Ficus Elastica 'Ruby' centered between philodendron crocodile and pothos on wooden shelves

Ficus Elastica Ruby Care and Propagation: For Beginners

The variegated Ficus Elastica Ruby is a fun plant to grow and propagate. Today’s guide will explore both aspects in more detail so you can have as many Ficus Elastica Ruby plants as your indoor garden can handle!

How do you care for and propagate the Ficus Elastica Ruby? The Ficus Elastica Ruby needs indirect light, temps up to 70°F, humidity at 60%, and water when its soil begins to dry out. You can propagate the Ficus Elastica Ruby by air layering it or using soil or water. 

Today’s two-part guide will first explore all the care facets to grow a healthy Ficus Elastica Ruby.  Then I’ll discuss all your propagation methods, so make sure you don’t miss it! 

Caring for Ficus Elastica Ruby 

First, I’ll expand on the care facets of the Ficus Elastica Ruby from the intro. 

Watering the Ficus Elastica Ruby

Rubber plants aren’t greedy water drinkers, including variegated counterparts like the Ficus Elastica Ruby. 

Allow several inches of soil to dry before replenishing the plant with water. Prepare to water this red-tinged plant more often in the spring and summer before scaling back in the autumn and winter.

If you live in a predominantly cold climate, you might regularly go longer stretches between watering the Ficus Elastica Ruby. Those living in hotter climates will water their rubber plant often.

Gauge the moisture levels in the Ruby’s pot by placing a clean finger or two several inches into the soil. The soil should feel dry, which means it’s devoid of moisture but not necessarily bone-dry.

Rubber plants are susceptible to diseases such as fungal root rot from overwatering, so it’s best to water the Ficus Elastica Ruby sparingly.

When the time does come, use lukewarm water. Angle the watering can so you water the plant overhead. 

Pour in a lot of water and distribute the water evenly across the soil.

Try not to get the leaves wet when watering the Ruby or unsightly stains could develop. You can use a soft cloth to dry the leaves after watering if you see water droplets blooming on the foliage. 

The Right Lighting for the Ficus Elastica Ruby

Indirect light is a must for the Ficus Elastica Ruby.

Some indoor gardeners grow their variegated rubber plant in medium, indirect light, which is more filtered than bright, indirect light. 

Others place their plants in indirect, bright light, and the Ficus Elastica Ruby thrives.

I recommend bright, indirect light through a curtained window positioned East or North in your home.

The amount of light you give yours will likely be based on how much red or “Ruby” color it has on its leaves. Allow me to explain the varying light recommendations:

Plants require light to photosynthesize, but variegated plants need light for an additional reason: to maintain coloration. 

Bright, indirect light will keep the red edges of your Ficus Elastica Ruby shining brightly so you can continue to marvel at this plant and what a great addition it is to your indoor garden.

Monitor your plant closely for signs of duress. In bright, indirect light, the Ruby shouldn’t risk burning, but in a south or west-facing window, that’s no longer the case.

The harsh afternoon sun that streams in through these windows can crisp up the leaves of this variegated rubber plant. You’ll lose more than the red coloration but the entire leaf. As the foliage becomes thin, brown, and crispy, you’ll have to prune it. 

Another risk when growing the Ficus Elastica Ruby is giving it too little light. That shouldn’t be an issue with a medium, indirect light setup, but ensure the plant’s light doesn’t dim more than that.

Remember, variegated plants need light to keep their coloration. Your Ficus Elastica Ruby will become dimmer and dimmer the longer it goes in a dark environment. 

The old leaves will never look variegated again, and new leaves starving of light won’t either. 

The growth of your plant as a whole will also slow, so it’s bad news all around. 

Soil and Pot Requirements for the Ficus Elastica Ruby

Keeping in mind that the Ficus Elastica Ruby can’t tolerate standing water, the variegated rubber plant must have well-draining soil. The richer in nutrients the soil is, the better.

You can use standard potting soil for the plant or cactus mix. Either way, augment the soil with compost to introduce nutrients. Fertilizing will also help with that, but I’ll talk more about fertilizing the Ficus Elastica Ruby later.

I recommend soil amendments to keep the soil mix light, airy, and well-draining. Perlite, coco coir, pumice, and peat moss all work. 

The Ficus Elastica Ruby prefers a soil pH range of 5.0 to 7.0. Its soil can be more acidic or neutral but not alkaline.

