Rubber plants or Ficus elastica are very hardy plants and do not fall down even if they are neglected for a couple of days. But they can be very unforgiving if you mess up with their watering routine. Both overwatering and underwater can wreak havoc on the health of your rubber plants. So what are the water requirements of rubber plants? How much water do rubber plants need to thrive and survive? I’ll talk about all this and more in this article.
As with most of the houseplants, it’s better to underwater Ficus elastica than overwatering it. Rubber plants are quite tolerant when it comes to underwatering. But they cannot stand wet soil. So even if you don’t water it for a week, it won’t die. But that doesn’t mean you can take its watering routine lightly. Experts believe that you can water your rubber plant every 5 to 6 days. And whenever you do, ensure that the water reaches the roots of the plants. However, in its growing season, you may have to water it a bit more frequently.
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How Often To Water Rubber Plants Or Ficus Elastica?
Rubber plants are considered mid-range as they are neither succulent nor tender houseplants. Hence, you must ensure that its soil is given adequate amounts of water. It’s through the soil that the plants get oxygen and other nutrients required for their well-being.
Ideally, you should water your rubber plant every 5 to 7 days. This again depends on various factors, such as humidity, temperature, season, weather, size of the plant and pot, ventilation, and so on. Additionally, rubber plants can hold themselves quite well even if they are underwatered. But that in no way means that you can go on long periods without watering it. The key here is to maintain a balance between overwatering and underwatering.
Also, to flush out excess water from the plant, always put your rubber plant in pots that have drainage holes. These holes will discard the excess water and all the extra salt that it contains.
What Are The Water Requirements Of A Rubber Plant Or Ficus Elastica? How Often Should You Water It?
As mentioned before, the watering needs of a rubber plant aren’t just limited to one thing. It depends on several factors, some of which are mentioned below.
The water requirements of Ficus elastica depend a lot on its size. If your rubber plant is 1-4 feet tall, I would recommend you to water it every 3 to 5 days. And if reaches a height of 5-10 feet, you can water it every 7 to 10 days. That’s because when a plant is small, it can’t retain too much water. So you need to water it regularly. But when the plant gets bigger in size, its water retention capacity improves. So you won’t be required to water it often.
Temperature Of The Room:
Ficus elastica is a tropical plant and can thrive well in a temperature range between 60-85°F or 15-28°C. And their watering needs also vary according to the temperature they are growing in. When the temperature is too high, the soil dries at a faster rate. This isn’t a bad sign, because warmer temperature facilitates the growth of the rubber plant. In this case, all you need to do is take care of its watering needs. So If the temperature of your room is more than 65°F or 18°C, water your plant every 3 to 5 days. And if the temperature of your house is less than 65°F or 18°C, you can water it every 7 to 14 days.
When the temperature gets very high, rubber plants start changing in appearance, and for worse. This is why, it’s never advised to place rubber plants outdoors, even on a patio where temperature can easily go beyond 85°F.
When the temperature dips during winters, you will have to reduce the watering frequency. One thing I would like to mention here is to avoid keeping your rubber plant in extremely low temperatures, i.e, below 55° F or 13°C. Excessively low temperatures can cause leaf drop in rubber plants. In case you do notice shedding of leaves, halt watering until new leaves appear.
Weather Or Temperature:
A houseplant, especially a rubber plant needs more water in summers than in winters because it loses a lot of moisture through its leaves due to increased levels of respiration, transpiration, and evaporation. The evaporation of moisture dries out the soil a lot faster, leaving the plant parched, dry and thirsty. So ensure that you give it sufficient amounts of water during summers, ideally every 3 to 5 days.
Rubber plants continue to grow during winters in low temperatures too, provided you take care of their watering needs. If the humidity level and water consumption aren’t ideal during winters, your rubber plant may die.
No, you do not have to drench it in water, as you do in summers. But it shouldn’t go thirsty as well. So make sure you water your plant every 7 to 14 days when the temperature dips below 65°F. If it gets too cold, switch on the heater, furnace, or wood-burning stove as an excess drop in temperature can destroy the plant. Keep checking the soil of your plant. If it feels wet, you can skip watering for a couple of days.
Apart from temperature and season/weather, humidity level also plays a huge role in deciding the water requirement of a rubber plant. Rubber plants thrive well in humid environments because of their tropical nature. And since they are tropical plants, they lose a lot of moisture through transpiration. So you should keep your rubber plants in a fairly humid environment.
If the area you live in has low humidity, you can water your plant every 3 to 5 days. In case of high humidity, you can water your plant every 7 to 14 days.
