Rubber Plants: A Comprehensive Growing Guide and Common Problems

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Rubber plants (Ficus elastica) are popular houseplants known for their attractive foliage and air-purifying properties. If you’re looking to add a touch of green to your indoor space, rubber plants are an excellent choice. But like any plant, they require proper care and attention to thrive.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about rubber plant care, from light and temperature requirements to watering, fertilizing, and common problems. Let’s get started!


Proper lighting is crucial for the healthy growth of rubber plants. Contrary to popular belief, rubber plants are not low-light plants. They thrive in bright, indirect light.

Place your rubber plant near an east-facing window where it can receive morning sun. If you have a north-facing window, it can also provide adequate light, but make sure the plant is as close to the window as possible without touching it.

Avoid placing your rubber plant too far away from windows, as the light intensity drops significantly with distance.

In warmer climates, rubber plants can tolerate direct sunlight, especially in the morning or evening. However, if you’re transitioning your plant from low light to direct sunlight, it’s essential to acclimate it gradually to prevent leaf burn.

The best way to do this is by placing it in increasing periods of direct sunlight over a few weeks.


Rubber plants prefer warm temperatures, ideally between 60°F and 75°F (15°C and 24°C). Avoid exposing them to cold drafts or sudden temperature fluctuations, as they can cause stress and lead to leaf drop.

If you live in a colder climate, make sure to keep your rubber plant away from windows during the winter months to protect it from chilly drafts.


Proper watering is essential for the health of rubber plants. They prefer a thorough watering followed by a period of drying out before the next watering. Aim to keep the top quarter of the potting mix dry, but avoid letting the soil completely dry out or become waterlogged.

To determine when to water, check the soil moisture by feeling the potting mix with your fingers. Smaller pots, such as terra cotta pots, tend to dry out more quickly than larger pots. Avoid relying solely on soil moisture meters, as they can be unreliable and lead to overwatering or underwatering.


During the growing season, rubber plants benefit from regular fertilization. Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer with a ratio of 20-20-20 or a specialized houseplant fertilizer.

Dyna-Gro Grow is a highly recommended fertilizer that provides all the necessary nutrients for rubber plants. Dilute the fertilizer according to the instructions on the packaging and apply it with every watering throughout the growing season.

Soil Mix

Choosing the right soil mix is crucial for the proper growth of rubber plants. They require a well-draining soil mix that allows excess water to escape and prevents waterlogging. A suitable soil mix for rubber plants can be made by combining an all-purpose potting mix, perlite, and orchid bark mix.

Aim for a ratio of approximately 60% potting soil, 20% perlite, and 20% orchid bark mix. This mixture ensures sharp drainage and prevents the soil from retaining too much moisture.

If you prefer a ready-to-use soil mix, there are several excellent options available on the market. Check out our best soil for rubber plants article for recommendations.

Pot Size

When it comes to repotting rubber plants, it’s best to only go up one pot size. Repotting into a significantly larger pot can lead to overwatering and root rot, especially if the plant is not in ideal growing conditions.

Choose a pot that provides enough room for the roots to grow but not excessively large. Repotting every 1-2 years during the spring or summer is generally sufficient.

Cleaning Your Air

Rubber plants are not only beautiful additions to your indoor space but also excellent air purifiers. They can effectively remove formaldehyde from the air, making them beneficial for improving indoor air quality.

In a NASA study on air-purifying plants, rubber plants were found to be particularly effective in this regard. Consider incorporating rubber plants into your home to enjoy their air-cleaning benefits.

Cleaning the Leaves

Keeping the leaves of your rubber plant clean is essential for its overall health and appearance. Dust and debris can accumulate on the leaves, hindering photosynthesis and attracting pests.

There are a few methods you can use to clean the leaves of your rubber plant:

  1. Wiping with a Damp Cloth: For lightly dusty leaves, gently wipe the surface with a damp sponge, cloth, or paper towel. This helps remove dust and keep the leaves clean.
  2. Wiping with a Soap/Water Mixture: If the leaves are more heavily soiled, you can mix a small amount of dish soap with warm water. Dampen a sponge or cloth with the soapy mixture and gently wipe the leaves. Rinse the leaves with plain water afterward to remove any residue.
  3. Avoid Leaf Shine Sprays: While it may be tempting to use leaf shine sprays to give your rubber plant leaves a glossy appearance, it’s best to avoid them. Leaf shine sprays can clog the stomata (leaf pores) and interfere with the plant’s ability to “breathe.”

Regularly cleaning the leaves of your rubber plant not only improves its aesthetics but also promotes better growth and reduces the risk of pest infestations.


If you want to expand your collection of rubber plants or share them with friends, propagation is an excellent method to do so. Air layering is the preferred method for propagating rubber plants as it minimizes stress on the cuttings.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to air layer rubber plants:

  1. Select a healthy stem on the mother plant that you want to propagate.
  2. Make a small incision in the stem, about a third of the way through, just below a leaf node.
  3. Apply a rooting hormone to the incision to encourage root development.
  4. Wrap the incision with moist sphagnum moss or a similar rooting medium.
  5. Secure the moss with plastic wrap or a plastic bag to create a humid environment.
  6. Wait for roots to develop, which may take several weeks to months.
  7. Once roots have formed, cut the stem below the air layer and plant it in a suitable potting mix.