Before you incorporate any soil amendments into the Ruby’s pot, double-check their pH. You don’t want to push the plant’s soil into very acidic territory.

The last order of business is selecting the right pot for the Ficus Elastica Ruby. To keep its water draining without drying out the plant too quickly, go for a pot made of glazed clay, ceramic, or terracotta.

The glaze layer reduces the high rates of porosity of these materials. They’ll still absorb water but not to a degree where you have to water the Ficus Elastica Ruby more frequently than necessary. 

The Right Temperature for the Ficus Elastica Ruby

What temperature does the Ficus Elastica Ruby do best in? It likes temps between 60 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Beginner indoor gardeners will find this aspect of the variegated rubber plant’s care hard to screw up. If your home or office is in comfy room temperature range, then the Ficus Elastica Ruby will thrive.

Do keep an eye on the thermostat now and again so it doesn’t drop lower than 60 degrees. The rubber plant has no frost hardiness, so the plant could begin freezing when the temperatures drop too much. 

The Ficus Elastica Ruby can handle temperatures up to 80 degrees, but I wouldn’t put it through hotter temperatures. It can begin burning!

You can always keep the Ruby outside in the summer for a few hours but certainly move it back indoors by noontime. Never leave the plant outside in the winter.

Indoors, limit the Ficus Elastica Ruby’s exposure to drafts from an old window, a radiator, an air conditioner, and the like. 

Inducing Humidity for the Ficus Elastica Ruby

The Ficus Elastica Ruby grows natively in the tropical environments of Malaysia and India. Unsurprisingly, it likes humidity.

At the very least, the variegated rubber tree needs 40 percent humidity in its environment. It prefers up to 60 percent humidity but no balmier than that.

You might not have to do anything special for the Ruby’s humidity requirement. Indoor environments like an office or homes have an average relative humidity rate of 30 to 50 percent, which should suffice for this plant.

If the Ficus Elastica Ruby’s leaves have turned yellow or brown, the plant noticeably droops, and the foliage feels dry and crispy, it needs more humidity.

Plug in a humidifier and let it run throughout the day and night to moisten the rubber plant’s environment. 

Fertilizing the Ficus Elastica Ruby

The Ficus Elastica Ruby benefits from fertilizer, but how much and what kind?

You can use a standard liquid houseplant fertilizer for the variegated rubber plant. The fertilizer should contain an equal mix of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, so look for a label with 10-10-10. 

Always dilute the liquid fertilizer to half-strength before applying it!

The best time to fertilize the Ficus Elastica Ruby is during its active growing season, which begins in the spring and lasts through the summer. Apply fertilizer about every 30 days.

Cease fertilizing when the Ficus Elastica Ruby stops growing in the autumn. By the winter, the plant will enter a state of dormancy, so there’s no sense in fertilizing it then, either. 

Ficus Elastica Ruby Pests and Diseases

Giving the leaves of the Ficus 'Ruby" rubber plant  a good once over to make sure it's not hosting any unwanted pests

To wrap up my section on Ficus Elastica Ruby care, I have to talk about the pests and diseases that can afflict this plant. 

Let’s start with an overview of these rubber plant pests.

  • Mealybugs: Although mealybugs and the like are standard indoor plant pests, you still don’t want them crawling all over your Ficus Elastica Ruby. Mealybugs deposit honeydew that can spread powdery mildew on your plant. Horticultural soap will do the job of killing mealybugs, or–for a gentler alternative–combine dish soap with water in a spray bottle. 
  • Scale insects: Although they look harmless, scale insects are anything but. They consume plant branches, stems, and leaves, leaving serious damage in their wake. You can rely on horticultural soap or insecticidal soap to treat the issue. 
  • Aphids: Aphids will also hungrily nosh on your Ficus Elastica Ruby, so don’t assume a small infestation will go away on its own. It will only get worse. If you’re feeling brave, you can remove the aphids from your plant by hand (into a bucket, of course). You can also use neem oil or water and dish soap.

Besides pests, the following diseases can also afflict the Ficus Elastica Ruby.