Humidity isn’t really a problem all year round, but it might get a bit difficult for your rubber plants during winters. Ficus elastica cannot handle winters and dry air very well. Below we’ve mentioned a few ways to increase moisture levels in your plant.
- Use large ceramic bowls or plates as they collect a significant amount of water. Do not drench your plant with water. Root rot can happen anytime, be it summers or winters if you keep the soil too soggy or wet. To avoid that, use pots with drainage holes and saucers. Keep checking the saucer frequently after watering to ensure that the water hasn’t collected in it.
- Sprinkle or mist your plant with water. Just ensure the water is free of all kinds of chemicals. Distilled water would be your best bet here.
- Keep the windows and doors closed during winters. This is to prevent cold drafts from destroying your plant.
- If you’re unsure about the humidity level of your plant, you can make use of a hygrometer. It’s a wonderful device and every plant parent must own it.
- Use the pebble method to keep the humidity level stable. You just need to add pebbles to a tray, fill it with water and place the pot on it. The plant will keep getting its required moisture from the tray.
Location Of The Plant:
It’s pretty obvious that your rubber plant will get thirsty often if you keep it in a hot and brightly lit spot. So you’ll have to water it a lot more frequently in this case. Likewise, if you’ve kept your rubber plant in a cold, dry, and drafty place, then again you’ll have to water it regularly. So try to avoid this from happening in the first place by keeping your rubber plant at a place where it can receive bright, indirect light. You can even filter the light using a curtain. And avoid keeping the rubber plant at places where it can be exposed to cold air, such as windows and doors.
Type Of Potting Mix:
Rubber plants or Ficus elastica grow well in any well-drained soil, such as loam, clay, and even sand. The only issue is that rubber plants cannot stand wet or soggy soil. If the potting mix you’re using is rich and stays damp or wet for a longer period of time, you need to be careful to not overwater it. Overwatering will put it at the risk of root rot and diseases such as crown stem. Use well-drained soil that contains a high amount of perlite, sand, and vermiculite. This will improve the draining capacity of the soil while preventing it from drying out completely.
Type Of Pot:
You will be surprised to know, but the type of pot you use also determines the amount of water you have to give to your rubber plant. If you’re using concrete, clay, or terracotta pot, you can water your plant every 3 to 5 days. But if you are using plastic, ceramic, or metal pot, you can delay the watering up to 14 days.
Terracotta or concrete pots are porous and absorb water quickly, hence you must water your plant frequently. Ceramic, plastic, or metal pots, on the other hand, are not permeable and do not soak up water as fast as compared to clay or terracotta pots. So you can go easy with the watering if you’re using such pots. You can keep this in mind while planning a getaway for a long time. Put your rubber plant in a glass, metal, or ceramic pot, where the soil remains moist for a long time. This way, you wouldn’t have to worry about watering your plant when you’re out enjoying yourself.
Size Of Pot:
Rubber plants grow at a fairly fast rate, even indoors. So you’ll need to repot it once a year until it has reached a height of 6 to 10 feet. And while repotting, you need to give special attention to the size of the pot.
A pot that’s a lot bigger than your plant will store in excess water, which can eventually lead to root rot. The best size of the pot for a rubber plant should be about 6 inches when it’s a baby. As it grows, pick a pot that is 2 to 3 inches bigger than the plant. Ensure that the pot comes with a drainage hole to facilitate draining. Alternatively, you can even put a piece of gravel or stone for drainage.
The size of the pot should also be considered when you’re watering your plant. A small pot, which is about 4 inches in size dries up a lot faster than a bigger pot. So the watering can be every couple of days or 8 to 14 days apart, all depending on the size of your pot. If you’ve placed the plant in a smaller pot, you can water it every 3 to 5 days. But if the pot is larger in size, you must water it every 7 to 14 days.
Signs Your Rubber Plant Needs Watering:
If you notice your houseplants carefully, you’ll know when it needs water and when it doesn’t. Plants, be it rubber plant or any other houseplants displays some signs when it requires water. Below mentioned are a few signs to help you know if your rubber plant is thirsty or not.
When it comes to watering plants, less is always better than more. It’s better to provide water only when it needs to than drenching it in liquid. Excess watering leads to soggy soil and may cause root rot. And root rot is very common with rubber plants, so you need to give special attention to it. So water your plant only when the top few inches of the soil feel dry.
Not just the top, you need to check the bottom of the soil as well, to determine its moisture level. Sometimes, the top surface feels dry, but the bottom is moist and wet. In that case, you do need to water your plant for some time.
