Rubber Tree Plant Care

The Propagation and Pruning of Ficus elastica

How to take care of a rubber tree plant. Information on propagation, pruning and problems of Ficus elastica. Pictures of different types of rubber trees.

Is this a safe plant to grow around cats?

What does a rubber tree look like?

Ficus elastica 'Burgundy'

Ficus elastica 'Burgundy'

Where Do Rubber Trees Grow?

Hailing from India and Malaya, the rubber tree has become a classic house plant in the U.S. because of its bold and sometimes colorful leaves.

The foliage of the species, Ficus elastica Roxb is deep green. Ficus elastica decora ‘Teneke’ features gray and green splotched leaves with cream margins and bright pink midribs. ‘Burgundy’ has leaves so dark they are almost black.

The oblong, sturdy foliage will reach 8 inches long by half as wide. They are not exactly shiny but they have a natural sheen.

I have heard of gardeners polishing their rubber tree plant to make the leaves shiny. You can use a proprietary leaf shine product or dip a clean rag in a little skim milk.

This tree will stretch to 30 feet in a frost free climate but before you plant it outdoors, read this:

Rubber Tree Roots

Florida Rubber Tree Plant C1900, Photographic Print

Most Ficus trees have a tendency to form surface roots. F. elastica is no exception. These roots are strong enough to to lift pavement or damage the foundation of a building.

If you move into a house with a large rubber tree planted in the yard, you may not have to remove it. You may be able to sever any offending roots close to the tree and just take out that root. This won’t usually hurt the tree.

Rubber Tree Care

Cultivars with colored leaves require high light to maintain their best coloring and keep them from reverting to solid green. The species will tolerate lower light levels.

Pot trees in a well draining potting mix. Water them thoroughly and allow the soil to dry between waterings. Feed monthly with any balanced houseplant food. Plan on repotting them every other year.

If you are growing the trees outside in the ground (which is only possible in zones 10 and 11) keep them dryer during the winter and only feed them during the growing season.

How to Trim a Rubber Tree Plant

Young plants have a tendency to grow straight up. You will have to cut the mains stem back in order to get your Ficus elastica branching.

If after you’ve cut back the leader, the tree proceeds to put out a bunch of lanky stems and won’t get bushy enough for you, just cut all the long stems back. This will cause the plant to fill out beautifully.

How to Propagate a Rubber Tree Plant

Propagation of a Ficus elastica is by cuttings or air layering.

Place tip cuttings in moist sand. Keep them in a warm, humid area and they should root in a couple of months. Air layers also take about 2 months to root.

Ficus elastica Problems

Opps! There goes another rubber tree plant New Yorker cartoon giclee print.

New Yorker Cartoon Giclee Print

When you trim the stems they will weep a milky sap.

This sap is toxic if ingested and can cause an allergic reaction in some people if it gets on their skin.

Wear long sleeves and gloves when pruning rubber trees.  Changing the tree’s location or growing conditions can cause it to drop its leaves. The rubber tree will adjust and its leaves will grow back once it does.

Cats and Ficus elastica

Picture of a rubber tree plant in a pot.

Several references claim that this plant is toxic to cats. Others say it isn’t. One thing is certain.

Cats are attracted to it.

They enjoy eating its leaves. This seems to annoy the plant’s owner who is usually more concerned about the effect this will have on the plant than the cat.

If your felines are using your Ficus as a buffet, try rubbing a little hot sauce on the leaves. This tends to discourage the cats and it won’t harm the plant.

You can also place large rocks on the surface of the soil to deter them from digging in the pot.

Other Ficus Articles

Ficus pumila, the Creeping Fig Vine

How to Get a Fiddle Leaf Fig to Make Sweet Music at Your House

The Graceful but Sensitive Weeping Fig Tree

Ficus Tree Care Instructions

Other Tropical House Plants

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Your plant guides,

Selina and Tiny