Rubber Plants - Ficus Elastica/Robusta


Ficus elastica 'Variegata'


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Contents

  1. Top Tips
  2. Location, Water, Humidity & Fertilisation
  3. Common Issues
  4. Origins, Temperature, Propagation, Repotting & Toxicity




Top Tips & Info

  • Care Difficulty - Easy to Moderate
  • Bright, indirect light is critical for quality growth; locations that are too dark will increase the severity of over-watering.
  • Allow half of the soil to dry out in between waters, reducing this further in the autumn and winter months.
  • Although average room humidity is acceptable, if you live in an excessively dry environment (below 40%), it's advised to introduce a pebble tray to counteract browning leaf-tips.
  • Supplement the soil every two to four weeks with a houseplant fertiliser, depending on the season.
  • Repot every three years using a well-draining potting mix; be sure to respect the roots as transplant shock is a big issue that could result in wilting or even death.
  • Keep an eye out for Spider Mites that'll locate themselves along the ridges of the under-leaves.




Location & Light - 🔸🔸

Similarly to most other houseplants, 'bright, indirect light' is best for quality growth. Specimens placed in darker locations will lose their patterns (if variegated), along with the increased chance of root rot and stalled growth. Alternatively, a setting that offers too much sun will scorch the leaves, de-hydrate the foliage, and will leave your plant with a washed-out appearance. If it were up to ukhouseplants, we'd recommend a bright location with an hour or two of morning or evening sunlight to aid better growth and downplay the chance of over-watering. It's also crucial to present an environment that lacks sudden fluctuations of temperature or humidity, as both may result in sudden lower leaf loss.


Water - 🔸🔸

Less is more with Rubber Plants, so only rehydrate the soil once the top half dries out, feeling the pot's weight for confirmation. Reduce this further in the colder months to replicate its dormancy period and to downplay the risk of over-watering in winter (common). Under-watering symptoms include stunted or deformed growth, yellowing leaves and crispy foliage; these issues are more familiar with forgetfulness or too much sunlight/heat. Over-watering symptoms include yellowed older leaves that turn into leaf loss, stunted growth or even stem collapse. If a specimen is displaying any of these signs, you could be looking at a case of root rot - click here to learn more about addressing this issue.


Humidity - 🔸🔸

This species thrives in a stable, humid environment, meaning that a pebble tray (or frequent misting) is mandatory for success. Signs of an under-humid room are primarily similar to inconsistent fluctuations, with slowed growth, browning leaf-tips and leaf loss being the common symptoms.


Fertilisation - 🔸🔸

Supplement twice a month during the growing period, and monthly in the autumn & winter. Although a general-purpose fertiliser will still do the job, we'd recommend using a specific houseplant-labelled fertiliser as it'll support the vital thirteen nutrients that this species will need to grow.




Common Issues with Ficus

The yellow spots that form along the outer edges of the leaves are called cystoliths; they are entirely harmless to your Ficus and will form once the leaf hardens & matures.

Lower leaf loss is a common and significant issue among gardeners. This unfortunate phenomenon could be a product of several different problems, most notably being dark locations, water-related abuse or environmental shock. Introduce the plant to a more well-lit area with a splash of off-peak sunlight; if caught in time, the leaf loss should stop within a week. If you feel that you're watering habits aren't up to scratch, familiarise yourself with our care tips provided at the top of this article. It's always best to under-water a Ficus than over-do it, purely on its poor ability to endure continued sogginess. The final culprit could be down to a sudden relocation; if you've recently purchased the specimen, the chances are it is still acclimatising to the new environment. Although this shouldn't happen, a vastly different setting will cause sudden foliage loss and stunted growth. You'll have two options of either waiting it out or presenting a more Ficus-friendly environment, mentioned in the 'Location & Light' section. For more advice regarding this matter, don't hesitate in commenting in the section below for a response.

Root rot is another common issue with specimens sat in too moist or waterlogged soil for long periods. Symptoms include rapidly yellowing leaves, yellow or brown deflated leaf-sections, stunted growth and a rotten brown base. Take the plant out of the pot and inspect health below the soil line. If the roots sport a yellow tinge, you're good to go, but if they're brown and mushy, action must be taken immediately. More information about addressing root rot can be found on this link.

Yellowing lower leaves (closest to soil) are a clear sign of over-watering, usually caused by too little light. Although Ficus can just about do well in a shaded environment, the frequency of irrigations must be reduced to counteract the chance of root rot. People don't realise that a plant's root system needs access to oxygen too; when soil is watered, the air will travel upwards and out of the potting mix. A lack of available oxygen for the roots will cause them to subsequently breakdown over the oncoming days. Click on this link to learn more about root rot and how to address it.

Always use lukewarm water, and if you choose to use tap water, allow it to stand for at least 24hrs before application. This species tends to be quite sensitive to temperature change, so pouring cold tap water immediately into the pot will not only add fluoride into the soil, but it could even cause yellowed leaf-edges over time.

Curled leaves and brown leaf-edges are the result of too little water and over-exposure to the sun. Most Ficus are best located in bright, indirect settings, and those that haven't acclimatised to the harsh rays will show signs of sun-scorch and environmental shock. A splash of winter sunlight is acceptable as long as the soil moisture is regularly observed, with complete avoidance once summer comes along.

