Rubber Tree plants (Ficus elastica) have become houseplant staples because of their quick growth and towering forms. For me, though, the true beauty of a Rubber Tree comes from its signature thick, glossy leaves that give me deep tropical vibes. However, many people seem to report that their Rubber Tree struggles to produce beautiful leaves consistently, often seeing smaller, duller, and weaker leaves as the plant grows.
Most likely, a Rubber Tree producing weaker or smaller leaves is suffering from inadequate light exposure. Moving your plant to a brighter spot will correct most leaf issues. Ensuring the plant is pest-free, appropriately watered, and consistently cared for will also help ensure quality leaf output from your Rubber Tree.
If you find yourself wondering why your Rubber Tree might not be producing the beautiful, glossy leaves it had when you first brought the plant home, now is a great time to check in on your plant care regimen to make sure you are giving the plant exactly what it needs to thrive.
Even small changes to a plant’s growing conditions can make drastic changes in its output, so you may only need to tweak one or two things to put your Rubber Tree back on track. In this article, I cover what a typical Rubber Tree leaf should look like and give you a few tips to follow to ensure your Rubber Tree is producing high-quality, healthy leaves.
What to Expect From Your Rubber Tree Leaves
My guess is that if you didn’t buy your Rubber Tree because it is a fast grower, you bought it for its attractive leaves. Rubber Tree plants have some of the most distinctive leaves of any tropical houseplant, and they really do make a statement when your plant is big and healthy.
Rubber Trees have evergreen, elongated, oval-shaped leaves that are typically thick, smooth, and have a glossy shine to them. Roughly 3.5″-12″ long, the leaves can range from pale green to dark green or burgundy in color. Other varieties have variegated coloring or brightly colored veins in pink, orange, or red.
Leaves attach along the main stems of the plant, with new leaf growth starting out small near the growing tips of stems but quickly producing large, healthy leaves under optimal conditions.
Rubber Tree leaves tend to hang on for a long time, so as the plant grows, the fuller the plant looks. However, if the plant suffers from mismanaged waterings or is not receiving enough light, it is not uncommon to see the plant dropping some of its leaves as it tries to adjust to less-than-ideal conditions.
Exposure to a new environment, like bringing a new plant home for the first time, may promote leaf loss. This is because your Rubber Tree is trying to acclimate to its new home, so be sure to find the most suitable, brightly lit spot in your home to minimize the change in conditions for the plant.
As long as you provide your Rubber Tree with good care, ample light, and gradually acclimating it to new conditions if you are moving the plant around, there is no reason it won’t reward you with lots of big, healthy leaves as it grows.
Tips for Bigger, Healthier Leaves
When it comes to leaf growth on a Rubber Tree, I always look for lighting issues first. Typically, inadequate light is the main culprit for any Rubber Tree that is producing small or lackluster leaves. However, there are a few other things to keep in mind that impact leaf production, so I’ve also included them in this list of tips.
Tip #1 – Know Your Plant’s Optimal Conditions
OK, the first one is pretty straightforward. Basically, figure out what makes your plant happy and then give it to them!
Rubber Trees are fairly straightforward plants that are easy to care for, but it is important to give them what they need to succeed. They like evenly moist soil, lots and lots of bright, indirect sunlight, temperatures that stay fairly warm (above 65°), and humidity levels around 50%.
In general, most homes already meet most of these requirements (at least in terms of heat and humidity), but understanding how to properly care for your Rubber Tree is going to result in a stronger, healthier plant, which in turn will produce bigger, healthier leaves.
Tip #2 – Dial in Your Watering Game
Proper watering is going to be another huge key to ensuring your plant’s long-term health. I’ll admit, in the past, I’ve been guilty of killing my plants with kindness (overwatering) or, equally detrimental, adopting the “set-it-and-forget-it” mindset where I almost immediately forget about a houseplant as soon as I set it down, resulting in me grossly underwatering it.
With watering, finding the balance between those two extremes is very important. Overwatering can cause your Rubber Tree leaves to turn brown or yellow. Underwatering can result in burned leaf tips or curling. Both can cause your plant to drop its leaves entirely.
Rubber Trees want evenly damp soil, so it is important to water deeply and thoroughly, only when necessary. The best way to achieve this is by waiting until the first inch of soil has dried out completely. Once this happens, water the plant deeply so excess liquid flows out of the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. Then, let the plant be until that top inch of soil dries out again.
By properly watering your Rubber Tree, you’ll be providing precisely what the plant needs to produce healthy leaves, and you’ll avoid creating conditions that foster disease or physical distress.
