The rubber tree plant, also known as Indian rubber tree or by its Latin name, Ficus elastica, is a popular indoor plant valued for its glossy, bold foliage, adaptability to indoor conditions, durability and ease of care. The plant's deep green leaves reach up to 1 foot in length and grow from a central, woody stem that grows up to 10 feet in height indoors. Native to India and Malaysia, the undemanding rubber tree requires warm growing conditions to thrive. It tolerates heat, but cold drafts cause leaf-drop, which makes placement one of the most important aspects of care.
Site and Soil
Rubber trees perform best when grown in high-quality, well-drained potting soil and placed in bright, indirect sunlight. Although the rubber tree plant tolerates low-light conditions, it prefers bright light such as that from a south- or east-facing window. In extremely hot climates where the plant receives full sun, it may require some afternoon shade to prevent scorching the leaves. Rubber tree also benefits from spending the warm spring and summer months outdoors in a partially shaded area.
Because of its tropical and sub-tropical origins, the rubber tree plant needs warm temperatures throughout the year to stay healthy. If temperatures drop too low, the plant may sustain permanent damage. Ideal growing temperatures for rubber tree are 62 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 80 to 85 degrees during the day. The plant tolerates temperatures as low as 50 degrees, however, but only for short periods. If placing the tree outdoors during spring and summer, bring it indoors before temperatures drop below 60 degrees to avoid potential cold damage.
The rubber tree plant prefers moist soil and drops leaves if the soil becomes too dry. Weekly watering typically provides enough moisture to keep the plant happy, but in very dry or hot areas, more frequent watering may be necessary. For the best results, water rubber tree when the top 1 inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Soaking the soil thoroughly until water seeps from the drainage holes in the bottom of the container ensures the roots receive enough moisture. Always use lukewarm water to avoid shocking the plant's roots and never allow the plant to stand in water for long periods.
Feeding rubber tree plants once every two weeks during the spring and summer months encourages new growth. Using an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer diluted to half the recommended strength prevents over-fertilization and provides the nutrients necessary for the plant to thrive. Rubber tree requires supplemental feeding only about once per month during the fall and no fertilizer is necessary in winter when active growth ceases.
Rubber tree plant prefers to stay slightly root bound and needs re-potting only once every few years, or whenever it completely outgrows its current container. Re-potting performed in late winter or early spring provides the best results, as this gives the plant time to become established in its new home before active growth resumes.
As a houseplant with large leaves, the rubber tree plant accumulates dust quite easily. Wiping the leaves with a cloth soaked in lukewarm water about once per week removes dust and prevents pests from gathering on the foliage. Removing damaged leaves when necessary improves the plant's health and visual appeal, although it rarely requires extensive pruning.