Ficus elastica. or the rubber plant as it is commonly known, is among the most desirable houseplants to have. As with most other popular houseplants, the rubber plant is also easy to grow and comes with a few basic maintenance requirements which are easy to follow, even for a newbie plant owner. What makes the rubber plant appealing to most plant owners is its ornamental features, especially its leathery, glossy, and large leaves. This makes having a Ficus elastica plant in your house a perfect and deserving addition, complementing and accentuating your home’s interior decor and aesthetics.
Ficus elastica belongs to the genus, Ficus, which has over 800 different species. While most of these are trees, like the rubber plant, a few grow as shrubs or as vines. Ficus elastica is also known by other names such as the Indian rubber tree, caoutchouc, snake tree among others. Most of the rubber plants found today through commercial sources are actually cultivars of the original species, which was once extensively grown as an indoor plant before and during the 1950s. However, it is near impossible today to source the original species commercially.
Ficus Elastica Cultivars:
Here are some of the various cultivars of the Ficus elastica which have replaced the original species:
- Ficus elastica ‘Decora’ succeeded the popularity of the original species with its broad elliptical leaves and a better growth habit, ultimately replacing it.
- Ficus elastica ‘Doescheri’ features a narrow leaf shape and comes with a striking variegated leaf pattern of green, grayish-green, yellow, and white. The midrib and the petiole are pink.
- Ficus elastica ‘Robusta’ is a compact form with free branching, bearing resemblance to ‘Decora’ cultivar.
- Ficus elastica ‘Rubra’ exhibits dark, wine red leaves in full sun but loses the red color when grown in reduced light intensity. Other names include ‘Burgundy’ and ‘Abidjan’.
- Ficus elastica ‘Sophia’ is a new green cultivar of the species having smaller and more rounded leaves than the ‘Robusta’ cultivar.
Rubber Plant Brief Summary:
Botanical Name: Ficus elastica
Common Names: Rubber plant, India rubber fig, snake tree
Plant Range: Eastern Himalaya to Northern Malaysia
Characteristics: Foliage, Evergreen
Sunlight: Full Sun
Soil: Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Moisture: Moist but well-drained
Soil pH: Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Pests & Diseases: Generally, disease-free but susceptible to glasshouse red spider mite, thrips, mealybugs, and scale insects
Why Is Your Rubber Plant Leaning Or Drooping? Reasons And Ways To Get An Upright Rubber Plant Growth
Rubber plants are one of the easiest houseplants to grow and best suited for beginners, a novice plant parent, due to their adaptability to grow in varied conditions. Their attractive leaves are oval or oblong in shape and can get anywhere between 8 to 12 inches in length. These shiny leaves come in various colors including deep green and dark maroon, with markings in cream, yellow, pink, or white. The Indian rubber fig can reach a height of up to 10 feet or even more, given proper care and ample space. However, as you observe the rubber plant growing, it might start to lean to one side or the other.
Rubber Plants Are Not Self-Supporting Plants:
The most obvious reason for this leaning or tilting is the fact that the rubber plant is not a self-supporting plant. As your rubber plant grows and gains in height, there is a possibility of the plant starting to droop. The taller the plant gets, the more chance of it drooping. Unlike the tall and sturdy rubber trees grown outdoors, the indoor rubber plants have stems that are not strong or sturdy enough. Thus, without any external support provided to the plant, like a stick or a pole, to keep it straight and upright, you will notice your rubber plant starting to lean to the side.
In order to keep your rubber plant from leaning, you can either practice pruning or place a wooden dowel or stick to support the plant. You can even do them both.
a. Pruning for Sturdier Stem Growth:
Unlike most other plants, your rubber plant grows from the tip, which means any new growth takes place from the top of the plant. When you prune the tip of the plant, it encourages more side growth. Pruning also allows the plant to develop a stronger and sturdier stem than the earlier, preventing any leaning of your rubber plant. If you are pruning your rubber plant, make sure to do it during its growing season. This will ensure the plant is able to respond better to the process of pruning and heal quicker.
b. Wooden Dowel or Stick for Support:
When your rubber plant starts to grow tall, achieving a height of about 2 feet, you can start placing the support system. Place the wooden sticks about 2-3 inches into the soil for better support. Regularly check your plant’s growth process to keep it growing vertically.
It is best to start pruning your rubber plant when they are young and to continue till they get to a mature age. During this time period, you can also place sticks for added support. When the rubber plant matures, you will notice stronger stems that can allow for vertical growth without causing the plant to lean.
Apart from this straightforward reason, there can be multiple other reasons for the Indian rubber fig leaning. Following are some of the reasons along with the solution for each, allowing you to control the leaning of your rubber plant:
Your rubber plant prefers moist but well-draining soil conditions for optimum growth. Too much water is not a good thing. This offers a huge relief to many plant owners who forget to water and miss the watering schedule by a day or two. You will still find your rubber plant, perfectly healthy and fine if you are out of town for the weekend. While your rubber plant can tolerate a bit of under-watering, if you leave the plant without water for too long, it can result in weakening of the plant, which in turn may lead to the leaning of your rubber plant.
To avoid under-watering causing adverse effects on your rubber plant’s health and stature, it is preferable to water your plant once a week. This is to be done during the growing season of the rubber plant, which falls in the months of summer and spring. However, having no fixed days is recommended. Instead, it is advisable that you check the soil’s topmost layer and feel if it’s dry or not. If the soil feels dry, now is the time to water your Indian rubber fig.
