Here’s something you might not know about the Instagram-famous fiddle-leaf fig: It requires lots of upkeep to get the leaves looking picture-perfect. For those of us who want pleasing results without adding endless tasks to our plant-care to-do list, that tidbit might be a deal breaker. Thankfully, Erin Marino, brand director at The Sill, has a worthy compromise in mind. “If you’ve been eyeing a fiddle-leaf but have heard horror stories about keeping it alive, a rubber tree might be a more feasible starting point,” she says. “They’re easier to care for.”
A rubber tree, which is native to Southeast Asia, gained its colloquial name from another fun fact you might not know. Long before synthetics and other alternatives were identified as a component of rubber, this tree’s latex sap was used for the job. But don’t do your own science experiments with it, since this sap is an irritant and can be toxic if ingested. Instead, appreciate a rubber plant for its aesthetics—glossy burgundy leaves or variegated green, white, and pink shades—and learn to care for one as it grows.
We asked Marino to share more insights about this kid sister of the fiddle-leaf so that perhaps it can soon get its due in the Instagram spotlight. Read on for her tips about rubber plant care, and consider making it the future star of your home.
Choosing the Right Pot
“If you’re new to plant parenting and your rubber plant is small, I always recommend opting for a planter with proper drainage holes and a matching saucer,” says Marino. “But if your rubber tree is on the larger side, then you might want to go with a closed bottom planter and a generous layer of lava rocks to avoid water rings on your floor.”
Determining Soil, Water, and Sunlight
“Any indoor potting mix does the trick, but I’m not big on ones that tout ‘moisture control’ unless you have a good handle on watering,” she continues. “Keep in mind that the rubber tree prefers bright and indirect, to medium and indirect, light. It can handle a few hours of direct sun. So when in bright and indirect light, you’re looking at watering your rubber tree about once a week in the spring and summer, and once every two weeks in the fall and winter. Tweak this schedule when necessary, and if you’re unsure, the best practice is to only water when your potting mix is dry.”
Repotting Your Rubber Tree
“Rubber trees that are potted indoors can grow upwards of six feet tall under the right care,” Marino says. “So I recommend repotting about once every 12 to 18 months. It’s definitely a wide range of time, but there are some symptoms you can keep an eye out for to determine if your plant needs a bigger pot: If roots are growing through the drainage hole or pushing the plant up out of the planter; if the plant is growing slowly or dries out quickly; if the plant is extremely top heavy; or if there’s noticeable salt and mineral buildup on the plant or planter. ”
Nursing Your Sick Rubber Tree
If you’re doing your best to keep your rubber tree alive, but your efforts aren’t exactly working, Marino says that all is not lost. Drooping or fading leaves probably indicate a need for more light, so move the pot to a space that’s getting bright sun. They may also signal that the tree is getting too much air. Is your pot sitting near an air conditioner? If so, push the plant elsewhere.
“If you notice that the leaves are turning yellow and the potting mix is wet, your rubber tree probably is overwatered,” she adds. “But if the leaves are turning yellow and the potting mix is bone dry, then your rubber tree probably is under-watered. Both over and under-watering can cause yellow leaves on rubber trees, so it’s best to check the potting mix.”