Tip #3 – Consistency is Key
You may notice that your Rubber Tree has suddenly stopped producing healthy leaves. Or, perhaps you saw a period where it only produced small leaves, but then new growth grew out larger again.
This indicates that the general plant care you are providing might not be as consistent as you think. All plants need things like water, light, nutrients, and space in consistent quantities to grow uniformly. If these conditions become variable or sporadic, it could impact what is available for your plant to utilize as it tries to put out new growth.
Consider your watering habits, ensuring that you pay close attention to when it is time to give your plant a drink. Perhaps you need to provide additional nutrients with fertilizer because the plant has already utilized the nutrients present in the soil. As the seasons change, light levels can drop, so you may need to adjust the plant’s location or supplement with a grow light.
Making sure your plant’s growth isn’t limited by any one factor will translate into better plant health, and in turn, healthier leaves.
Tip #4 – Check for Pesky Pests
Although not a common issue for Rubber Trees, there are a few pests that may cause health issues for the plants. Some pests reside on the leaves, causing discoloration or leaf damage, while others might live in the soil, causing plant health issues that secondarily impact leaf health.
Spider mites or scale are two pests found on the leaves that cause damage, often stunting leaf growth, or left unchecked, eventually killing the entire leaf.
Fungus gnats lay eggs in the soil. Their larvae feed on the root system of the plant, which can lead to serious health problems, including rot, leaf drop, and even death.
There are numerous ways to treat different pests, both home remedies, and commercial products. Generally, if you can provide consistent and proper care, pests have a harder time establishing on your houseplants.
Tip #5 – Show’ Em the Sunshine
Above all else, I believe most leaf issues on Rubber Tree plants can be attributed to improper light levels. If you see smaller leaves or dull colors, you most likely need to move your plant to a brighter spot in your home.
As I mentioned above, Rubber Trees love lots of bright, indirect sunlight. Direct light tends to burn the glossy leaves of the plant, so you want to shoot for something like a south- or west-facing window with a sheer curtain over it. Or, at the very least, make sure your plant is pulled back far enough from a bright window so the direct path of sunlight doesn’t hit it.
If you find your plant is suffering from smaller leaf growth, you may want to give it more prime real estate in your home. Over time, you should see that new leaves grow out to their full length and regain some gloss and vibrancy.
If you have a colorful variety of Rubber Tree, like the Burgundy or one of the variegated varieties, the additional light exposure will help deepen the colors and variegations on the leaves. Your Burgundy plant’s leaves will darken to a deeper red, rather than pale green. Variegations tend to become more distinct, with sharper contrast between colors.
A quick note on lowlight situations: I’ve seen a few things out there on the internet about reducing light exposure as a way to get Rubber Tree leaves to grow larger. I do not recommend this! Most likely, the plant is putting out leggy growth as it searches for additional sunlight, so any gains in leaf size are probably thin, weak, dull, and unhealthy because the plant is in survival mode.
Tip #6 – Not Enough Windows? Show’ Em the Grow Light
If you don’t have a brighter spot in your home for your Rubber Tree, consider supplementing its light requirements with a grow light. I have a few plants in my home that require a bit more light than what my basement window gives them, so I have a grow lightbulb inserted into a desk lamp on a timer. Even supplementing an additional few hours of light a day can make a big difference.
If you’re curious about grow lights, we’ve got an extensive article that explains what they are, how to use them, and which ones work best. For more information on grow lights, click here.
Tip #7 – Clean Those Leaves
It doesn’t matter if you are a clean-freak or slob, all of our homes get dirty. We do the chores necessary to keep our houses tidy, but we often overlook our plants, which tend to be great dust collectors.
Dusty leaves have a harder time utilizing the sunlight that reaches them, so giving your plant an occasional cleaning can do wonders for its health.
Use a soft cloth and room-temperature water to clean off any dirt or dust that has collected on the leaves of your Rubber Tree. You want to remove the dirt, but leave the glossy cuticle of the leaf intact, so don’t use any cleaning products or chemicals. I would also avoid the “leaf shine” products marketed for this task, as they tend to clog up the plant’s stomata, which they use for respiration, and do more harm than good.
Rubber Trees are simple, fast-growing plants that will put out lots of vibrant leaves as long as they are happy and healthy. Hopefully, you have a better understanding of how light levels and well-executed basic care can impact how well your plant leafs out.
Remember that most leaf growth issues can be attributed to improper lighting conditions, but it is important to also check on the things that affect the plant’s overall health to rule out serious problems that might be contributing to small or disfigured leaf production.