Rubber Trees (Ficus elastica) are often touted as “highly vigorous,” which is one reason they are such popular houseplants. However, what happens when you bring one of these so-called “fast growers” home and you realize they haven’t grown at all? They just…sit there. The truth is, even a fast-growing houseplant’s growth can slow significantly, or stop altogether, if the plant isn’t getting what it needs. So, as plant owners, we need to be aware of what factors can slow growth down.
Why isn’t your Rubber Tree growing? While many factors go into creating the optimal growth environment for your plant, the most likely issue is that it isn’t getting enough light. Bright, indirect light is essential for Rubber Trees to continue putting out healthy, strong growth. Other factors include growing season, pot size, improper watering, soil issues, and other general plant care concerns.
If you own a Rubber Tree that has generally underwhelmed you thus far, you may need to turn a critical eye to the care and environment you are providing the plant. With a bit of TLC, and probably more light, there’s a good chance you can get your Rubber Tree flourishing within a matter of weeks.
How Big Do Rubber Trees Get? How Fast Do They Grow?
Rubber Trees are somewhat of a set-it-and-forget-it plant, in that, once you find a good spot for them, they are generally happy to just shoot for the ceiling until they need water, food, or more space.
In their ideal environment, cultivated Rubber Tree varieties sold as houseplants can quickly grow to about 10-12’ tall. They tend to grow as one tall stem (unless you have multiple plants in one pot), with leaves attached along the entire length. As they start reaching the ceiling, it’s a good idea to strategically prune them back to a manageable height to encourage branching.
Just how fast do Rubber Trees grow? I know we use somewhat vague terms like “slow-growing,” “fast-growing,” or “vigorous” to describe growth rates in the plant world, which can be somewhat…well, vague. Usually, these terms are just used to account for an average growth rate that can be expected under good conditions.
To get a little more specific, Rubber Trees can be expected to grow anywhere between two to six inches under optimal growing conditions during their growing season. This means they have plenty of light, proper watering, well-drained soil, and all the other environmental factors are accounted for. Overall, this is a pretty fast growth rate.
What you’ll probably find over time is that your plant will grow at different rates in different spots in your home. This is because the physical factors necessary for the plant to push new growth are different in each spot. Keep that in mind as you read through the reasons why Rubber Tree growth is slowed or stopped below because you may need to experiment with moving your plant to different spots in your home to find the optimal placement.
Why Do Rubber Trees Stop Growing?
Houseplants are organic machines that are programmed to complete their lifecycle as quickly as possible using the materials and resources they have at their disposal. Essential things like water, light, and nutrients, as well as environmental factors like humidity, temperature, and space, are all requirements that, if in short supply or out of range, will have a significant impact on the plant’s ability to push new growth.
So, when you consider your Rubber Tree, if you see that growth has slowed significantly or stopped completely, your job is to figure out what the limiting factor is and find a way to fix the issue so your plant can continue to thrive.
Below, I’ve listed what I think are the most common issues that lead to stunted growth in Rubber Trees and give you tips on how to fix them. If you’re wondering why your Rubber Tree isn’t the fast-grower you were promised at the plant store, work your way through this list and see if any of these issues might be at fault.
Reason #1: Dormancy
Before we get into the rest of the list, I did just want to take a quick moment to point out that Rubber Trees, like many other plants, are tied to a natural growth cycle that coincides with the seasons of the year. So, in the winter, your Rubber Tree may go dormant.
Dormancy happens to many plants, especially in higher latitudes, because as the seasons change, important environmental factors like temperature and light levels also change. During the winter months, when temperatures and light levels are much lower, plants tend to shut down growth and focus on shoring up internal structures and root systems.
This is an essential function of the plant, so don’t take the break in foliage growth as a bad sign. What you’ll find is that, as spring and summer approach, your houseplants will wake up again, so to speak, and the growth of stems and leaves will return to take advantage of the warmer temperatures and ample light. This is the plant’s growing season, typically lasting from early spring to fall.
I point all this out because if you notice that your Rubber Tree has stopped growing, it is important to consider the time of year. None of the tips in the sections below will help get your Rubber Tree growing again if the plant is actually dormant. Wait until spring to see if growth resumes before changing anything. Otherwise, you may be doing a lot of work and worry for nothing.