  • Fungal root rot: Rubber trees are very susceptible to fungal root rot, a deadly plant killer. The roots get inundated with water and can’t get enough oxygen, so they die. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the plant dies too. Replacing a plant’s soil, pruning dead roots and plant parts, and watering more sparingly can help. 
  • Southern blight: The fungal disease southern blight affects tropical plants such as the Ficus Elastica Ruby. The disease can make the Ficus Elastica Ruby wilt and become discolored across its lower leaves. Eventually, the entire plant collapses and dies. Fungicide can work to treat blight. 
  • Powdery mildew: The Ficus Elastica Ruby should have red on its leaves, not white. That may be powdery mildew, another fungal disease to beware of. A lack of air circulation and hot temperatures can contribute to powdery mildew. Combine a quart of water with a teaspoon of baking soda to remove the first traces of powdery mildew. 
  • Leaf spot: Most frequently caused by fungus but sometimes also nematodes and bacteria, leaf spot leads to the development of trademark spots across the pretty foliage of the Ficus Elastica Ruby. Fungicide can treat leaf spot, especially if you catch it early. 
  • Botrytis blight: Another name for botrytis blight is gray mold. Moist and humid conditions allow the mold spores to spread until your variegated rubber plant looks fuzzy. Pruning can contain the disease but does not stop it. 

Ficus Elastica Ruby Propagation 

You’ve begun caring for your Ficus Elastica Ruby, and you love how healthy, fresh, and beautiful it looks. 

To share the gift of the variegated rubber tree with others in your life (or to have more in your own indoor garden!), here’s how to propagate this plant.

Selecting a Cutting for Propagation

First, as a word of warning, when you remove stems from the Ficus Elastica Ruby (or any rubber tree), the plant will secrete a white, ultra-sticky sap. Always wear gloves to avoid skin irritation, and don’t propagate on surfaces like kitchen countertops!

Now it’s time to look over your plant. Only healthy stems make suitable cuttings; if you choose one that looks kind of rough, your cutting could die before it becomes much of anything. 

The cutting should measure at least six inches long and have a healthy green color with no blemishes. Choose a cutting with at least one leaf, ideally closer to the top, as you may have to remove lower leaves later.

Most importantly, the cutting needs leaf nodes, or shall I say, leaf nodes, plural?

A leaf node is a swollen area where new growth emerges, and that’s critical when propagating the Ficus Elastica Ruby. A good cutting will contain four nodes at the very least.

Use clean, recently disinfected pruning shears to prevent the spread of disease. Trim an inch under the last node on the cutting at a 45-degree angle to maximize water and nutrient intake.

If the cutting begins oozing sap, use a paper towel to remove most of it. 

Choosing Your Growth Medium 

Next, select the ideal growth medium for your Ficus Elastica Ruby cutting. 

You can choose between the standard options such as potting soil or water, but you also have a third option: air layering.

Let’s explain all three methods now.

  • Water propagation: A simple method that allows you to see roots as they grow, water propagation requires you to fill a jar or vase with water, insert the cutting, and replace the water as it gets dirty. This isn’t the most recommended option since the rubber plant and excess water don’t mix, but with careful monitoring, you can propagate in water. 
  • Potting mix propagation: You may also grow the Ficus Elastica Ruby in a shallow bed of potting mix. You can’t see the roots as they emerge, but this method is still convenient and easy. 
  • Air layering: Then there’s air layering. You don’t remove any stems from the parent plant but wrap the stem in moistened moss, sphagnum moss, soil, or perlite until roots begin to sprout. 

Preparing the Growth Medium

You’ve selected the growth medium for your Ficus Elastica Ruby cutting, so now it’s time to get to work.

If growing in potting mix, take a shallow container or small pot and add the potting mix. Incorporate perlite for drainage and moisten the mix. 

Make a hole in the middle of the pot or container with a chopstick or the eraser end of a pencil and insert the cutting. The topmost node should be right on the surface of the soil mix. 

Water propagation requires you to fill a container with water and insert the cutting until its leaf nodes are submerged. 

If you’re air layering, cover the chosen stem with moss and wait. 

Caring for the Ficus Elastica Ruby Cutting

Now you can begin caring for the cutting so it will someday become a full-fledged plant.

Provide dappled sunlight or bright, indirect light. Keep potting mix moistened and re-wet the moss as it begins to dry. 

Check the water condition in the jar or vase, as it will get funky in about a week. Dump the water and replace it. 

Place an open plastic zippy bag over the cutting for a few hours per day to create a humid environment. 

Transferring the Cutting to Its New Home 

Be patient, as you could wait upwards of six months for the Ficus Elastica Ruby cutting to have a strong enough root system to move to a more permanent home. 

Whether you used air-layering, soilless mix, or water to propagate the cutting, the new rubber plant needs to grow in soil from this point forward. It will also need a larger pot to support its growth! 

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