How to Grow Rubber Plant (Rubber Tree)

Large potted rubber tree in living room

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True to its name, the rubber plant, also called a rubber tree (Ficus elastica), was once harvested in its native Southeast Asia for its latex-rich sap. As houseplants, rubber trees are fast-growing species that are relatively easy to care for. Their large, glossy leaves make a striking visual impression while purifying the air in your home.

Since rubber plants can grow up to 10 feet high in just a few years, they’re great for accenting a space with high ceilings. Thanks to judicious pruning, special propagation techniques, and even dwarf cultivars like F. elastica ‘Decora,’ indoor gardeners can also grow them in smaller spaces. Keep your rubber plant out of reach of children and pets, as this species is toxic.

  • Botanical Name: Ficus elastica
  • Common Name: Rubber plant, rubber tree
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Mature Size: 50 feet high
  • Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
  • Soil Type: Well-drained potting mix
  • Soil pH: 5.5–7.0
  • Toxicity: Toxic to humans and pets
Rubber tree variants growing indoors with various plants on windowsill

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Plant Care

Keep a close eye on the moisture level of your rubber tree’s soil. It should be moist at all times, but too much or too little water can cause issues. For your plant to thrive, the soil must be kept evenly moist at all times—not too wet and not too dry.

Your rubber plant may need less frequent watering during the winter months. In addition to monitoring soil moisture, it’s a good idea to keep your plant in a relatively small pot, which can’t hold enough water to drown the plant even if you’re a little heavy-handed with the watering can.

When you notice dust accumulating on your rubber tree's shiny leaves, wipe them gently with a feather duster or a damp cloth. You can also place your plant in the shower and give it a gentle rinse to clean the leaves.

Avoid sudden changes in environment: As with its relative, the fiddle-leaf fig, relocating your rubber tree to a spot with different conditions may cause it to drop leaves while acclimating.

Best Growing Conditions for Rubber Plants

Place your rubber tree in a spot with moderate temperatures (75–85 degrees during the day and 60–65 degrees at night) and away from cold drafts or dry heat.

Rubber trees are highly adaptable and thrive in bright, indirect light or lower-light spots. Variegated cultivars, like pink-veined ‘Ruby,’ need bright light to maintain their light green and cream coloring, so only choose these varieties if you have a large south-facing window for them to grow.

A rubber tree in a sunny spot will require more water and vigilant attention to soil moisture than one grown in shade. Drooping leaves indicate an underwatered plant, while yellow leaves mean it's time to cut back on watering.

Small rubber plant in pot

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Types of Rubber Plants

There are many common rubber plant varieties. Ficus robusta is closest to the original rubber plant, while the more durable Ficus elastica was cultivated for use indoors. Ficus decora has larger, broader leaves, and features a center vein with red underneath (the burgundy variety has dark leaves). There’s even a creeping ficus, Ficus pumila, also known as a creeping fig vine.

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How to Propagate Rubber Plants

Rubber plants can be propagated via air layering (preferred) or taking tip or stem cuttings. While the process may take months to complete, new plants will grow faster if it's begun during the spring growing season. Here's how to propagate your rubber plant:

How to Propagate Rubber Plants via Air Layering

Air layering is often used with tall plants like rubber trees that grow leaves atop a bare stem. This technique allows you to turn the top portion of the stem into a new plant. The process causes nutrients in the plant's vascular system to accumulate at a stem cut, prompting new roots to grow from that point. Here's how to propagate your rubber plant via air layering:

Step 1: Gather sharp gardening shears, a toothpick, long-fibered sphagnum moss, twine or twist ties, a clear plastic bag, and optional rooting hormone.

Step 2: Identify a healthy spot on the plant to propagate. When air layering before pruning leafy tops from a too-tall specimen, chose a place at least six inches below the leaves on the stem.

Step 3: Using a clean, sharp blade, carefully make an upward diagonal cut about one-third of the way through the stem or branch. 

Step 4: Insert the toothpick sideways in the cut to keep it open. To speed up the process, apply rooting hormone to the cut surface (new roots will still grow without it). 

Step 5: Moisten a handful of sphagnum moss, then tie it around the stem cut using twine or twist ties. This gives the new roots a medium to grow into. 

