‘Variegata’ specimen has attractive mottled foliage. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
‘Burgundy’, has a definite red tinge to the leaves. This variety will need more light to maintain the leaf colour so if the red starts to fade, give the plant more light. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
The typical green rubber tree does have a burgundy tinge to its unfurled leaves and to its midrib. New leaves are shiny. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
I have had a rubber tree sitting in the corner of the dining room for several years now — what a dependable, easy care plant!
There is both a west window and a north window not too far away from the corner so the plant receives moderate light but no direct sunlight.
Such a location is good for a rubber tree, although a higher light intensity would be even better, say near — but not in front of — a south-facing window.
Rubber trees, however, should not be subjected to much direct sun as the leaves will burn and become unattractive.
What I find about rubber trees is that they are very easy maintenance plants. Their stiff, leathery leaves look best when kept clean, so wiping them with a damp cloth every couple of weeks is a good idea.
Sometimes a rubber tree becomes quite tall — in their natural tropical environment rubber trees can grow more than 35 metres tall — so it often needs some support to prevent the plant from falling over. I used a large bamboo stake and tied the trunk of the plant to the stake with garden twine, making sure the stake was placed behind the plant so that it was barely visible from the dining room.
A rubber tree is a large plant and its stability increases if it is potted in a large container. That will also allow the stake to supply more support because it can be pushed deep down into the large pot of soil. The stake I used was green, which made it even less obtrusive.
Although rubber trees are quite drought tolerant, it is a good idea to water the planting medium before it completely dries out. Poke a finger into the soil and ensure that water is needed before you water; don’t just assume that because the soil surface is dry that the whole root ball is dry.
You will know if you are keeping your rubber tree too dry because the bottom leaves will yellow and fall off. Overwatering — a far more common problem — will cause the lower leaves to drop off as well, but they may not yellow first.
Overwatering might also lead to root rot, so ensure that the pot in which the rubber tree is planted has excellent drainage and that the pot will not sit in excess water that drains out of the drainage holes in the bottom.
Exposing the plant to drafts — particularly cold drafts during the winter months — might also cause leaf drop.
You need only fertilize a rubber tree a couple of times during the year: once in the spring and again in mid-summer. Like many houseplants, rubber trees do not do much growing during the winter months and should not be fertilized.
This fall I finally parted with my rubber tree. I had cut it back a number of times and it had grown quite tall and I just thought it was time for someone else to enjoy it so I donated it to a charity flea market.
I could have elected to take a couple of cuttings to start a new plant — rubber trees are easily propagated by taking either the top 30 centimetres or so off the top of the plant or a similarly sized piece from a side branch. The cuttings will root in water or will readily root if planted in a soilless mix.
The main reason that I chose not to keep the plant, however, has more to do with a recent walk through The Green Spot where I had spied variegated rubber trees for sale. I thought to myself, "I’ll get rid of my plain green rubber tree and get myself a snazzy one with coloured leaves."
Although not all the plants on display had variety names on the tags, I am sure that the ones with red-tinged leaves were ‘Burgundy’ and the white and green variegated ones were probably the variety ‘Variegata’.
I haven’t made my purchase yet because I cannot make up my mind. Will I get the one with red foliage or will I pick the white and green mottled one?
Whichever one I choose, I am sure my new rubber tree will be as easy to look after and as attractive as my old green one was. A rubber tree is a good investment and a great addition to any indoor landscape.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 8, 2012