There’s little doubt that Rubber Tree Plants (Ficus elastica) are lovely additions to houseplant collections, not only for their quick growth but for their beautiful structure, as well. So, it comes as no surprise that many people wonder if these showpiece indoor plants can also be grown outdoors, either in the ground or on a patio.
While typically indoor plants, Rubber Trees can be grown outdoors under the right conditions. Outdoor Rubber Trees need warm temperatures (65°-85°F) to thrive and should never be exposed to near-freezing temperatures. Make sure your outdoor plant has access to proper sunlight, water, and protection from extreme temperatures and wind.
It can seem a bit daunting to expose a prized houseplant to the great outdoors, but as long as you understand the basic needs of your Rubber Tree plant, it is pretty easy to monitor the weather and make judgment calls on when and where to place your plant outdoors.
Rubber Trees in the Wild
If you are thinking about using Rubber Trees out in your yard or on your patio, it might be a good idea to know a little about where the plant comes. That way, you can understand the types of conditions it typically thrives in.
Native Rubber Trees, Ficus elastica, hail from the rainforests of South and Southeast Asia. These densely packed forests are hot, humid, and can be so thick that most plants have evolved to outcompete each other for resources like water, nutrients, and especially sunlight.
Rubber Trees grown in these conditions can commonly reach 60-90 feet tall, with some of the taller specimens growing up to 130 feet tall to reach for the sunlight found in the forest canopies. They grow wide, shallow root systems to support their height and capture the water and nutrient resources around them efficiently.
Cultivated varieties of Rubber Tree plants grown indoors typically reach about 10 feet in height, and you can expect similar growth even if you move the pot outside or live in an area where you can actually plant your Rubber Tree in the ground.
Indoors vs. Outdoors: Which is Best for Your Rubber Tree?
As a plant parent, you will be the one that makes the call on where your Rubber Tree is going to spend most of its days. I’ve seen many cases of people successfully incorporating Rubber Trees into their outdoor garden or patio designs, but it does take a little extra planning and attention to make sure you are providing the optimal conditions for the plant outdoors.
When placing a Rubber Tree outdoors, you will always need to consider the conditions of your yard to ensure the plant’s survival. Things like sun exposure, temperature, watering, wind, and pests become more important because, at any given time, one or all of those conditions can change quickly.
Rubber Trees are popular indoor houseplants mainly because most of us don’t live in regions where keeping them outside is an option, but also because there is a lot less to worry about since, typically, indoor conditions don’t change very much.
Think about it. Many of our homes are already heated to the plant’s optimal range (between 65°-85°F), and even if the heat turns off, indoor temperatures typically don’t fall to dangerous levels for the plant. Other factors like watering, humidity, and light exposure are easier to control, and you never have to worry about windy conditions.
So, growing your Rubber Tree indoors or outdoors is less a question of which is better, and more about if the optimal conditions can be maintained for the plant. For most of us, it’ll be easier to grow them inside, but for the lucky few who live in warmer climates, you may find it just as easy to incorporate Rubber Trees in your yard without much issue.
Best Conditions for Indoor Rubber Trees
Like I said, most of us will find that we live in an area that is less than ideal for growing Rubber Trees outdoors. I say, embrace the indoor plant life and give your Rubber Tree everything it needs to thrive in your living room!
Because your home is usually already heated to the plant’s optimal growing range, you’re already a step ahead. Just be mindful of cool spaces (like next to an AC vent) or drafts to protect the plant from cold snaps. Also, most homes have natural humidity levels that are good for Rubber Trees (between 40-50%). If you live in drier climates, adding a small humidifier to your room is an easy way to amend humidity levels for your houseplants.
Proper lighting is essential to a Rubber Tree’s success indoors. They want lots of bright, indirect light, so pretty much any room with east-, west-, or south-facing windows should be sufficient. Avoid direct sunlight by pulling your plant back away from the window a few feet.
Watering is another important aspect of indoor plant care. Rubber Trees like to be consistently damp, so ensure you give your plant thorough waterings on a regular basis to achieve this. Wait until the first inch of topsoil is dry before watering again so as not to overwater. Having good drainage and porous soil will also help prevent overwatering.
If these conditions can be met, you should expect vigorous growth from your indoor Rubber Tree, with anywhere from 12″ to a couple of feet of growth in one season. Your plant will most likely max out around 10 feet tall, although you can control height and branching with strategic pruning throughout the seasons.
