Growing Rubber Trees Indoors: A Guide to Ficus Care
Ficus (commonly called fig trees or rubber trees) are a colorful and diverse plant species that thrive in houseplant lovers’ homes all over the world. Ficus are popular, and for good reason! They can take shape as tall, bushy, braided, columnar, or wide-branching trees, making a statement in any space. When it comes to Ficus care, consistency is key. Although they have a reputation for being finicky, with the proper care your Ficus will live for decades.
About the Ficus Family
Ficus is the largest genus in the mulberry family (Moraceae), containing upwards of 800 different species of vining plants, shrubs, and woody trees. These plants have many common names, including “rubber trees” due to their latex sap that can be used in the production of rubber and “fig trees” because many produce edible fruit.
Most of the Ficus that we cultivate as houseplants are evergreen trees that can reach heights upwards of 10 feet indoors, though this is minuscule in comparison to how large they can grow in their native environments.
The fruit that common fig trees (Ficus carica) are known for houses hundreds of small flowers on the inside. In the wild, fig trees bear fruit when they are pollinated through a symbiotic dance between the plant and a species-specific wasp. In their native environments, they can fruit all year long and are key to many ecosystems that include fruit-eating mammals. Though they probably won’t produce edible fruit when kept indoors, they are a magnificent ornamental addition to any collection.
General Ficus Care Guide
Ficus species are notorious for being finicky. Their natural reaction to stress is to drop their leaves, so it’s important to give them the right care. The key to growing a happy Ficus is replicating its natural environment and keeping its light, water, and temperature consistent.
Light: Most species of Ficus enjoy lots of bright, indirect sunlight. Placement in front of a south- or west-facing window is your best bet. A few hours of direct light per day is great, but in the heat of the summer you might consider pulling it a few feet back from the window to avoid burning the leaves.
Water: Moderate, consistent watering is key. Water when the soil has gone about 1/3 of the way dry from the tops. Soil retains moisture for longer in the winter, so you might consider cutting back on watering at this time. Ficus will not tolerate being over- or under-watered, and it can be difficult to coax them back to health after inconsistent watering.
Soil: Ficus enjoy rich and well-draining soil. A tropical mix should work great, or you can make your own mix: 1 part soil, 1 part bark, and 1 part pumice or perlite. Due to the trees’ sensitivity to change, it’s best to wait until spring to repot them or refresh their soil to avoid unnecessary shock.
Temperature: Ficus are highly sensitive to temperature changes. Place your plant in a spot away from any cold drafts, or heating/ cooling units. Once situated, try not to move it. If a few of your plant's bottom leaves drop or yellow in the winter, don’t fret! This is common during their dormant period in the winter.
Pet safety: Ficus are toxic to pets. When a leaf or stem breaks off, the tree oozes sap called latex that can be dangerous if ingested or if it comes into contact with the skin, eyes, nose, or mouth of your pet.
Tips from our staff:
- Shaking a Ficus trunk vigorously a few times per week can help the plant grow! This motion simulates wind from its natural environment. When the trunk of the plant is shaken, this stimulates the trunk to grow thicker and taller and helps promote additional foliar growth.
- Ficus will benefit from preventative pest spraying, as they can be susceptible to spider mites. Some growers water their Ficus trees in the shower to help prevent spider mites.
- Be extra careful when working with Ficus roots! Try not to disturb the root ball too much. When repotting, we recommend knocking off any loose soil, then adding fresh soil around the root ball.
Our Favorite Ficus Houseplants
- Ficus altissima ‘Yellow Gem’ — This species is a colorful showstopper, boasting large, deep green-centered leaves outlined with golden-yellow variegation
- Ficus elastica ‘Burgundy’ — This bold Ficus dazzles with glossy leaves that emerge crimson and then fade to a shade of green so deep that appears nearly black
- Ficus pumila (Creeping Fig) — This tiny, ivy-like species thrives with ample humidity and space to climb, making it an excellent candidate for terrarium planting
- Ficus benghalensis ‘Audrey’ — This species sports velvety forest-green leaves with rounded ends and light green veins
- Ficus lyrata — Known as the Fiddle Leaf Fig, F. lyrata’s characteristic huge, crinkled leaves lend it a playful personality
- Ficus elastica ‘Tineke’ — A beautiful plant with green, pink, and white variegation, and coloration that can intensify with more sunlight exposure
- Ficus triangularis — An unusual and highly sought-after species adorned with triangular leaves, sometimes sporting creamy white variegation
Ficus can be beautiful, long-lasting additions to your home when provided with the right care and environment. With these Ficus care tips, you will be well-prepared to help your Rubber Tree thrive. If you have any Ficus care suggestions of your own, let us know in the comments!
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By Amalia Ackerman