Growing Ficus elastica: the complete guide

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Written By Martin Cole

Plantsman, gardener, plant-obsessive

Ficus elastica
Ficus elastica

Ficus elastica: the verdict

Commonly known as the Rubber Plant, Ficus elsatica is a tough evergreen that brings a touch of the tropics into the home. It has thick, glossy leaves and that can reach up to 1 foot (30cm) long. The plant can grow to 8 feet (2.5m) or so indoors. It boasts air-purifying qualities and its simple lines give it a presence that can enhance any room.

While it’s not the most demanding plant, growing ficus elastica does require some specific care for the plant to thrive indoors. Place it in a bright corner or against a bare wall for the best effect. Don’t overwater or move it around too much. Keep it away from drafts.

Ficus elastica was the first and, for a long time, the only house plant we had in our home when I was a kid. So I can testify to it longevity and the powerful presence it brings to a room.

  • Ease of Care: 4/5 – Can be sensitive to over-watering and doesn’t like sudden temperature or light changes.
  • Visual Appeal: 5/5 – Large glossy leaves make a real impact.
  • Value for Money: 4/5 – Initial cost can be high for larger plants, but it does grow pretty quickly.
Ficus elsatica

Basic Needs*

Light

Water: growth period

Water: dormancy

Humidity

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 Star House Plant

Pros

Strong visual appeal

Air purification qualities

Can grow into a large plant

Long lasting with good care

Cons

Sensitive to overwatering

Toxic to people and pets

Sensitive to light and temperature changes

Can outgrow its position

Ficus elastica Robusta

Ficus elastica Robusta

Uk
Buy on Amazon

Star Ratings

We rate plants from 1 to 5 stars based on ease of care, visual appeal and value for money.

Ficus elastica
Ficus elastica

Ficus elastica: quick care guide

Caring for the Ficus elastica is moderately challenging. The plant does not demand constant attention, but it does need a consistent routine. It’s not too difficult to look after once you have it established in the right place.

  • Light: Bright, indirect light. Placement near east or south-facing windows with sheer curtains. Avoid direct sunlight.
  • Water: Check the topsoil for dryness; water approximately once a week. Ensure good drainage to avoid root rot. Do not over-water.
  • Humidity: Moderate humidity is generally fine; misting or a pebble tray can help in hot and dry conditions.
  • Temperature range: 60-75°F (15-24°C). Fine up to 85°F (29°C)
    • Minimum: 50°F (10°C). Avoid cold drafts and sudden temperature drops
  • Soil: A well-draining mix containing coir, pine bark, coarse sand and/or and perlite.
  • Fertiliser: Balanced, water-soluble fertiliser applied monthly during growth.
  • Propagation: Possible through stem cuttings or air layering, with air layering being a bit simpler for beginners.
  • Repotting: In spring or summer when the roots are outgrowing the pot.
  • Pruning: Prune to maintain desire height and shape. It is best to prune in the growing season if possible.
  • Maintenance: Keep the beautiful leaves free from dust by wiping them with a damp cloth from time to time. You can use a plant-friendly oil to keep them extra shiny.

Read more about house plant care in general in our comprehensive guide to the 7 critical requirements of house plant care here.

Ficus elastica key facts

Ficus elastica stands out for its ability to grow reasonably fast. Its growth rate of up to 24 inches per season means it quickly transforms into a commanding presence, requiring space to expand and occasional pruning.

  • Scientific name: Ficus elastica
  • Meaning of name: Rubber fig plant
  • Common names: Rubber Plant or Rubber Tree
  • Plant family: Moraceae
  • Place of origin: Southeast Asia
  • Type of plant: Perennial, evergreen tree
  • Size (grown indoors): Typically up to 10 feet, potentially 25 feet
  • Foliage: Dark green, shiny, and leathery
  • Flower: Rarely flowers or fruits indoors
  • Toxicity: Toxic to pets and humans if ingested, with sap causing skin irritation

Light

Ficus elastica requires bright, indirect sunlight to avoid leggy growth or leaf scorching. Place it near an east or south-facing window, protected from direct sun by sheer curtains. Insufficient light can result in drooping or yellowing leaves.

