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Rubber plant care – the beginner’s guide
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Rubber plants are wonderful plants to have in your home, office or any warm indoor space. It is from these plants that we derive the sap needed to create rubber but rest assured you won’t have to contend with that if you are cultivating them in your home because that production does not begin until the plants have reached full maturity which when grown has house plants is hardy every reaches, at the end of the day rubber plants can reach huge sizes and yes they are actually a tree. That being said they make excellent house plants and the size and shape can easily be controlled and we think every home should have one.
Growing Rubber Plants
Rubber tree plants are part of the Ficus group and if you are growing them indoors it is important that you pick a younger plant rather than a mature plant. Younger plants will have an easier time adapting to indoor conditions and in the UK you can’t really grow them outdoors anyway. Rubber trees, when used as house plants, need indirect, bright light but can handle a couple of hour of the morning sun. We recommend that you put it near a window so it gets plenty of light but not direct light which can scorch or damage the leaves. At the end of the day, you’re trying to mimic their natural environment.
Planting rubber trees should be done with consideration to how large the plant will be at full maturity. It is best to afford adequate space so that you don’t have to re-pot down the line too often. They prefer a good quality potting compost, any house plant compost should be fine and they should be positioned so they don’t get cold drafts and in winter the temperature should go no lower than 12°C. Finally, you can mist the leaves during the summer to increase the humidity and wash down the leaves with a damp cloth to keep the leaves nice and glossy.
Feeding and watering
Rubber tree plants need a properly maintained balance of water but they do suffer from overwatering which is something to look out for which can rot the roots. When they are growing they need moist soil. If you water it too much the leads will end up yellow or brown and eventually fall off. To be on the safe side we recommend only watering when the soil has become dry to the touch, then give it a good watering. When the plant is in its dormancy you should only water once or twice per month. If you noticed that the leaves are starting to droop or wilt, you can increase the water gradually until the leaves go back to normal. You can add a fertiliser regimen as necessary but it’s not a requirement and they often thrive without and when almost neglected. If you choose to feed it, apply a mixture every month to the tree during its active growing season which is usually late spring through summer.
Propagation – taking cutting and air layering
To propagate a rubber tree from an already successful tree you can use one of two methods. The first is to take a cutting and propagate in a small container the same as you would almost any other plant. The second is to use are cutting where you allow the cutting in question to form the root system while still somewhat attached to the main plant before you remove it and transplant it, this is known as air layering and we talked about it in this article.
For the first method of propagation, you want to take properly sanitize pruners and select cuttings approximately 20-30cm in length with at least two sets of leaves. From there you want to remove any excess leaves so that you have a clear stem to plant.
This stem should be dipped in rooting hormone to help it establish itself sooner and then placed directly into a container with the proper potting mixture. There are different containers you can use for this such as cups, jars, small pots, or propagation containers. Regardless of what you used the idea is to create a tiny greenhouse by covering the container with a plastic lid, clear glass mason jar, or plastic bag.
Whatever you use it should not come into contact with the remaining leaves at the top of the cutting. The cuttings should be placed inside a warm area with indirect light and after approximately two or three weeks the root system should have established itself sufficiently that you can transplant.
The other option is to use cutting for air propagation. With this, you selectively cutting that is at least 30cm in length and while you leave it at attached to the rubber plant, you strip away approximately 3cm wide outer bark leaving nothing but the solid hardwood in the centre. You want to place moist moss around this exposed hardwood and cover it with plastic so that it retains its moisture. Again after about 3 weeks, the cutting should establish a root system which will be visible when you remove the moss and at that point, you can cut it off of the original plant and transplant it into its own pot.
Pruning and repotting
With rubber plants, you do need to prune to keep the plants in check. Rubber plants can grow particularly large and in nature can reach an impressive 10 meters tall easily. Most people don’t have that much space in their home especially if they are growing indoors so, annual pruning can be done to contain not only the height but the shape of the tree. With rubber trees, if they are allowed to grow too large especially when grown in containers or in smaller areas in your home, they can reach the point where the branches are unable to support the full weight and this results in branches snapping which is what we want to avoid for obvious reasons.
The first thing to note is that you can prune at any time of year if needed, so if it’s much too large now, give it a good pruning. However, the plant will spring back the fastest if you prune during the Spring. End of spring or beginning of Summer, around the month of June, is the optimum time to plan your yearly prune schedule. To do this you simply take a good sharp pair of pruning shears and make the cuts when and where you see fit. The plant will grow back out of the next node below so if you cut directly above nodes you can better contain the shape.
We recommend that you wear gloves because the sap can irritate your skin, especially if you have sensitive skin. If you take cuttings during your month of pruning you can repot them very effectively. You can also repot existing plants although it is inadvisable once the plant has established itself. Of course in some situations, it simply can’t be avoided because the rubber plant has outgrown container in which it was originally planted, in which case you can repot the same as you would any other plant.
Common problems faced by Rubber plants include over-watering and they do not like to stand in water. If you water too much and the soil becomes waterlogged, certain fungal pathogens can also result in root rot. You know when your plant is facing root rot because the leaves turn yellow. Other than that there are very few diseases or pests you have to worry about. In regards to watering, during the growing season, water well once the soil is dry to touch and water much less in winter.
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