Best Conditions for Outdoor Rubber Trees
Just like your indoor Rubber Trees, your outdoor plant is going to want pretty close to the same conditions to thrive out in your yard or patio.
According to the USDA Hardiness Map, Rubber Trees can thrive in Zones 10-12. They can tolerate conditions in Zone 9 but will need additional protection and monitoring if the weather gets a little troublesome.
What this really means is that a Rubber Tree can be planted outdoors if average daily temperatures stay within the optimal range of 65°-85°F for most of the year, with temperatures never really dropping near freezing. While it’s true that Rubber Trees are pretty hardy and can stand temperatures that low, I wouldn’t suggest testing that out. It may survive, but it won’t look all that pretty.
Sun exposure is also very important when considering planting a Rubber Tree outdoors. Again, they prefer bright, indirect light, so finding the proper spot takes some consideration. I would suggest finding an area that isn’t dense shade, but perhaps dappled sunlight to part sun. Ideally, you want a spot that might have morning sun, before temperatures get too hot, with afternoon shade or filtered sunlight protecting the plant from the harshest direct sun.
Watering outdoors can be a little trickier, mainly because you are in a less controlled environment, so the rate of evaporation will vary from day to day. Rubber Trees want to be evenly moist, so it is important to give them thorough waterings any time the top inch of soil is dry. To help maintain moisture, consider covering the base of the plant with about two inches of mulch.
Watering in the morning is best for the plant, as it prepares the plant for potentially hot days, and it will allow time for any leaves to dry off during the day to prevent the initiation of mildew growth as nighttime temperatures drop. This may also help, at least minorly, maintain proper humidity around the plant, which will fluctuate much more outdoors.
Another thing to be mindful of is windy conditions. Rubber Trees with multiple large branches can easily get caught up on a windy day and may result in broken branches. Consider planting in an area with some protection from the wind or pruning your plant to a single trunk to avoid wind damage.
Grown outdoors in optimal conditions, you should see your Rubber Tree responding much like it does indoors, with vigorous growth topping out around 10 feet or so, if potted. Rubber Trees planted in the ground may continue to grow another 10-15 feet as they become more established over multiple seasons.
An Outdoor Alternative: Move Your Pot Outside for the Summer
I live in the Pacific Northwest, where our overabundance of dense greenery in the spring and summer is bought with many months of cold, rainy days in the winter. Needless to say, Rubber Trees don’t grow outside in my yard.
However, our summers tend to be very nice and warm, so it isn’t uncommon for me to turn my back patio into a tropical oasis for at least a few weeks of the year so we can BBQ and entertain guests amongst the many houseplants I’ve hauled outside for a bit of fresh air.
If you can’t plant a Rubber Tree out in your yard but want to enjoy them outside during the warm summer, you can easily acclimate your plants to live on your porch or patio as long as the weather is ideal.
The main thing is to wait until you are well past the threat of extreme weather that may sneak up on you. You want to make sure temperatures are consistent and don’t get too low at night.
Start by moving your potted Rubber Tree plant outside for a couple of hours before putting it back in its spot indoors. Placing the pot on casters or wheels can help with this chore. Over the course of the next week, gradually leave it out longer and longer until the plant has acclimated to being outdoors overnight.
Make sure you pay attention to where you are placing it on your patio. It should be protected from direct sunlight, windy conditions, and potentially drafty areas. As long as you get the spot right and you have gradually acclimated the plant, you should be able to keep it outdoors for as long as the weather is predictable and stable.
As the season nears to a close, you will want to move your plant back inside. I typically suggest doing this before you are running your indoor heat all the time, so your Rubber Tree has a chance to acclimate back to indoor conditions a bit more naturally.
Any time you move your plant (either indoors or outdoors), pay special attention to the plant’s watering needs to ensure you don’t over- or underwater it.
Because Rubber Trees tend to be versatile, low-maintenance houseplants, it is no surprise that they can do just fine planted outdoors, as long as the conditions allow it. Unfortunately, most of us do not live in the correct climates for our Rubber Trees to be outside year-round.
However, many can still enjoy these beautiful plants on a deck, patio, or balcony during warmer months–as long as we keep a close eye on the weather and how our Rubber Trees are reacting to the change in environment.