a plant with green and cream colored striped leaves against a yellow background

Variegated Rubber Plant Care: Flourishing Ficus Tips

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Gone are the days when the Ficus was just a dull-looking, old-fashioned office plant. Time to say hello to its trendy cousin: the variegated rubber tree! Care for this amazing plant properly, and it’ll be a top choice for both beginners and avid plant collectors. Not only is it gorgeous, but with this guide, it’s fairly easy to care for too. 

What really caught my eye about this one was the striking contrast between the dark green and the cream and white highlights on the leaves.

Everyone has a soft spot for variegation these days (yours truly included), and nothing beats having a variegated tree in your home.

Don’t let the camo-print look fool you. This plant can be a real show-stopper, especially once it reaches a height of over 6 feet.

Let’s take a look at a few Ficus elastica variegata care tips to keep yours happy and thriving.

a tall potted plant with white striped leaves

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Light requirements

All variegated plants need a bit more light to keep their lush foliage, and when it comes to variegated rubber plant care, it’s no exception.

Place it in a room that gets bright, indirect light, but avoid direct light, as this will scorch the leaves.

A room with an eastern exposure will do just the trick. 

Rotating the plant once or twice a month will always help provide even light distribution to the leaves, which is important to not only keep the variegation, but help keep the plant alive and healthy.

This is because the variegated rubber plants can only photosynthesize from the green parts of the foliage, since the white patches do not contain chlorophyll. 

A clear sign that your plant is happy and getting the perfect amount of light is if it produces new ruby-colored leaves.

Basically, if you can get your variegated rubber plant to produce leaves with pink variegation, don’t change anything you’re doing!

The ruby-pink color will eventually fade to white over time, but this is a great indicator of good health.

sprouting a new pink leaf

Water needs

Finding the sweet spot

Variegated rubber plants can be very susceptible to root rot and fungus gnats, so watering it right can be a bit of a balancing act.

Keep the soil lightly moist, but not soggy. You can use your finger to test if the top inch or so is dry enough to water again.

Or, if you’d rather not rely on guesswork, I always recommend using a moisture meter

During the growing season, you can water your rubber plant once every 5 to 7 days, then cut back on watering once every 2 weeks during winter.

Crank up the humidity

Although the variegated rubber plant doesn’t need as much air moisture as other plants (looking at you, Calatheas), a boost in humidity is more than welcome.

This way, you won’t have any problems with crispy leaves. Or worse, spider mites. 

Use a humidifier (my favorite one from Amazon) if the air in the room is too dry. As an alternative, try placing the pot on top of a pebble tray.

They also like a nice misting a few times a week. 

When to use fertilizers

Feed your variegated rubber plant during the growth season, from spring until the end of summer. A liquid fertilizer solution will work just fine.

Remember to cut back on feeding at the start of fall and throughout winter. Otherwise, your rubber tree will grow leggy instead of bushy and dense. 

Natural methods, like using eggshells for added calcium, can help you avoid over-fertilizing since they release nutrients into the soil very slowly. 

Repotting

When you bring your variegated rubber plant home for the first time, there’s a good chance that it will need to be repotted.

At minimum, wait a couple of weeks before doing so, to give the plant time to adjust to its new environment.

You can also keep your new plants in their nursery pots for much longer than this – sometimes I wait anywhere 4 to 6 months.

Use a pot that’s about 2 inches wider than the nursery pot, or its previous container. Variegated rubber trees can grow quite tall — the clue is in the name.

Depending on how fast it grows, you might need to repot it once every 1 to 2 years, to give the roots the space they need.

Once it has maxed out the available space in its current pot, you will find that growth has slowed to a halt, which is an indication that it needs a bigger pot. 

Best soil mix

The key feature you’re aiming for is drainage. The variegated rubber plant can’t stand having ‘wet feet’, which instantly spells root rot. 

I usually go for a mix of nutrient-rich potting soil, peat moss and perlite. This blend is perfect for your rubber plant, providing it with drainage, soil aeration and the nutrients it needs for healthy growth. 

Please avoid Miracle Gro – there have been so many problems using this mix in the plant community lately.

I suggest going to your local trusted greenhouse or garden store and buy the highest quality mix you can afford.

As an alternative, I’ve found a few great brands on Amazon for easy ordering – FoxFarm products being one of them. 

Propagation

Propagating your variegated rubber tree can take a bit of patience, but it’s well worth it. It’s also a lot easier than you think. 

Before you get started, make sure to wear gardening gloves, as the sap can cause skin irritations. Use a sharp knife and cut the stalk below the leaves.

Each cutting should have a node under the leaf, which is where the roots will sprout from.

Place the cutting in a glass with water, and make sure the bottom of the cutting doesn’t touch the bottom of the glass.

It can take several months before your cuttings grow any roots, so don’t lose hope too soon. Once the roots are well-developed, your new plant is ready to be potted. 

Are You Loving Variegated Plants? Check out the stunning Monstera Albo and Thai Constellation

Care Tips & Things to Be Aware of

Prune it into shape

The variegated rubber plant can grow up to 6 feet tall, so there will come a time when you’ll need to prune it. The main thing you’ll need to decide is the shape you’re going for: tall and slender, or bushy. 

If you’re after a tall rubber tree, avoid cutting the top of the plant until it’s reached the height you want. For a bushy look, you can trim the top as well as the side stems. Your plant may grow up to 2 new branches from each stump.

Don’t forget that you can propagate any cuttings you take when pruning your rubber tree!

