pests. You may need to spray every couple of weeks before the pests are gone. Since homemade sprays are often too harsh for indoor plants, use a commercial product. Neem oil also works well.

Final Thoughts

The rubber tree makes for a beautiful houseplant that’s difficult to kill. With just a little upkeep and proper care, it can grow and thrive for many years to come – no green thumb required. Have you had success with a rubber plant recently? We want to hear about it! Send any pictures and your story to Devri@twopeasinacondo.com!

By Patrick Chism

By Patrick Chism

Patrick likes to pretend that urban gardening is just a hobby, but he’s actually prepping for the apocalypse. He’s a practical grower, specializing in hydroponics systems and grow lights. His dream is to one day feed his family with just the food he grows in his Chicago-based condo.

About Us

My husband and I are attempting to turn our tiny city condo into an urban gardening oasis. Join us on our journey toward sustainable living and making the most of our space.

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