The rubber plant, Ficus elastica, is named after the rubbery white latex that runs through its stems and branches, and which was once used to make rubber. It has wide, glossy leaves. In its native south Asian habitat it can reach heights of 60m, but it's more likely to reach just 2m in an indoor setting.
Grown as a house plant, it will make an attractive focal point.
How to grow rubber plant
Grow your rubber plant in bright but indirect light and water only when the top two inches of the compost have dried out. In drier rooms, mist regularly to increase humidity around the plant, and dust or wipe the leaves to ensure they can photosynthesise properly. In spring and summer, it will benefit from a monthly liquid feed.
Where to grow rubber plant
Rubber plants do best in rooms with medium light levels, so not too close to a window or too far from it, and with a good level of humidity. A bathroom or kitchen makes a fine humid spot for it, but if you grow yours in a living room or bedroom, make sure you mist the leaves regularly or stand the pot on a tray of moist pebbles, to increase humidity.
Caring for rubber plant
Water only when the top two inches of compost have dried out and don't let your rubber plant sit in water. Feed monthly with a liquid feed in spring and summer. Wipe or dust the leaves regularly to ensure they photosynthesise properly, and mist or stand the pot on a tray of moist pebbles to keep humidity levels up.
During the dormant season, your rubber plant should need watering only once a month.
Rubber plant needs very little pruning. Remove dead and dying leaves as and when you need to. Don’t cut off the top until it reaches the height you want it to grow to, otherwise it will branch out.
Repot your rubber plant into fresh compost every one to two years, into a pot the next size up.
Growing rubber plant: problem-solving
If your rubber plant develops leggy growth and its leaves lose their shine and start to drop, it's a sign that it's not getting enough light. Find it an alternative spot with more light and it should resume normal growth. You can cut a notch in the node from which the leaf fell to promote new leaf growth.
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Droopy leaves suggest your rubber plant needs more water. Add more water in stages to rehydrate the plant without overwatering.
Yellow and brown leaves suggest overwatering. Ensure the pot isn't sitting in water and let the compost dry out fully before watering again, sparingly.
Rubber plant is susceptible to pests such as mealybugs, scale insects, spider mites, and thrips. Inspect leaves regularly and wipe any pests off before they have a chance to become a problem.
How to propagate rubber plant
Rubber plant propagates easily from cuttings. Take cuttings from the tips, about 10cm long. Strip leaves from the lower third and place in water for 30 mins. Then place your cutting in moist compost, seal a clear plastic bag over the pot and put in a bright place out of direct sun. You can also leave the cutting in water for several months, where it will develop roots and you can pot it on afterwards. However, rooting the cutting in compost is a more reliable method of propagation.
Advice on buying rubber plant
Always make sure you buy your rubber plant from a reputable supplier and check the plant carefully for signs of pests and disease
If carrying your rubber plant home from the garden centre or supermarket, protect it from cold weather and winds, as these could damage your plant before you get it home
Where to buy rubber plant
Varieties of rubber plant to grow
- Ficus elastica 'Tineke' - large variegated leaves with cream margins
- Ficus elastica 'Abidjan' - burgundy flushed leaves
- Ficus elastica 'Robusta' - similar to the species but with wider, glossier leaves