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Variegated Rubber Plant Care

Ficus Elastica Tineke or Variegated Rubber Tree is indigenous to Southeast Asia— specifically the Himalayas, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The regular rubber plants are often called ‘strangler plants’ as they can grow uncontrolled and take over surrounding plants, and are banned in some areas of the world as invasive plants. The Elastica Tineke subspecies can be controlled and managed indoors when grown in containers.

This plant grows up to 50-feet when growing outdoors in the ground, while it will attain heights of 5-6 feet when grown indoors, usually growing 4-5 times the height of the pot. It grows vigorously in highly humid conditions. Its leaves are attractive variegated large glossy leaves of olive green and cream and grow 5 inches wide and 12 inches long. This variegation results in the plant having less chlorophyll and grows slower than the regular Ficus Elastica.

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This plant exudes a milky, latex that was (and still is) utilized for making rubber products. This latex is mildly toxic and must be avoided on skin, eyes, or ingested. 

This is a reasonably low-maintenance plant when provided with the right growing conditions.

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Sunlight

This plant should be preferably grown in indirect bright light for it to thrive and display its best color variegations. It tolerates a broad variety of lighting conditions, from direct sunlight outdoors to low-lighting conditions indoors. Ideally, provide it with at least a daily exposure of 6 hours of indirect bright light for best results. 

Insufficient light results in faded variegation and less growth. Contrarily, excessive direct sunlight is not good as it will burn the light cream parts of the leaves.

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Water

This plant, like the rest of the Elastica varieties, needs just a little watering as it can easily fail because of root rot due to overwatering. It should be watered only when the soil’s dry or at least the first few inches.

When growing in its natural environment of hot and humid forests, there is not a lot of water available, so it doesn’t need to be watered a lot. It is tolerant of being under-watering as it retains plenty of water in its thick glossy leaves and can go a few days without getting water. Typically, it needs watering once weekly or once in 2 weeks, although it will need to be watered more frequently if it lives in drier and hotter climates. 

You will have to water it less in winter around once every three weeks, as transpiration drops very low as growth becomes dormant. Whatever the frequency of watering, there is one practice you should keep constant – water the plant well every time by ensuring the entire root ball gets drenched nicely. Stop watering when water flows from the drainage holes. 

The soaking technique is a good watering practice to use for this plant. Fill a tub of water midway and insert the pot inside. The soil in the pot will absorb all the water it needs. Take the pot out of the tub after 5 minutes. This technique helps ensure the soil and roots get enough water and prevent water-related problems such as root rot.

Over-watering the plant will result in yellow leaves or brown spots appearing on the leaves. Under-watering will result in leaf loss as the leaves will fall off one by one. 

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Humidity

This plant naturally benefits from having extra humidity in the environment since it is native to jungles of Asia and comfortable with high humidity and temperatures. Similarly, it needs more humidity when grown indoors, with a minimum of 40-50% for the plant to thrive. This can be sustained indoors using a humidifier or with a humidity tray. Avoid placing this variegated plant in drafty areas near fans, vents, or windows in winter. 

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Temperature

This plant thrives in hot environments (like its native habitat), ideally in temperatures between 60-95°F. It doesn’t tolerate temperatures lower than 50°F and it will stop growing.

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Soil

The soil requirements for this plant are the same as those of regular rubber plants. It requires a well-draining and aerated soil, tolerating any soil type just as long as it is a well-drained one. You can make your well-draining mix instead by combining equal parts of regular soil, peat, perlite, and pine bark. Using soil including organic components is suggested as this acts as a slow-releasing fertilizer, which provides sufficient nutrients for the plant even if it’s not fertilized.

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Repotting

This plant has to be repotted about once every second year. This plant prefers to get root bound, so it’s best to wait for the right time to move it into a bigger home. You’ll know when it’s the right time when the soil stops retaining any water and it’s flowing straight out of the container. 

When repotting, use the recommended well-draining fresh potting mix and go up one size wider and bigger than the old container. This will help provide support for healthy and thriving growth for the plant as a pot that is too big will have too much room and hinder growth.

Repotting is necessary to help the roots to grow continuously and the fresh soil will provide it with fresh nutrients and rejuvenate the plant. Clay pots are more suitable than other materials due to their aeration and evaporation properties. 

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Propagation

Much like other rubber plant varieties, this one is also easy to propagate. Water can be used for propagation by simply taking a section of cutting from the stem with at least 3 or 4 leaves. Insert the stem into the water until the roots reach 2-3 inches long, then transplant into soil.

You can stick a stem straight into the soil. Just ensure it gets enough humidity by using a humidifier close by if necessary

Additional Care

Don’t forget to keep the leaves cleaned with a cloth and periodically turn the plant so that the whole plant gets sufficient light for even growth as well as keeping it looking good. 

It does not need much pruning as it won’t grow very large when grown indoors. It’ll only need to be pruned when it grows taller after a few years but care must be taken to avoid getting the white sap on your skin as it is an irritant. 

It needs some feeding once monthly during its active growing period from April-October with a granular slow-release fertilizer. Always follow the recommended dose carefully – it’s better to be underfed rather than more as excess fertilizing will burn its leaves and cause severe damage. Do not feed it in winter when growth becomes dormant.

Common Problems

While this plant is very disease-resistant, common pests like spider mites and/or mealybugs tend to make a nuisance of themselves with this plant. Regular checks must be conducted for signs of pests such as spots or leaf drops, and any pest found must be eradicated immediately.

Usually, this plant will provide some hints of problems with its leaves. Yellow leaves suggest overwatering, so inspect the soil if it’s too wet. Brown spots or crispy leaves suggest that it’s either under-watered or getting excessive exposure to direct sunshine. It will also let you know if it’s thirsty when the leaves look sad and droopy.

If you notice that the variegation of leaves is fading and becoming uniformly green, expose the plant to more light. 

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Variegated Rubber Plant Care
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