You can check the moisture level by pulling up some soil with a spoon or any similar object from the bottom of the pot. Alternatively, you can even check the soil’s wetness through the drainage hole, provided you have one. Shove a stick in the drainage hole, pull out some soil and inspect closely. Don’t worry about the roots. It won’t do any harm to them. Pinch it between your fingers to check the moisture level. If the soil feels soft and cold and sticks together, it means it has enough moisture level for the time being. If the soil doesn’t stick together but is still soft and cold, it’s time to water your plant.
Remember, the soil should not get completely dry between the waterings. Rubber plants are not succulents and won’t be able to hold themselves together if they are deprived of water for a longer time.
If all these things are a bit of a task for you, get yourself a moisture meter. Just stick the tool in the soil and it will tell you its moisture level. If it shows dry, it’s time to give your rubber plant a drink. The soil meter also shows the light and pH level of the soil. pH level will help you know the acidic level of the soil and the light meter will let you know the kind of light your plant is receiving. But never leave moisture meter in the soil. Take it out as soon as the job is done.
Moisture meters are readily available online and at gardening stores.
One of the most common signs of a thirsty rubber plant is wilting leaves. Rubber plants have beautiful, lush and perky leaves, which makes the plant look erect and graceful. So if the leaves are drooping or wilting, it could be because your plant is thirsty. The drooping of leaves may begin at the lower part of the plant, with the older leaves. This is a survival tactic of plants to favor new foliage over the mature ones when the conditions are not favorable for them.
However, wilting or droopy leaves are signs of other plant issues as well. So you’ll need to tally it with other signs to determine the cause.
Brown Tip Of Leaves:
If the tip of the rubber plant leaves appears brown or crispy, it means that it has dried and parched and needs urgent watering. This happens due to loss of turgor pressure because of dehydration. If the leaves are not watered for a long time, they’ll dry up completely and fall off.
Note: Rubber plants often shed older leaves, which present themselves as dried-out, brown leaves. It’s a natural process and takes place at the lower portion of the plant. In that case, you don’t have to worry about crispy leaves.
Dried and thirsty rubber plant manifests itself through wrinkly leaves. Just like human skin, even the leaves get wrinkles when they lose water or moisture. One tell-tale sign is the puckering of the outer layer of the leaves. If that happens, you need to water your plant ASAP.
Browning Or Yellowing Of Leaves:
If you’ve kept your rubber plant deprived of water for a long time, not just the tip, but the entire leaf will turn brown or yellow. Some leaves even get a burgundy tint, which is another sign of underwatered Ficus elastica.
Potting Soil Color Change:
If you’re familiar with houseplants, you’ll know that wet soil is darker in color while dry soil is lighter and has a grey tone. If the soil remains damp for a long period of time, you should start inspecting it closely. Waterlogged soil can give rise to a host of problems, such as mild, mold and fungi which cause root rot.
Pot Becomes Heavy:
This isn’t the best way to gauge the dryness of the soil, but can certainly come in handy. A soil that’s damp and moist will be heavy and dry soil will be lighter in comparison. So whenever you water your plant, check its weight. It will give you an idea of when your soil is wet and when it’s dry.
How To Water A Rubber Plant Or Ficus Elastica?
Watering can is the best way to water your plant thoroughly, especially if the pot has a drainage hole. Whatever excess water that’s present will make its way out through the drainage hole. Remember, a proper drainage system of a rubber plant is crucial to avoid root rot and other potential problems faced by houseplants. You can also use water spray or mister to moisten the leaves of your rubber plant.
What Kind Of Water Should I Give My Rubber Plant?
When it comes to houseplants, avoid experimenting much with the water. Do not give warm or cold water to your plant, be it Ficus elastica or any other. This is one of the main causes of droopy rubber plants. Always give water at room temperature. If your house gets soft water, I would suggest you use a filter. Even tap water is fine, but it contains chemicals. So, fill a container with tap water and leave it out, unclosed, outside for a couple of days. All the chemicals present in the water will evaporate.
I hope our article cleared all your doubts regarding the water requirements of Ficus elastica or rubber plants. If you have anything to add, let us know in the comment section below.
Aiza Siddiqui is one of the content providers in Gardener’s Toolbox. From a very young age, Aiza has been passionate about gardening, which explains her choice of major in studies. She holds a BSc Degree in Botany from the University of Calcutta. Aiza is a green thumb through and through and owns more than 100 different types of plants. Every article that she contributes to Gardener’s Toolbox is written by doing extensive research and from her own experience with planting and gardening. Hoping that you will find her articles on different houseplants helpful.