Reason #2: Low Light Levels
If you’ve already ruled out dormancy and you know your Rubber Tree should be experiencing vigorous growth during its growing season, the next most likely reason has to do with light levels.
Low light is probably the most common environmental factor that causes slowed or stopped growth on Rubber Trees. Like many other Ficus varieties, Rubber Trees can be somewhat fickle about how much light they are exposed to and, sometimes, even just a few inches closer or farther from a window can make a big difference.
Rubber Trees are native to the rainforests of Southeast Asia, where they have had to evolve to grow tall quickly so that they can capture as much of the dappled, indirect sunlight that filters down through the thick forest canopy as possible. So, while our domesticated varieties don’t grow nearly as tall, they still have that quick growth habit and the need for lots of light.
If you suspect your Rubber Tree isn’t getting enough light, try to find a spot in your home where the plant can be as close to an east- or south-facing window without being in direct sunlight (which is too hot and can scorch the leaves). These plants love bright, indirect light, which means they thrive on the reflected light bouncing off surfaces in the room. Let the plant settle in its new spot for a few weeks, making sure to monitor if growth has started to resume.
While Rubber Trees can tolerate and survive in many different light levels, with a little experimentation, you’ll notice what spots in your home (and therefore what light levels) are adequate to keep your Rubber Tree happy and growing.
Reason #3: Improper Watering
Another common reason your Rubber Tree may not be putting out any new growth is that it isn’t watered properly. More specifically, you may not be watering your plant enough.
While it is true that overwatering can stunt your plant, you’ll probably recognize other health issues cropping up before you ever notice slowed or stopped growth. Yellowing leaves, droopy stems, dropping leaves, or rot can all be caused by overwatering and will most likely be more pertinent issues to deal with.
Underwatering, however, is another common and somewhat obvious cause of slow growth. It makes total sense that a plant made up of cells, which, in turn, are made up of mostly water, won’t easily be able to function properly when deprived of moisture. Plants…they’re just like us!
If your Rubber Tree is chronically underwatered, it’s going to kick into survival mode, and the first thing it will do to conserve its precious water reserves is to not put out any new growth. Eventually, if it goes without water long enough, your Rubber Tree will start pulling water from its leaves to keep essential systems working, causing leaf tips to burn or drop off.
So, the obvious solution is to water your Rubber Tree more. I’d go a step further and insist that you need to water your plant properly. Again, Rubber Trees come from the rainforest, where water is available in abundance, and the soil is always wet with it. They like to grow in perpetually damp soil.
The only way to achieve this for your plant is to learn to water properly. Start by making sure your plant is potted in well-drained soil in a pot that has a drainage hole in the bottom (yes, this does make a huge difference). Water your plant deeply and thoroughly so that excess liquid drains from the hole. Over the next several days, allow the plant to absorb the water and the soil to dry out.
To determine when it is time to water again, make a habit of periodically sticking your finger down into the soil to see how much of the top layer has dried out. When you can stick your finger in about an inch or so before you hit damp soil, it is time to water again. Even though the topsoil is drying out between waterings, the deeper soil is still damp, just how the Rubber Tree likes it.
By adopting this method of checking before watering rather than a rigid weekly schedule, or worse, just doing it whenever you remember (we always forget!), your Rubber Tree will stay properly watered and the chances that you mistakenly underwater (or overwater) are significantly lessened. It may take several weeks of proper watering before you see growth resuming on your Rubber Tree.
Reason #4: Pot Size
The thing about houseplants that put out foliage fast is that they also tend to outgrow the pots they are planted fairly often. Rubber Trees are no exception. As stem and leaf growth is getting pushed from the top, they are also growing extensive root systems to help support the entirety of the plant as it grows.
These roots branch out and reach in all directions until they hit something, which is usually the side of the pot they’re planted in. Given the right conditions, Rubber Trees can easily outgrow their pots within a season or two. As the plant begins to get rootbound in the pot, things like nutrient and water uptake can become more difficult, and growth begins to slow.
You will read other blogs that say Rubber Trees like to be rootbound in their pots, and I’ve even written an article where I mention this as a temporary strategy to keep your Rubber Tree small-ish. However, rootbound pots are not a long-term solution for these plants. At most, Rubber Trees tolerate being rootbound for periods of time, but plant performance and growth are definitely hindered the longer they are in a crowded pot.