Step 6: To hold in moisture, tie the plastic around the stem just above and below the cutting to completely cover the ball of moss.

Step 7: After new roots grow within a few months, remove the plastic wrap, then trim the stem or branch just below the new root growth. Plant your new rubber tree—leaving the moss on the roots—in a pot with fresh soil. Keep the soil moist, but not wet. Once new growth appears on the stem, your rubber tree can gradually handle more water.

If you still need to trim a leggy rubber plant after air layering, cut off the remaining bare stem about 5 inches above the soil line, then add some fresh soil to the pot.

How to Propagate Rubber Plants via Cuttings

Propagating via cuttings is a great way to put the pruned-off pieces of your rubber tree to work. You can use tip cuttings—the end of a branch with new growth—or a portion of healthy stem. Here's how to propagate stem cuttings:

Step 1: Gather a sharp knife, a sealable plastic bag, a chopstick, and optional rooting hormone.

Step 2: Using a clean, sharp blade, cut off a six-inch portion of a healthy branch just above a leaf node. Tips should have a cluster of two to three leaves at the end, while stem cuttings should have at least one leaf at the top. 

Step 3: Trim any lower leaves. Apply optional rooting hormone to the bottom end of your cutting, then plant it in a small pot with moistened all-purpose potting soil. 

Step 4: Place the cutting in a clear, sealable plastic bag (like a gallon zip-top bag). Use a chopstick in the soil to prevent the bag from touching leaves. Seal the bag almost shut—but not completely—to hold in moisture.

Step 5: Put the bag in a warm place with moderate, indirect light. Remove the plastic bag once roots have grown within two to three months, and look for new foliage in about six months. Care for your plant as usual.

Tall rubber plant growing in pot indoors

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Common Problems With Rubber Plants

Rubber plants can be finicky, but there are simple solutions to common problems you may encounter like drooping or yellow leaves, leaf drop, and pests. Here's how to keep your plant growing healthy:

Drooping or Yellow Leaves

Too little or too much water will lead to chlorosis (yellowing leaves) and leaf drop. If your rubber plant's leaves are drooping, it's likely underwatered. Slowly increase soil moisture until the plant grows healthy. Yellow leaves indicate an overwatered plant that needs less frequent watering.

Leaf Drop

If a rubber plant receives too much direct sunlight, the leaves can get scorched. Plants can also drop leaves and experience shock when brought indoors for the first time. Keep conditions stable and provide bright, indirect light.

Pests

Mealybugs and spider mites are common on rubber plants. Spray the plant down with insecticidal soap to remove both pests.

Rubber plant growing in modern living room

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Potting and Repotting Rubber Plants

Early spring is typically the best time to repot this species. Plant your rubber tree in a fast-draining, all-purpose potting mix. They prefer to be pot-bound, so avoid choosing a container that’s too large. Fertilize your plant no more than every six months to keep these vigorous growers from getting too large for your indoor space.

FAQs

Are Rubber Trees Easy to Care For?

Rubber trees require more care than some other houseplants, but can grow easily with proper watering schedules and light exposure.

Can Rubber Trees Grow Outdoors?

Rubber trees can only grow outdoors year-round in warm climates, like USDA hardiness zones 10 through 12.

How Fast Do Rubber Trees Grow?

Rubber trees typically grow about two feet per year, reaching heights of about 10 feet at maturity indoors.

How Long Can Rubber Trees Live?

Rubber trees typically live up to 25 years indoors, but can survive for nearly 100 years outside in proper conditions.

Article Sources
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  1. Ficus Elastica. CABI: Invasive Species Compendium. Updated 2020

  2. Hong SH, Hong J, Yu J, Lim Y. Study of the Removal Difference in Indoor Particulate Matter and Volatile Organic Compounds Through the Application of Plants. Environ Health Toxicol. 2017;32:e2017006.doi:10.5620/eht.e2017006

  3. American Rubber Plant. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 21 September 2021.

  4. How Can I Propagate a Rubber Tree? Iowa State University: Extension and Outreach: Horticulture and Home Pest News. Updated 2020

  5. Plant Propagation. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension: Garden & Yard. Updated n.d.

  6. Focus on Plant Problems: Chlorosis. University of Illinois Extension. Updated 2020

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