Updated: Oct 26, 2021
Ficus elastica, or the Rubber Tree, is an astonishing plant. Native to Southern Asia, it can grow up to 200 feet tall in their natural habitat. In India, their roots have such strength & support that they have even been trained to grow over rivers to form living bridges! Plants are truly incredible.
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Here in the United States the Rubber Tree has been an incredibly popular houseplant for years because of its versatile light requirements, appreciation for neglect, & relatively fast growth rate. They can be grown as medium-sized houseplants, or if you're patient, large trees that will be the focal point of a room.
If you are a patient grower & intend on your Ficus being a large indoor tree, it is beneficial to grow your plant from a smaller size in order for it to be able to acclimate to it's new
environment. They grow to impressive heights quickly, especially if you move the container outdoors during summer months. It is important to make sure to keep them in a container fit for their size. If you keep a larger plant in a smaller pot, it will restrict the growth.
If you wish to keep your Rubber Tree at
a smaller size, do not change the pot often.
Follow along & use our quick guide to the Ficus tree to figure out if this is the plant for you, as well as your space.
Rubber Trees are Easy to Maintain
Rubber Trees, or Ficus elastica, are an easy plant to take care of, which is why their popularity as a houseplant continues to grow over the years. While there are over 850
varieties of Ficus trees, the two we currently offer are Ficus 'Burgundy' & Ficus 'Melany'. While we don't get into specifics or differences between the two in this article, the care instructions given are focused on these two varieties.
I like to start with light requirements because after all, no matter how much you love a plant if it can not survive with the amount of light the space you are planning to keep it in, then unfortunately, all is lost. Obviously, you could always shift the location you had originally planned to keep your plant (which many of us regularly do) yet, if you are looking for a plant to live in a specific space it is best to do some research instead of using a "trial & error" method.
Fortunately, the Rubber Tree is known for its versatility when it comes to light requirements. Ficus elastica will THIRVE in bright, indirect light, but they will TOLERATE low light levels (which is unusual for a ficus). Avoid direct sunlight at all costs as the strong rays of the sun will burn the Rubber Tree's foliage, leaving you with sun spots or crispy leaves.
Ideally, you want to keep your Ficus elastica in an eastern or southern facing window. When attempting to fill "bright light" requirements make sure to take temperature into account. Windows can amplify the sun's light & heat. Both can reach dangerous levels causing issues, such as burning foliage. Some suggest applying a sheer curtain in the window in order to decrease the intensity of the sun's rays. Sheer fabric should filter an adequate amount of light while simultaneously shading the plant so it doesn't get too hot.
Want your Ficus tree to be the most vibrant on the block?
Ample light will increase the intensity of the color of mature leaves. When speaking about the Ficus elastica 'Burgundy,' increased light will deepen the burgundy color of the leaves & brighten the pink finish on new leaves.
How To Tell You're Tree Needs More Light
One way to tell if your Rubber Tree need more light is if it becomes leggy, if the leaves lose their luster, or if they lower leaves begin to fall off.
*Note that it is natural for leaves to fall from the bottom naturally as the plant grows older. Falling leaves to make place for new growth will happen at a slower pace than those falling from an issue such as lack of light, overwatering, etc.
Soil for Rubber Trees
Rubber Trees are tolerant to a range of growing conditions & can survive in a variety of different potting soils & mixes, so you don't have to be picky if you don't want to.
Light, Well Draining Soil is Optimal
With that being said, your Rubber Tree will thrive in a well-draining & slightly acidic soil with a pH ranging from 5.5 to 7.0. Again, it can tolerate a number of potting mixes, but it will thrive in one containing one part peat or potting soil, one part pine bark, & one part coarse sand or perlite.
Mimicking the Plant's Natural Environment
To ensure houseplants receive the nutrients & conditions they require to support a healthy root system, each plant's ideal potting mix should be designed to mimic the plant's natural environment. Rubber Trees are native to the humid rainforests of South & Southeast Asia where they have a consistently even & lightly moisturized rich, well-draining soil.
How to Tell You're Using The Wrong Soil
Your soil holds too much water.
The soil dries out too quickly.
How to Tell Your Soil is Holding Too Much Water
If you have planted your Ficus elastica in a soil that isn't draining well enough & it is holding too much moisture, your tree may start to display ...
Leaves turning yellow or brown
Leaves developing brown or yellow spots
Leaves drooping & falling off plant
I wish I could say these symptoms are hard to notice, but if you aren't watering your Ficus enough your in for a Rubber Tree that's sporting it's finest birthday suit!
All jokes aside, this could be a sign of the dreaded ROOT ROT.
Suggestions on How to Encourage Drainage
First let's begin by making sure the pot you are using is adequately draining water. If the drainage hole is working properly, but the pot is larger in size, you can encourage water drainage by adding 1 or 2 more drainage holes. This can be done by drilling holes into the bottom of your pot.
Before drilling your own drainage holes:
Remove contents from the pot.
Make sure you have a drill bit that is specialized for the same material your pot is made from.
Don't drill too many holes -- for example, for a 6" size pot 1 or 2 drainage holes may suffice. The number of holes is dependent on the surface area of the bottom of the container.
Another suggestion if water is failing to drain properly is to find a new pot made of a material that will encourage drainage. Unglazed terracotta pots are the most suggested pot when encouraging drainage as it is porous & will wick water away from the potting soil. Therefore, these are ideal pots for plants which prefer better drainage.