What this means is that you should periodically check in with your Rubber Tree and see how it’s faring in its own container. The easiest way to do this is to actually remove the root ball from the pot. If you see roots that have been clearly pushed against the sides of the container or roots wrapping around the circumference of the pot, it’s time to plant your tree in a larger size.
Pick a pot size that allows for about two inches of space between the root ball and the pot on all sides. This will ensure plenty of room for the plant to grow into but not be big enough that the soil holds too much additional moisture, leading to rot issues. Fill the pot with well-drained soil and water the plant in.
If pot size was your issue, within a few weeks in a larger size, you should see growth resuming on your Rubber Tree. For more information on choosing the best pot and soil for your Rubber Tree, read this article.
Reason #5: Fertilizer
I’m adding this one to the list because, although it’s not a common issue with Rubber Trees, which are somewhat light feeders, it can definitely be a limiting factor that often gets overlooked.
As Rubber Trees grow, their root systems absorb water and nutrients that they utilize to create food and resources the plant can put towards new growth. Those nutrients often come from the decaying components of the soil the plant is established in. Over time, that soil can get depleted.
Obviously, a Rubber Tree planted in soil lacking nutrients will have a harder time finding enough of what it needs to create new growth, which is why the input of additional feed can be a big help.
If you’ve already ruled out light, watering, and pot size as reasons why your Rubber Tree isn’t growing, you may want to consider doing supplemental feedings of a well-balanced liquid fertilizer about once a month to see if your plant responds.
Start by applying a liquid fertilizer at about half strength with the next watering. Over the next few weeks, monitor your plant for any improvements in leaf vibrancy and stem growth. You may need to repeat this monthly for a while before you start seeing any significant changes in growth.
Also, it is important to remember to only feed your Rubber Tree during its growing season. Dormant plants won’t efficiently utilize the excess fertilizer you apply in the winter, and you might end up burning roots because of it.
Want to read more about the best options for fertilizing your Rubber Tree? Click here.
Reason #6: Other General Plant Care Issues
One of the last things you should consider when investigating why your Rubber Tree isn’t growing is to consider the environment it lives in and the quality of care it receives. Essentially, anything that might be causing your plant stress or putting its health at risk needs to be addressed because, despite our best efforts, an unhealthy or stressed plant won’t be able to push new, healthy growth effectively.
I’ll admit that this last reason is a bit of a “catch-all” category, but it is important to try and identify any issues that might undermine your efforts to provide proper lighting, water, space, and nutrients.
Evaluate the environment your Rubber Tree lives in. Even if it is getting great light exposure, is the temperature in your home adequate? How about the humidity level? Are there any drafts from the heating system or AC that can cause large temperature fluctuations?
Strive to find a spot where, in addition to ample light, your Rubber Tree has consistent temperatures above 65°F and is protected from heat or AC vents that might cause the temperature to change drastically. If you live in a particularly dry region where general humidity is low, consider adding a humidifier to the room to keep the humidity between 40-50%.
Another thing to watch for is the presence of pests on your Rubber Tree. Generally, these plants aren’t super susceptible to pests, but you may find spider mites or fungus gnats have managed to make a home on your Rubber Tree. Over time, pests can do severe damage to essential plant structures, causing your plant’s health to falter.
There are many treatments, both synthetic and natural, for common houseplant pests. With a bit of vigilance and consistency, you can quickly stop a pest issue before it does lasting harm to your Rubber Tree.
Overall, just be aware that even smaller factors can influence your plant’s health and happiness. Because stressed-out plants don’t easily produce growth, accounting for these smaller factors can make all the difference.
Rubber Trees are usually low-maintenance, fast-growing houseplants that can be used as stunning showpieces in your home. It can be concerning when a vigorous plant like this decides not to grow, but hopefully, you now feel more prepared to investigate what could be causing it.
By ensuring your Rubber Tree has plenty of light, proper watering, and adequate space and nutrients, it should have most everything it needs to flourish in your home. Also, remember that more than one thing can be going on at once, so you may have to evaluate multiple aspects of your plant’s care before your Rubber Tree starts growing again. Good luck!