By Jennifer Poindexter
Ficus trees were once all the rage in home décor. If you still have one, you were wise for hanging on to it because they’re making a comeback.
This time around, many gardeners are trying their hand at growing an array of live trees in their home. One of these trees is a variety of Ficus known as the rubber tree plant.
It has large, waxy leaves, and it’s up to the gardener how large this tree can become. If you’re ready to trade-in your faux Ficus tree for a live rubber tree plant, here’s what you must know:
Growing Conditions for the Rubber Plant Tree
A rubber tree plant can be grown indoors or outdoors depending upon your planting zone. This tree is a perennial in planting zones 10 and 11.
If grown outdoors, the tree should be planted in full to partial shade. Be prepared because it will be a behemoth when it reaches its full potential of 100 feet in height.
In most cases, though, the rubber tree plant will be grown as a houseplant. If you’re in planting zones nine and below, the tree should be grown in a pot.
You can still move it outdoors during warmer parts of the year, but when the temperatures fall below freezing, the plant must be indoors.
When raising the plant indoors, you should decide how big you want it to get. If you want a smaller tree, choose a smaller pot.
If you’re okay with the plant becoming larger, opt for a larger container. Either way, the tree should grow in well-draining soil and receive indirect sunlight.
You’ll know the rubber tree plant isn’t getting enough light if the leaves become dull, start falling off the tree, or the tree appears lanky.
This plant is used to tropical climates and will need a high humidity level within the home. Take all these points into consideration when choosing the perfect grow space for the rubber tree plant.
How to Plant the Rubber Tree Plant
The rubber tree plant can be propagated using two different methods. The first method is known as air layer propagation.
This is the lesser used method, but it’s good to know in case you’d like to try your hand at it. Find a healthy stem on your rubber tree plant.
Put a slice in the stem without cutting it all the way through. Once the slit has been made, insert a toothpick into the cut.
Place damp grow medium (such as moss) around the toothpick and finish the process by wrapping the toothpick in plastic wrap.
Watch the toothpick closely. Over the coming weeks you should begin noticing roots forming. When the roots have formed, cut the stem completely away from the plant. Place it in a pot with well-draining soil and care for it as you would any other rubber tree plant.
Another method of propagation is via cutting. There’s no specific piece of the plant which grows better than another.
Therefore, cut any random piece from the plant. Dip the piece in rooting hormone if you choose. This step is optional. Place the cutting in a planter filled with well-draining potting soil.
Water the plant consistently over the coming weeks until the plant becomes established. Once the root system has developed, care for it as you would any other rubber tree plant.
These are the most common methods used when propagating this variety of plant. Hopefully, these steps will help you to grow rubber tree plants with ease in the coming years.
How to Care for the Rubber Tree Plant
There are an assortment of needs the rubber tree plant must have met to grow successfully. The most obvious need is water.
All plants require water for survival. The rubber tree plant should be allowed to dry out between watering sessions.
Therefore, using the knuckle test is a great idea to ensure you don’t over or under water your plant. Insert your finger into the soil next to the plant.
If the soil is dry to the first knuckle, the plant needs more water. If not, you should skip watering that day.
Another key to understanding the plant’s water needs is to watch its leaves. If the leaves are turning yellow or brown, the rubber tree plant is receiving too much water.
If the plant’s leaves are falling off, it’s not receiving enough water. Use these few tips to help you find a balance when watering the rubber tree plant.
When your plant is in its dormant stage (over winter), you should reduce its watering sessions. It should only need water one to two times per month.
Another good idea when watering the rubber tree plant is to allow your water to sit until it becomes room temperature.
Just as humans draw their toes back when stepping into a bathtub with cold water, the plant’s roots feel the same shock. Room temperature water is received better.
Plus, if you use city water to water your rubber tree plant, it may be chlorinated. This can cause problems for your plant.
By allowing the water to sit until it reaches room temperature, you give the chlorine a chance to evaporate prior to watering.
The next steps to caring for your rubber tree plant are fertilizing and pruning. Your plant should only be fertilized during its grow season (summer months).
Your rubber tree plant doesn’t need to be pruned. You should only remove the top of the plant when it has reached the height you desire.
Once the top is cut, the plant will begin to grow horizontally instead of vertically. This will make it have a fuller appearance.
You may also cut your plant to encourage new growth. At times, the rubber tree plant may lose some leaves.
If the empty spots bother you, simply cut into the node where the leaf fell off. This will help stimulate new growth on the plant.
Another item the rubber tree plant requires is increased humidity. You can supply this by placing the plant in your bathroom or kitchen.
If this is an issue in your home, consider spritzing the plant with a water bottle a few times per day. This is an easy way to increase humidity around the plant.
The last thing you should do to care for your rubber tree plant is to repot it when the plant becomes root bound.
Be mindful not to increase the pot size by more than one inch around. This will be enough to encourage new growth of your plant without giving it too much freedom.
The rubber tree plant has a few maintenance tasks which must be performed for a healthy plant. By supplying these needs, your rubber tree plant could become your new favorite houseplant.
Garden Pests and Diseases for the Rubber Tree Plant
Unfortunately, there are multiple pests and diseases you should be aware of when growing a rubber tree plant.
The pests you must know about are mealybugs, scales, spider mites, root knot nematodes, and thrips. Mealybugs are tiny, light-colored insects that eat your plant’s foliage, root system, and sip its sap. You can hand pick these pests or wipe the plant down with a swab doused in rubbing alcohol.
Scales are a bug which resembles a growth on your plant. You can hand-pick these pests and follow-up by wiping your plant down with oil. The oil suffocates the insects.
Spider mites are another tiny pest you might overlook until you see their webs. Get rid of them by spraying your plant with soapy water. This dislodges the insects while also destroying their homes.
Root knot nematodes cause your plants to develop large knots in the root system due to their feeding habits. The best method to defeating this pest is prevention. Heat your soil thoroughly before planting in it as the root knot nematodes live in the soil, and the heat will kill them.
Finally, you should be aware of thrips. They will make your plant have a silver tint due to feeding on the plant’s nutrients. Treat your plant with insecticidal soap to rid it of these pests.
The old saying, “The best defense is a great offense” is true especially when growing plants. Staying alert to pests and diseases, which can harm your plant, can help give your rubber tree plant the greatest chance at thriving in your home.
A rubber tree plant makes beautiful, natural décor and is low maintenance in comparison to some houseplants.
By providing the right growing conditions, fulfilling its basic needs, and remaining alert to the things which want to harm the plant, you should have a positive gardening experience.