House plant bright light
Ficus elastica: ideal location for optimum light

Propagation

Propagation by air layering is recommended for beginners and is an interesting process to. It involves wrapping a moist medium around a partially cut stem. This encourages root development at the cut.

Once the roots are of a healthy size, you can sever the stem for a new plant. This method typically takes a few weeks to see results.

For stem cuttings:

  1. Cut a healthy piece of stem about 6 inches long.
  2. Put the cutting aside for an hour or so to allow the sap to to stop ‘bleeding’,
  3. Remove the lower leaves and dip the cut end in rooting hormone.
  4. Plant in a pot with the appropriate free draining soil mix.
  5. Keep in a warm spot and keep the soil moist, but not saturated until roots develop.

Beware – the white milky sap that oozes from the cut stem is a skin irritant, so wash off any splashes as soon as you can.

Ficus elastica
Ficus elastica: spray leaves for humidity and to keep clean

Common Problems and Solutions

The Rubber Plant is not too susceptible to problems, as long as you keep it in fairly constant conditions with the right light levels and you do not over-water it.

Ficus elastica troubleshooting guide

Leaves and shoots

  • Drooping or yellowing leaves often signal overwatering or poor drainage.
  • Spots on the leaves might suggest watering issues. A misting bottle can help provide moisture without overwatering.
  • Leaves falling off may be due to incorrect moisture levels or sudden changes in light or humidity.

Roots

  • Poor drainage or overwatering can cause roots to rot – signs of this will be drooping or dropping leaves.

Pests

  • Can suffer from pests like thrips, spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids. Use a damp cloth to clean leaves regularly
  • Regularly inspect for pests. Neem oil, rubbing alcohol, and dish soap diluted in water can be effective treatments.

Winter care

In winter, reduce watering and cease fertilisation. Keep the plant away from cold drafts. You can use humidifier to offset the drying effect of heating systems if this proves to be a problem.

Read more about how to overwinter your house plants here.

Buy

So, if you’ve got this far and are feeling like you can’t resist this beautiful plant, I’ve listed some buying options below – depending on whether you are US or UK based.

The buy links are affiliate links, which means I’d be paid a (very) small commission if you go on and buy after clicking these links. But that does not affect the price you pay.

Ficus elastica Robusta

US Buyers

Ficus elastica Robusta

UK Buyers

Uk

Ficus elastica varieties to grow

There are some lovely ficus elastic varieties you can grow with variations in their foliage colour. Here is a list of the best ones:

  • Robusta’ – shiny and dark green, large oval leaves;
  • ‘Burgundy’ – deep burgundy, almost black leaves; new foliage is bright red;
  • ‘Tineke’ – gloss leaves in variegated shades of green with white edges and red veins;
  • ‘Ruby’ – red-pink and white leaves with hints of green;
  • ‘Doescheri’ – grey and cream coloured variegated leaves with pink ribs;
  • ‘Tricolor’ – green leaves with patches of pink and cream;
  • Australisˈ – small and stocy in stature – good for small spaces;
  • ˈBelizeˈ – variegated leaves are of red, white and green;
  • ˈVariegataˈ -green variegated leaves with yellow patches and yellow leaf edges;
  • ˈDoescheriˈ – leaves of green with cream and grey patterns;
  • ˈMelanyˈ – dense and bushy with dark green leaves with a slight red tinge.

Other great foliage plants

See our guides to caring for these other:

Key references and resources

Alloway, Z and Bailey (F). (2018) RHS Practical House Plant Book: Choose The Best, Display Creatively, Nurture and Care, Royal Horticultural Society, UK.

Camilleri,L and Kaplan, S. (2020), Plantopedia: The Definitive Guide to Houseplants, Smith Street Books.

Hessayon, Dr D.G. (1991) The New House Plant Expert, PBI Publications, UK.

Brickell, C. (2016). Royal Horticultural Society AZ encyclopedia of garden plants. 4th Edition Dorling Kindersley.

Squire, D. (2017). Houseplant Handbook: Basic Growing Techniques and a Directory of 300 Everyday Houseplants, CompanionHouse Books.

Nelson, G (2021). Plant – House plants: Choosing, Styling, Caring. Mitchell Beazley. London

Brickell, C. (2011). American horticultural society encyclopedia of plants and flowers. Penguin.

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