Ficus elastica is a popular houseplant for very good reasons: it adapts well to most indoor environments, is low maintenance, and it brings a strong vertical element into a space. In this post, I’ll be discussing:
- Whether it is the right plant for your space
- How to care for ficus elastica
Should I get this plant?
There are a number of factors to consider when considering whether you should purchase a Ficus elastica. Here, we will consider cost, space, and its strengths as a design element.
In terms of cost, Ficus elastica is a readily available houseplant that you can find in supermarkets, home improvement stores, plant nurseries and plant retailers. You can also buy them online, which makes them easily accessible. If you do happen to be on a tight budget (or just love a little challenge), consider getting a small sapling, and growing it from its infancy. It grows extremely quickly, and is robust enough to not cause any headaches if you give it the right conditions.
Ficus elasticae love bright, indirect light, so your space should ideally have a south-facing or west-facing window. If you plan on putting your Ficus in a west facing window, make sure that it has some kind of semi-sheer curtain. That being said, some have grown them outdoors. If you plan on growing yours in full sun, make sure that you gradually allow it to acclimate to the level of sun outside by putting it in direct sun in the morning and late evening, and slowly increase the amount of time you leave it outside.
If grown indoors, a Ficus elastica should also ideally be in a room with high ceilings. They grow extremely quickly, and can reach short ceilings in no time at all. Starting it off in a high-ceilinged room means that it won’t need to be moved when it grows a little taller. Ficus elasticae hate to be moved.
As a design element, Ficus elastica can add a strong vertical element to your home. If left untrimmed, a Ficus elastica will not branch out. It will only grow upwards as one solitary trunk. If this is the kind of element you need in your space, there is no need to trim at all. Otherwise, it may require just a small snip near the top of the plant, just below its top node. This encourages branching, and can give it a fuller, more “tree-like” look. Variegated cultivars like the Ficus elastica “Tineke” and the Ficus Elastica “Ruby give the plant more interest.
How should I care for this plant?
Light: Bright and indirect. Think southern and western exposure. West facing windows may need a sheer curtain to dabble the light. If you do not get a great deal of light, consider investing in a grow light.
Watering: Water when soil is dry, but do not leave the plant bone dry for extended periods of time, like you would for a succulent. A good rule of thumb (pun very much intended) is to stick the first segment of your thumb in the soil and feel for moisture. If everything feels dry, it’s time to water.
Fertilising: These plants are tough as nails. They will grow larger and healthier largely unassisted by fertilisers. However, if you’re looking to give these bad boyes a growth spurt, simply add a balanced houseplant fertiliser once a month at half of the recommended strength. Over-fertilising may cause root burn.
Propagating: Simply cut off a branch below a node and plop it in either plain water or soil. It should begin to root within a few weeks, and develop a fairly substantial root system within 3 months.
Additional care tips:
- Try to avoid moving these plants to different locations in the house, as they like consistent conditions.
- Rotate the plant once a week to ensure even growth, or the trunk will grow crooked trying to lean towards the light.
- The large leaves tend to accumulate dust. Give these bad boyes a boost by wiping down the leaves gently with a soft, dry cloth to remove the dust and facilitate photosynthesis.
- You might see some tiny cracks on older leaves. If you check for pests and don’t find any, I would suggest misting the plant once or twice a day just a little to raise humidity. This worked for me.
- If the newest leaf doesn’t look as big as the last leaf, don’t worry too much. This is one of the plants that produce leaves that continue growth well past the development on the next leaf.
- Do not repot unless your Ficus elastica is extremely root bound. They don’t like change.
- Avoid cold drafts.
- These plants produce white sap when cut. This sap can cause skin irritation, so wash your hands thoroughly after taking a cutting. Other than that, these plants do not cause any mess.
Here’s a picture of my Ficus elastica “Ruby”. I bought her as a sapling with only 4 leaves because I was looking for a challenge. She was actually so easy to care for that she became less of a challenge and more of a joy to grow. She has since more than doubled in size.