In addition, if you have leaves on the bottom that begin to fall off (a natural process in which the plant sheds its oldest leaves) you can carve out a small notch in the spot that the leaf fell from. If you’re lucky, you may see a new leaf sprout from here. 

One thing you’ll notice is that your variegated rubber tree is shooting out roots at the base of the stem, above the soil.

They’re aerial roots that the plant grows naturally, so no need to worry about them. You can either trim them down, or keep them for an au naturel vibe.

Leave it alone

Most rubber plant varieties don’t like to be moved. Once you bring it home, find the best place in your home and then leave it be for at least 3-4 weeks before moving it again.

Bringing it home from the greenhouse is enough of a shock, so allow it to get used to its new home for a while.

Try to avoid moving it around the house, as they’ll do much better if left alone. 

Keep the Leaves Clean

About once a month, you can wipe down the leaves with a damp cloth to remove dust. This is especially important for the variegated rubber plant, since it needs all the help it can get to create energy and feed itself.

Keep the leaves dust-free will allow it to absorb sunlight more efficiently.

I’ve even heard of some people rubbing a small amount of mayonnaise or banana peel to keep the leaves looking extra glossy. 

White Spots on Leaves

Don’t be alarmed if you find tiny white spots or bumps on the leaves of your variegated rubber plant. These spots are called lithocysts, which are just little clusters of cells that contain extra calcium.

This is completely normal for the ficus elastica plant. 

Common Problems and Troubleshooting

Common pests

Variegated rubber trees are fairly healthy plants, so you shouldn’t have too many problems with diseases. 

They can receive unwelcome visits from pests such as aphids, thrips, spider mites and mealy bugs.

I usually give the leaves a gentle wipe with a mix of water, neem oil and dish soap. It always does the job nicely. 

For aphids, make sure to blast them off the plant in the shower first. Spider mites will give you a bit of a headache, especially if you catch them too late.

Luckily, it’s nothing a bit of neem oil or diluted rubbing alcohol won’t get rid of.

Check your variegated rubber plant for pests every time you water it. More importantly, though, make sure that you provide it with the right growing conditions. Often, brown, crispy or falling leaves are caused by a poor watering schedule, low humidity, too much or too little light.

Variegation loss

a mostly green leaf, starting to revert

Variegation is a regressive genetic trait. Sadly, this means that any variegated houseplant might decide to switch back to all-green leaves at some point.

But there are other factors that could cause it.

In the case of rubber trees, loss of variegation is usually triggered by too little light. If your plant is sitting in a shady spot, try moving it to a part of the room where it receives bright, indirect sunlight.

A non-variegated leaf or two isn’t a cause for concern, but if it starts producing mostly solid green leaves, this is a sign that it needs more light and it’s reverting back.

At this point, you’ll want to prune off most of the solid colored leaved and place it somewhere brighter.  

Brown Leaves or Edges

Browning edges or spots on your variegated rubber plant are usually caused by a few typical issues.

If the edges are dry and crispy looking, try giving it a lot more humidity for a couple weeks (an easy fix is placing it the shower after you’re done for an hour).

This symptom could also mean it’s not getting quite enough water when it wants it, so be sure that you’re watering as soon as the top inch of soil is dry. 

As I mentioned earlier, sunburn can cause the leaves to dry up and turn brown. 

If you try all of the above and you’re still left with brown leaves/edges on your variegated ficus, then I recommend switched to distilled or filtered water. Certain plants are sensitive to hard tap water’s minerals. 

Yellow Leaves

A variegated rubber plant that is yellow is usually a sign of overwatering, or the fact that it’s retaining too much moisture.

It’s best to use a pot with several drainage holes on the bottom so that it’s never sitting in stagnant water.

If it does have lots of drainage and you’ve only been watering when the top inch or two of soil is dry, this could be a sign of root rot.

At this point, you’ll want to pull the plant out of the soil and inspect the roots. Let it dry out for a few hours and repot with new soil.

Using too big of a pot usually causes this, as the soil will retain extra moisture that the plant doesn’t need. 

Drooping Leaves

Leaves that are looking droopy, wilty or limp is usually a sign that your plant needs more water.

However, don’t wait for them to droop before watering each time. If the leaves become too limp for too long, they won’t fully spring back to their upright position. 

Very little or no new growth

The variegated rubber tree is an average grower, and in perfect growing conditions you can see a growth rate of 18 to 24 inches in a year. When kept as an indoor houseplant though, it may grow much slower.

If months go by and it’s not shooting out any new leaves, then it could be a sign that it’s struggling. 

The main reason your rubber plant is not growing is insufficient light. Try moving it to a sunnier spot, but avoid direct sun. Also, remember to use fertilizers during the growth season.

It could also be outgrowing its pot size, so if you’ve had it for more than a year in the same pot, you could repot it in a bigger pot and with new soil for a fresh nutrient boost. 



Toxicity to pets

If you’re like me, and you’ve embraced the joys of being a plant and pet parent, this little heads up is for you. All rubber plants produce a toxic, white sap which can make your pets very ill. 

Now, my dog Miley doesn’t mind houseplants too much, but you know how pets can be curious about their leafy siblings.

Just make sure to keep your variegated rubber tree someplace where your pets can’t be tempted to take a bite out of it. 

Where to Buy

Need to get your hands on a variegated rubber tree now? There are several sellers on Etsy who have great reviews.

Here’s a plant shop I recommend where you can order one online. 


So there you have it, your variegated rubber tree care essentials. With the right amount of TLC, this plant can grow into a real stunner, easily becoming the focus of any room.

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