As mentioned above, a well-draining soil that can hold on to the moisture for a little longer is perfect for growing the rubber plant. Most often, over-watering happens when you forget to get rid of the excess water that drains out of the soil and collects into the saucer where the pot is placed. Or if there aren’t ample holes in the pot allowing easy draining of water. Over-watering also happens during the fall and winter seasons when you water your rubber plant following the same schedule as that of summer. Over-watering can lead to various problems hampering proper growth and this stress can cause drooping of the plant.
Water your rubber plant thoroughly, ensuring all the undergrowth portion of the plant is soaked. After watering, another crucial thing is to wait and then check the saucer. Then throw away the excess water that gets collected. You do not want your rubber plant to sit in water. Since growth is slow during the fall and winter months, it is advisable that you drop the frequency of watering your rubber plant to once every two weeks or so. Always keep a check on the soil dryness as it helps to avoid over-watering. You can also use a moisture meter to get to know the accurate moisture level in your soil. When the dial reaches the red mark, you will know that there is a lack of moisture and it is time to water.
- Irregular And Inaccurate Light Exposure:
a. Overexposure To Light:
As with most plants, your rubber plants need proper sunlight to undergo photosynthesis. Bright and sheltered light works best for your Indian rubber tree to grow prosperously. If placed in direct and intense sunlight, you can cause damage to the stem and the leaves can show signs of sunburn. This can lead to weak stems, resulting in your rubber plant tilting or leaning.
Find a place in your home where your rubber plant can get exposure to bright but not too intense light. Someplace where you get the most of the morning light. The short duration of the morning sunlight is enough light for your rubber plant.
b. Insufficient Light:
Rubber plants are adaptable plants and even grow in low light conditions. But you can’t expect your plant to flourish without giving it some bright lights. Signs that your rubber plant is having insufficient light exposure are the loss of the sheen on the leaves and the uncharacteristic falling of lower leaves. You will also find that the stem becomes leggy and too weak to keep upright, causing the rubber plant to lean.
Placing your rubber plant in an east-facing window ledge is the ideal spot for the plant to get its optimum light requirement met.
- Improper Fertilization:
Like many other houseplants, your rubber plant also exhibits a growing phase and a slow-growing or dormant phase. Most over-fertilizing incidents happen during the dormant phase which usually starts in the fall season and lasts throughout the winter months. The lack of growth is natural during these times and supplementing your rubber plant with too many fertilizers can cause odd and improper growth behavior. This can lead to your rubber plant leaning.
You can either altogether avoid fertilizing during the dormant phase or keep it to the minimum to avoid the risk of over-fertilization.
Your rubber plant exhibits its best growth phase during the summer and spring seasons. It is during this period that the plant gains significantly in size and grows exceptionally well. If you fail to provide adequate amounts of nutrients by supplying your rubber plant with fertilizers, it can cause a stress response in your plant. The stressed conditions due to lack of nutrients can show itself in the plant through visible signs like the plant starting to lean.
Over time, the soil starts to lose the nutrients which were present initially. Thus, it becomes essential to replenish the lost nutrient by providing the soil with fertilizers. During the summer and spring months, you can apply fertilizers into the soil once a month or two. This should provide ample nutrients to ensure that your rubber plant is growing to its full potential.
When it comes to fertilization, it is best to know what type of fertilizers you are using and check the instructions of usage on the packet. To begin with, you can use a lower or much lower dosage than what’s recommended, and to slowly increase it over time as you begin to understand how your rubber plant is growing and responding to it.
- Root-bound Rubber Plant Obstructing Proper Growth:
Another reason for your rubber plant starting to droop and leaning to the sides is that your plant is root-bound. You will notice roots coming out of the drainage holes of the pot, which is a visible sign of a root-bound plant. Unable to find enough space as your rubber plant grows, the roots get overgrown taking up all the space available. Thus, restricting any further growth of the plant and resulting in weak stem and foliage.
Repotting is the ideal solution for root-bound plants. It is recommended that you repot your rubber plant at least once every two years. The actual time to make the change may differ depending on how fast or slow your rubber plant is growing. When you see roots protruding out of the bottom of the pot, it is time to repot your rubber plant. Choose a pot that is one size bigger than the last one, to ensure enough room for adequate growth. Also, remember to provide enough drainage holes to ensure any excess water is able to pass down. As your rubber plants go through a dormant growth phase in winter, it is best to report your plant during the spring or summer season. Watering your rubber plant a day before you think of repotting is a good practice, allowing the plant and the soil to be ready for the change.
A Few Tips and Care Guide for Your Rubber Plant:
- Whenever you place your rubber plant, make sure they are kept away from any room heaters or hot air from air conditioners.
- Your rubber plant becomes naturally resistant to pests and diseases if grown in well-lit areas. For added measure, spraying the plant with pest oil solutions and wiping them with cotton balls is a quick solution to ensure protection from any pest attack.
- Clearing the dust from the plant leaves is another little thing that most plant owners often neglect. This simple act can help your plant to breathe, in addition to keeping them healthy and attractive.
- The ideal temperature for your rubber plant is anywhere between 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but not lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, sudden drops in temperature or cold drafts must be avoided.
- Since your rubber plant prefers humidity, frequently moist the plant to boost humidity level.
Gardening or being a plant parent is not a one-time process. It requires a continuous and long-term commitment. Oftentimes, the little details can make the most of the difference between a thriving and suffering plant. Once you master the art of practicing these few basic steps diligently and avoiding others that are detrimental, you will find your rubber plant standing tall, proud, and exhibiting a robust growth with shiny, glossy leaves.
Ranjan Singh Moirangthem is a media professional based in India, currently working as a freelance copywriter. Growing up in a hill station and now living in a concrete jungle, he finds solace in the green corners of the city, be it parks or his housing society garden. He’s even passionate about plants and gardening and shares his experience by writing in-depth and well-researched articles for our readers.