Never allow temperatures to dip below 12ºC (54ºF) as irreversible damage will occur in the likes of yellow foliage and weakened health. When this happens, remove the severely affected areas and immediately improve growing conditions - never cut through softened yellow growth, and only around brown, crispy squares. As rehabilitation can take several months because of its slow-growing nature, be sure to provide a stable location with better growing conditions to speed this process.

If your specimen is located in a dark environment, use a chopstick to gently stab the soil in various areas. You should aim to enter the compost between the base of the plant and the pot's edge, as failure to do so may lead to damaging its lower portion. Leave the holes open for a few days before re-surfacing the soil to avoid it becoming overly dry. Not only will the gentle shift in the soil's structure mimic the work of small invertebrates in the wild (worms, etc.), but it'll also add oxygen back into the soil, thus reducing the risk of root rot. Repeat this monthly, or whenever you feel the potting-mix isn't drying out quickly enough.




Origins 

Ficus is a pantropical genus consisting of over 800 species, first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753. Many species uniquely rely on a specific wasp, dubbed the Fig Wasp, to pollinate its flowers by laying eggs into the ostioles, a process that still baffles botanists today. Although the genus was formally recognized in the 18th century, it's believed that it was the first deliberately bred species for agriculture in the Middle East, more than 11,000 years ago. F. elastica was first described by William Roxburgh in 1814, before being reclassified nine years later by Danish botanist, Jens Wilken Hornemann, during a visit to south-east Asia. Its milky white sap was used for latex, which in turn enabled industrialists to fabricate rubber roughly two hundred years ago. F. robusta is synonymous to F. elastica.


The Distribution of Ficus elastica



Temperature

12° - 26°C   (54° - 80°F)
H1b  (Hardiness Zone 12)  - Can be grown outdoors during the summer in a sheltered location with temperatures above 12℃  (54℉),  but is fine to remain indoors, too. If you decide to bring this plant outdoors, don't allow it to endure more than an hour of direct sunlight a day as it may result in sun-scorch and dehydration. Regularly keep an eye out for pests, especially when re-introducing it back indoors. 


Pruning & Maintenance

Up to 4m in height and 1.5m in width. The ultimate height will take around 10 years to achieve, with 12cm of growth per season.


Pruning

Remove yellow or dying leaves, and plant debris to encourage better-growing conditions. While pruning, always use clean scissors or shears to reduce the chance of bacterial and fungal diseases. Never cut through yellowed tissue as this may cause further damage in the likes of diseases or bacterial infections. Remember to make clean incisions as too-damaged wounds may shock the plant, causing weakened growth and a decline in health.


Propagation

Via Seed or Stem Cuttings (Difficult).

Stem & Eye Cuttings (Difficult) - This method of propagation is troublesome without the aid of bottom-heat and a controlled environment. Choose the healthiest, most established stems that are wooded, yet still juvenile enough to bend slightly, being just thicker than a pencil. Each cutting should only have ONE leaf, and a small portion of the stem to either side of the node. Cut directly below a node using a clean knife to reduce bacteria count. Situate the cutting into moist houseplant compost, with the only the leaf sticking out of the soil. Blackleg can occur when the bottom wound becomes infected, resulting in propagation failure - typically caused by water-logging or a too-damaged wound. Maintain bright light and evenly moist soil with the avoidance of direct sunlight or cold draughts. Wrap the pot (& foliage) in a transparent bag or within a miniature greenhouse, and provide bottom hear of temperatures above 18°C (54°F). Remove the bag and place into individual 7cm (3 inches) pots once the second new leaf emerges. Follow the same care routines, as mentioned in the article's top half. This method will take up to five months, so patience and the correct environment are paramount for success!


Flowers

Rubber Plant inflorescences consist of white flowers developing in early springtime that can vary in size. This period will last up to several weeks and will from berries if pollination is successful. Unfortunately, all Ficus are highly unlikely to flower if grown domestically, due to the incorrect environmental conditions found in a typical home.


Repotting

Repot every three years in spring using a houseplant-labelled compost and the next sized pot with adequate drainage. Hydrate the plant 24hrs before the tinkering with the roots to prevent the risk of transplant shock. For those that are situated in a darker location, add a thin layer of small grit in the pot's base to improve drainage and downplay over-watering. Click here for a detailed step-by-step guide on transplantation, or via this link to learn about repotting with root rot.

If you're still unsure of what to do, never hesitate to send us an email or direct message to get our expert advice on transplantation.


Pests & Diseases

Keep an eye out for mealybugs, aphids, spider mite, scale, thrips, whitefly & root mealybugs that'll locate themselves in the cubbyholes and undersides of the leaves, with the exception of the latter in the soil. Common diseases associated with Rubber Plants are root rot, leaf-spot disease, botrytis, rust, powdery mildew & southern blight - click here to learn more about these issues.

If the specimen has dry white crusty patches on its foliage or stem, this is its sap, commonly caused by damage via touch.


Toxicity

This plant is classified as poisonous; if parts of the plants are eaten, vomiting, nausea and a loss of appetite could occur. Consumption of large quantities must be dealt with quickly; acquire medical assistance for further information. The sap can also cause dermatitis and skin allergy to sensitive individuals, so be sure to wear gloves when handling.


Retail Locations

B&Q,  Blue Diamond,  Dobbies & Online Stores.



If you need further advice with indoor gardening, never hesitate to send us an email or direct message via the Instagram Page. This could be about your own specific plant, transplantation into a bigger pot, pests or diseases, terrarium ideas, & more!



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