In recent years, the ubiquitous fiddle leaf fig has dominated all other entrants in the competition for most popular in-house tree-like plants. But we think it's time to give this understated but stately tree — with its large, deep green leaves — a second look and another chance. Here's how to maintain a rubber plant as a striking part of your home decor for years to come.
About Rubber Plants
Rubber trees, formally ficus elastica, can be enjoyed as either medium-sized house plants or grown to become focal point, beautiful indoor trees. If you're patient enough to grow your own, plants that start out younger when you buy them adapt better to indoor living than starting with a more mature plant. They can grow to impressive heights within a few years, especially if you put the plants outside during the summer. Keeping the plants in small pots will restrict their growth, if you want to keep them smaller.
Soil for Rubber Plants
Rubber plants don't like to sit in water, so a well-draining soil is important. House Plant Expert suggests, in particular, that a "well-draining and well-aerated potting soil is needed. 1 part peat, 1 part pine bark and 1 part coarse sand (or perlite) is a good mix."
Burgundy Rubber Plant in 8.75-Inch Grower Pot from Amazon; $29.86 with free Prime shipping
Rubber plants like bright light and a lot of it, but not direct sunlight. A sunny spot shielded by a sheer curtain is often perfect for rubber plants. You can tell if your rubber plant needs more light if it becomes leggy, its leaves lose their luster, and lower leaves fall off.
Watering and Fertilizing Your Rubber Plant
Rubber plants' water needs vary according to season: In the growing season (summer), the plant should be kept moist. This includes wiping the leaves with a damp cloth or even misting them. During the dormant season, your plant may only need water once or twice a month. Watch for droopy leaves, which indicate a need for more water. Leaves that turn yellow and brown and drop signal over-watering.
Mist during any season if they air is too dry, especially heated dry air like that which might occur during winter indoors.
Another tip is to water with lukewarm water. Flower Shop Network explains, "Let cold tap water to stand until room temperature as this allows chlorine to evaporate and reduces the shock that cold water can cause to plant roots."
Fertilize your rubber plant during the growing season only, as is typical with most indoor plants.
Pruning and Re-potting Rubber Plants
Aside from removing dead or dying leaves, rubber plants don't require much pruning. However, for shaping, keep the following in mind: Don't cut off the top until your plant reaches the desired height. When you do cut off the top, your plant will branch out. You can always prune to your desired shape by cutting back unruly branches. Pruning in spring or summer is best but not absolutely necessary.
If you don't re-pot your plants, they will not grow. However, don't put rubber plants in pots that are too big. Transplanting to pots that are about an inch bigger in diameter than the previous pot is a good rule of thumb.
Burgundy Rubber Plant in 1 quart pot from Etsy; 15.99 plus $7.95 shipping
Propagating Rubber Plants
Once your friends and family see how gorgeous your rubber plant is, they'll probably want one of their own. Although it doesn't always work perfectly, rubber plants are one of those plants that you can just hack a piece from and stick in soil and they can grow. Allowing the sap to dry, dipping the cutting in rooting medium, and adding a heating pad under the pot with the cutting in it can increase your chances of success.
You can also air layer, which Gardening Know How explains: "Another method, called air layering, is where you make a cut in a healthy rubber tree houseplant, put a toothpick in the hole, then pack damp moss around the cut. After that, you wrap it with plastic wrap to keep the moisture level higher. Once roots begin to appear, cut the branch off and plant."
To promote new leaf growth where leaves have fallen, cut a notch in the node from which the leaf fell.
10" Burgundy Ficus Rubber Plant from Garden Goods Direct; $39.99 plus shipping
Indoor vs. Outdoors
If you live in U.S. zones 10 and 11, you can grow rubber plants outdoors. (If you are able to protect them during the winter, zone 9 is possible as well.) Otherwise, keep them in a container to bring in during the colder months, once it dips to 30 degrees. Place them in shade, or dappled sun, where they can grow up to 100 feet. Due to their size, they make great space dividers and privacy screening on patios and decks.
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