**If you check out our HORTICULT HOUSEPLANT HANDBOOK we have a more detailed instruction guide on these subjects.
Watering Your Rubber Tree
When to Water
Before watering your new Rubber Tree it is imperative you measure the level of moisture content the soil has already gathered. Unlike many other varieties, Ficus elastica prefers to be watered when the top 2 inches of the soil is dry OR when the soil is dry at least half-way down the pot. It is crucial they do not sit in water logged, wet soil.
Another tip for watering your Ficus elastica is to try to water closer the bottom of the plant or top of the soil. Water that splashes on to the leaves can cause stains on the foliage.
Misting during any season, if the air in your climate is too dry, is suggested. The is especially recommended during the winter months if you have brought your Ficus inside & it is being warmed by heated dry air from your home's heater.
Seasonal Differences in Watering Patterns Should be Considered As Well.
Summer: Summer is the Ficus' growing period, which means the soil should be kept moist. This can include wiping the leaves with a damp cloth or even misting them.
Winter: Dormant season; during the dormant season you only need to water your Ficus once or twice a month.
How to Know You Are Underwatering
Droopy leaves indicate a need for more water.
Small white dots on the tips of your foliage could be another indication of underwatering your Ficus.
How to Know You Are Overwatering
Leaves turn yellow or brown
Leaves begin to drop
As with most houseplants, you will read "overwatering is the easiest way to kill" your [plant] time & time again. This is the case with Ficus elastica -- if your Rubber Tree is planted in water-logged soil that cannot be aerated or there is standing water at the bottom of the pot for so long it drowns the roots, this can harm the plant & eventually lead to it's demise.
But! With that being said, I believe "overwatering is the easiest way to kill your [plant]" should be changed to "the easiest way to kill your plant is by allowing your plant to fall victim to the symptoms of overwatering."
Ultimately, overwatering is an easy way to harm your plant, but there are many prevention techniques to ensure that even if you accidentally water your plant excessively, that doesn't mean it will die. Prevention tactics include adding perlite, vermiculite, & other drainage supporters to your soil, using containers made from a material that water can pass through, & other deterring factors can all make overwatering a less daunting task.
-- Please watch out for my new blog on overwatering coming soon --
Interesting Fact about Water Temperature when Watering
As I was researching for this blog I found an interesting suggestion by The Flower Shop Network. If you want to go the extra mile, they suggest watering with lukewarm water opposed to cold tap water. As the tap water stands until its temperature has risen to room temperature, the chlorine will evaporate which reduces the shock that cold water can cause to plant roots.
Other Maintenance Requirements
Other than light & water requirements, the occasional pruning & repotting are suggested. Rubber Trees should be pruned once they mature if you are looking for a compact shape. Moreover, pruning older leaves will stimulate new foliage growth & encourage a lush, full plant. As far as repotting is concerned, frequency depends on the size your plant. During the Ficus' early stages you may be repotting every 4-5 months. Once the plant becomes larger & more established (3+ gallon pot) the repotting time frame becomes much longer -- it could be 1 or 2 years before you must change containers again!
Container vs. In-Ground Garden
For much of the United States** Rubber Trees are best grown as a houseplant due to their tropical nature. However, in areas where temperatures never fall below 50ºF the tree will thrive in an in-ground garden.
Whether your climate provides you with the option of an in-ground tree or if the winter temperatures drop below 50ºF, there are a number of factors to consider:
Planted In-Ground a Rubber Tree Can Grow Over 100 Feet Tall
Under the proper climatic conditions a rubber tree can grow to be anywhere from 40 to 100 feet tall. To put that height into perspective, a mature tree could reach the same elevation as a 10 story building. When expecting a plant to eventually grow to be such a size it is critical to give thought to its placement. For instance, you wouldn't want to plant a tree that may be over 100' in an area near utility wires!
This is only one of the many examples to reflect on -- if you'd like to learn more about outdoor tree placement, I have listed a quick guide at the end of this blog entry with more details to give thought to.
Planted in a Container (with a drainage hole)
With that being said, if you plant your Ficus in a container your plant will grow to be about 4 to 6 feet tall. They have a fast growth rate, but you won't have to repot or change the size of the container for 1-2 years.
Rubber Trees are Air Purifiers
Like many beneficial house plants, Rubber Trees purify the air around them. Ficus elastica will filter airborne toxins, such as formaldehyde & carbon monoxide.
Concerns That Come With Keeping A Ficus elastica
Between the Ficus' low maintenance characteristics, light versatility, as well as their few & far between waterings these plants seem like beneficial & indestructible houseplants -- & they are! Alas, every ideal plant comes with at least one concern. For the Ficus, when used as a houseplant it is important to consider that this plant is considered toxic to animals. The latex in the white sap can cause irritation to the skin & should be kept away from children & animals. Avoid the plant completely if you yourself or any of the members of your house have a latex allergy. Moreover, the plant contains allergens that may result in asthma symptoms.
When it comes to this low maintenance plant the Rubber Tree is ideal for any plant collector -- expert to beginner. Between it's light versatility, few & far between waterings & repotting, & it's air purifying qualities Ficus elastica is an awesome plant to keep in your home.
We are offering the Rubber Tree in 2 different varieties -- Melany & Burgundy. Check them out!
**DISCLAIMER: Unfortunately, Horticult is only permitted to ship live plants to the United States. With that being said, the goal of our blogs is to better inform our customers about the plants we offer & provide guidance for what to expect upon the reception of your order. If you are from another region of the world & have stumbled on to our blog, we hope you understand & will not be discouraged if some of the information is region specific. We do our best to keep the majority of the material practical & productive for everyone.
**If we failed to explore an area you are interested in or want to ask us a question we didn't cover, please feel free to jump on the chat feature located at the bottom right corner of the window or email us & we will get back to you ASAP!