Rubber plant care | Ficus elastica

If you love indoor trees, one plant you cannot pass up (and have probably heard of!) is Ficus elastica. Also known as the rubber plant, its name was derived from the latex-like sap it excretes when damaged. This tropical is a favorite in the houseplant hobby due to its lovely glossy foliage and relatively easy care.

Keep reading to find out all about Ficus elastica care in the home and how to keep yours happy and healthy!

Name(s) (common, scientific)Rubber plant, rubber tree, rubber bush, rubber fig, Indian rubber tree, Ficus elastica
Recommended lightingBright indirect
WaterKeep lightly moist
Soil typePotting soil + grit

Ficus elastica natural habitat

Ficus elastica is native to Asia, India, and Malaysia. That being said, nowadays this species can be found all over the world, even in the USA. In the wild, rubber trees can grow up to 80 to 100-feet (24-30 meters) tall.

They stay much smaller indoors, obviously, but still grow large enough to get that lovely indoor tree effect!

Ficus elastica (rubber tree houseplant) on white background | How to grow a ficus elastica indoors

Ficus elastica light and temperature

Rubber plant care: Light

Rubber plants thrive in bright but indirect light, preferably from south-facing windows (in the Northern Hemisphere). Some variations, like the reddish ‘Burgundy’ and ‘Ruby’, can handle a couple of hours of direct sunlight a day.

Rubber plants, like other houseplants, tend to bend strongly in the direction of sunlight. As such, it helps to turn the pots around or change locations from time to time. Every month or so should work well. When it comes to rubber tree care this is not actually much of a big deal, though. It’s mostly aesthetic unless your plant is really at risk of falling over.

Rubber plant care: Temperature

Since they originate from sub-tropical climates, rubber trees do best between 15-25 °C/60-75 °F. For optimal rubber tree care, try not to let the room cool down to below 12 °C/50 °F. Low temperatures can cause the plants to drop their leaves. It’s also crucial to avoid putting rubber plants in drafty areas, or too close to A/C units or heaters.

When it comes to humidity, rubber plants are pretty forgiving. They do well at normal room humidity, though during the dry winter months, they’ll benefit from being in the proximity of a humidifier.

Small Ficus elastica (rubber tree houseplant) photographed with other common houseplants

Note: Variegated rubber plant care

As mentioned above, rubber plant care generally involves allowing plenty of light to reach your plant, including a bit of direct sun here and there. However, there is an exception to this rule. The ‘Tineke’ or variegated rubber plant variety doesn’t handle direct sunlight as well. In fact, intense sun can cause the leaves to start burning around the edges. Do be sure to give a variegated rubber plant plenty of light, though. They’ll lose their beautiful variegation if it’s too dark.

This is really the only difference with variegated rubber plant care compared to general Ficus elastica care.

Ficus elastica soil and planting

Rubber plant care: soil

Although recommendations vary for exactly what soil mixture is best for rubber tree care, everyone agrees that providing good drainage is a must to prevent damage to the roots. Without proper drainage, the roots sit in still water, deprived of oxygen and susceptible to root rot. Wet feet are almost never good!

So how do you add drainage? If you are using general potting soil for your Ficus elastica, you can add a small amount of perlite or bark to help prevent the mixture from becoming tightly packed.

Some people also use cactus soil or peat in their mixtures. Since each plant is different, you may need to do some experimenting to see what works best for you.

Rubber plant care: planting

When it comes to repotting, you only need to do it once a year or whenever the plant seems root-bound. If the roots are coming out of the bottom of the planter, it might be time! It’s best to repot during growing season (spring and summer), although if you get a new plant straight from the store, you might want to wait and let it acclimate until next season.

It goes without saying that the pot should have holes in the bottom to let the water pass through. This applies to pretty much any houseplant. A standard plastic nursery pot will work well and allows you to use a decorative overpot.

Green rubber tree (Ficus elastica) in the sun.

Watering Ficus elastica

When it comes to rubber tree care, it’s important to carefully monitor how much you’re watering. Unfortunately, many houseplants suffer from being overwatered, and rubber trees are no exception! The plant should be kept lightly moist but never wet, especially during winter.

One obvious sign that you are overwatering your rubber plants is that the leaves, especially closest to the bottom, will begin to turn a sickly yellow and fall off. You can tell if a plant needs to be watered by sticking your finger two to three inches into the soil. If any of the soil sticks because of dampness, no watering is required. If you have a very large plant and deep pot, you could invest in a soil moisture meter just to be safe.

Overall, you’ll likely find that your Ficus elastica needs water about once a week during summer. During winter, when it’s not actively growing, it could be as little as every other week.

Tip: When doing regular watering and care for rubber tree plants, also take the time to gently wipe down the leaves with a damp cloth. This helps to remove dust and allows the plant to absorb more sunlight. It can also help combat any pests, although these plants don’t tend to get affected as much as other houseplants do.

Ficus elastica (rubber tree), a popular houseplant.

Propagating Ficus elastica

If you love your plant and want even more of it, there are multiple methods for propagating. One of the easiest methods is air layering.

Air layering is often used for trees and plants that are difficult to propagate. It involves cutting into the stem of a plant to encourage the stem cells to sprout new individuals from the affected area. You then need to wrap the area with a material to encourage growth, such as wet moss. Some people also introduce rooting hormones into the cut to help make the process faster, although it’ll still take a few weeks before you see any roots.

Basically, the above means you trick the plant into producing roots or even new plantlets on its trunk. Then, you can remove the plantlet and just pot it up. If only roots have grown, you can cut the entire top off your Ficus elastica and plant this. The mother plant will grow new sprouts and continue growing fine, as will the brand new plant.

If air layering seems like too much of a hassle, you can also take regular cuttings of a rubber tree. Cut a piece off the plant using clean scissors, preferably a relatively young bit with a few leaves and visible nodes. Stick this in water or regular rubber tree soil and it should root within a few weeks!

Ficus elastica fertilizer

When it comes to rubber plant care, it’s handy to know that these plants aren’t high demand when it comes to fertilizer. In fact, a lot of people don’t bother with fertilizer much at all. Still, it’ll appreciate a little bit of food!

When feeding this plant, it’s recommended to use a diluted liquid fertilizer only once or twice a month during the growing season.

Buying Ficus elastica

Since many of the varieties are relatively inexpensive, you don’t have to break the bank to take home a plant of your own. Because of its popularity, you can often find them in local stores and nurseries. You can also buy a Ficus elastica online.

It also helps that, as already discussed above, these plants are hardy and not very demanding. Providing long-term care for rubber tree plants won’t leave you strapped for cash and you can always propagate offsets of your rubber tree to sell and share the love.

Is Ficus elastica toxic to cats and dogs?

Rubber plants are mildly toxic to cats and dogs. The problem is that the sap that the tree lends its name from can cause problems in pets when ingested. Not something likely to cause severe illness, but still not ideal if your pet likes to munch on greenery. If you’re looking for non-toxic plants, have a look at the list of cat safe houseplants!

Signs that your pet may have gotten into the plants include decreased appetite, skin irritation, drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea. So, when considering how to best care for rubber tree plants, also remember to keep your furry friends’ care in mind, too! Keep this one on a high shelf or in a room that your pets cannot access.

If you have any more questions about growing Ficus elastica or want to share your own experiences with rubber tree care and growing, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!