Air layering is especially effective for woody stems, but it can also be used for other types of rubber plant cuttings. It allows you to propagate a new plant while it’s still attached to the mother plant, ensuring a higher success rate.


Like many houseplants, rubber plants are susceptible to certain pests. Two common pests that can affect rubber plants are spider mites and scale insects.

  1. Spider Mites: Spider mites are tiny insects that can cause significant damage to rubber plants if left untreated. Signs of a spider mite infestation include fine webbing on the leaves and stems, as well as discoloration and uneven coloring. To treat spider mites, you can use natural methods such as spraying the plant with a mixture of water and mild dish soap or using an insecticidal soap specifically formulated for spider mites.
  2. Scale Insects: Scale insects are small, round, brownish insects that attach themselves to the leaves and stems of rubber plants. They can be challenging to spot due to their protective shells. To treat scale insects, manually remove them from the plant using your fingers and dab the affected areas with rubbing alcohol. Regularly inspect your rubber plant for signs of scale and treat as necessary.

It’s essential to address pest infestations promptly to prevent further damage to your rubber plant. Regularly inspect your plant for any signs of pests and take appropriate measures to control them.


Q: How can I encourage my rubber plant to branch out?

A: If you want your rubber plant to branch out, you have a few options. You can purchase a plant that already has multiple stems, or you can prune your single-stemmed plant to encourage branching.

Pruning involves cutting the top off just above a leaf node, which will encourage new stems to develop. Another method called notching involves making selective partial cuts on a branch to trigger side branches to form.

Q: Why is my rubber plant not growing?

A: The most common reason for a rubber plant not growing is insufficient light. Rubber plants require bright, indirect light to thrive.

If your plant is not near a window or is placed in a dark corner, it may not receive enough light for proper growth. Move your plant to a well-lit area, preferably in front of an east-facing window, to provide the necessary light.

Q: Why are my rubber plant leaves falling off while still green?

A: There can be several reasons why rubber plant leaves may fall off while still green. One possible cause is a sudden decrease in light, such as when bringing a plant from a bright greenhouse to average indoor conditions.

Another common reason is overwatering or underwatering. Maintaining proper watering practices and providing adequate light can help prevent leaf drop.

Q: Why are the new leaves on my rubber plant smaller than the older ones?

A: If your rubber plant is producing smaller leaves, it may be due to insufficient light during the growth period. Rubber plants require bright light to support healthy leaf development.

Moving your plant to a brighter location, preferably near a window, can encourage the production of larger, healthier leaves.

Q: How do I keep the leaves of my variegated rubber plant pink?

A: If the leaves of your variegated rubber plant are not as pink as desired, it may indicate a need for increased light levels. Variegated rubber plants require bright, indirect light to maintain vibrant colors.

Placing your plant near a window with morning sun can help enhance the pink variegation. However, be cautious of exposing the plant to too much direct sunlight, as it can scorch the leaves. Gradually acclimate your plant to brighter light to prevent leaf damage.

Q: Why are my rubber plant leaves curling up and drooping?

A: Curling and drooping leaves are often signs of watering issues. If the soil is too dry, the leaves may curl as a response to water stress. On the other hand, overwatering can lead to root rot and cause the leaves to droop.

Check the moisture level of the soil and adjust your watering practices accordingly. Additionally, low humidity levels can contribute to leaf curling. Consider increasing humidity around your plant by using a humidifier or placing a tray of water near the plant.

Q: Why are there brown spots on my rubber plant leaves?

A: Brown spots on rubber plant leaves can indicate bacterial or fungal infections. These infections are often caused by overwatering, poor air circulation, or low light conditions.

To prevent infections, ensure proper watering practices, provide adequate airflow around the plant, and place it in a well-lit area. If you notice brown spots, remove the affected leaves and monitor the plant closely to prevent further spread of the infection.

Q: How do I remove hard water stains from rubber plant leaves?

A: Hard water stains on rubber plant leaves can be removed by gently wiping the leaves with a mixture of 1 teaspoon of white vinegar and a gallon of warm water.

Be cautious not to use this method too frequently, as it can potentially damage the leaves. Only use vinegar when necessary to remove stubborn mineral deposits.

Q: Why did my rubber plant drop leaves when I first brought it home?

A: When you first bring a rubber plant home, it may undergo a period of adjustment, resulting in leaf drop. The transition from a bright, humid greenhouse to average indoor conditions can cause temporary stress on the plant.

To minimize leaf drop, ensure that your rubber plant is placed in a well-lit area, preferably in front of a window, to provide the necessary light levels.

Q: Why is my rubber plant staying bushy but not growing tall?

A: If your rubber plant is maintaining a bushy appearance without significant vertical growth, it may be an indication of insufficient light. Rubber plants require bright, indirect light to encourage upward growth.

Move your plant to a brighter location, preferably near a window, to promote vertical growth. Patience is key, as it may take some time for the plant to respond and produce taller stems.


These are just a few of the most common questions and concerns related to rubber plant care. With proper attention and care, your rubber plant can thrive and bring beauty to your indoor space.

Remember to monitor its light, temperature, watering, and other cultural requirements to ensure optimal growth. Enjoy the process of caring for your rubber plant and watching it flourish!

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