If you have a rubber tree or are interested in getting one, you’re likely aware of their benefits, including:
- Air-purifying abilities
- Interesting foliage
- Relatively minimal care needs
But like all plants, you need a little know-how to properly care for your rubber plant and keep it healthy and living for many years to come.
Under or over-watering is the leading cause of death for houseplants. And today, you’ll learn how to water a rubber plant the right way.
Let’s jump in!
Rubber plants are native to the tropical regions of the world, primarily those in India.
According to Brittanica, these plants aren’t very picky about growing conditions in their indoor homes, which is nice for us!
But mimicking the natural habitat of your rubber plant, at least to a small degree, can help your plant stay at its happiest and healthiest.
Because rubber plants are used to tropical rainforests, they require plenty of water. This means that you’ll need to keep your rubber plant’s soil consistently moist.
Given that you’ve got your rubber plant in an ideal spot in your home and it’s during the active growth season, plan to water your rubber plant every 5 -7 days. This should be a good soaking that results in water flowing through the pot’s drainage holes.
But there’s also a balancing act here: Be careful to avoid over-watering. Standing water isn’t good for any plant, moisture-loving rubber plants included.
(More on that in just a little bit!)
How to Tell When Your Rubber Plant Needs Water
Figuring out when your rubber plant needs water isn’t as simple as just watering it when it appears dry.
The finger test works much better than eye-balling it or guessing.
Stick your index finger into the soil near your rubber plant’s main stem. If the first inch or so of the soil feels dry, it’s time to water! If it still feels damp, wait another day and test again.
If you want to be really accurate, get a soil moisture meter, like this popular one. This device has a pointed tip that you stick into the soil to get a readout of the current moisture level.
For a rubber tree, the optimum moisture level should be about four. Here’s what it looks like on this moisture meter:
When the reading is less than that, it’s time for a drink!
A couple of other factors can also influence how often your rubber plant needs watering.
It might not seem like it, but houseplants are subject to the weather and seasons. When the light or temperature changes, it will affect your indoor plant.
Fewer hours of daylight in the winter months will cause your rubber plant to go into hibernation, or seasonal dormancy. Since your plant is resting during this time, it needs less water to stay alive.
This means you should be able to reduce your watering down to about half what you normally give it.
Also, be aware of where your plant is positioned in your house. If it’s too close to a heat source, it could require watering more often since the additional heat will dry the soil more quickly.
How to Water Your Rubber Plant Properly
Before you even begin to water your rubber plant, take a look at the surrounding environment.
Address the issues of drainage and soil first, then move on to watering.
Let’s look at each one:
Make sure your rubber plant lives in a container that has appropriate drainage. This keeps excess water from pooling in the pot, potentially causing damage and death.
Choose a pot that has at least two drainage holes. If the pot you like doesn’t have any drainage holes, you can add your own with a drill and appropriately-sized bit.
Place a drip tray below your pot to keep spills from damaging your carpet or furniture. This 12-inch one is a nice option for houseplants.
Add some small rocks to the tray and place your pot on top of the rocks. This keeps excess water away from the roots while also allowing for evaporation that naturally creates a little extra humidity.
Do not fill your pot with topsoil, garden soil or dirt from outside. These materials tend to compact in pots, and they don’t drain well.
Instead, use a potting mix formulated for houseplants, like this one from Miracle-Gro. Potting mix is light and has excellent drainage that still retains healthy moisture.
After setting up your plant in the proper living conditions, keep an eye on the soil and ensure that it is not too wet or too dry, following the steps we outlined above.
When your plant needs water, give it a good soaking. Keep watering until you see water coming out of the drainage holes.
Another tip: Always use room temperature water. Cold water can shock a plant’s system, especially a tropical native like this one.
(But it’s a good rule of thumb for all plants you care for.)
Why Over-Watering a Rubber Plant Can be Harmful
If underwatering a plant is bad, over-watering is probably worse.
Over-watering or poor drainage can cause roots to die by preventing them from getting the oxygen they need. This essentially drowns the plant.
It can also cause the roots to decay and can even make them susceptible to pests.
What’s worse, it’s often harder to correct problems from over-watering than it is from underwatering.
What Does an Over-Watered Rubber Plant Look Like?
An overwatered rubber plant will have tell-tale signs that it is no longer healthy. These are the most common ones:
- Yellowing leaves, especially at the bottom
- Stunted growth and slowed leaf production
- Spots or blisters on the leaves
- Rot around the main stem
- A moldy or musty smell
- Areas of mushy, black or brown roots
Several issues could cause your plant’s unhealthy appearance, and determining if over-watering is the true problem can be a little tricky.
Other causes can include:
- Too much or too little sunlight
- Lack of nutrition
Figuring out the actual cause of your rubber plant’s symptoms is the only way to treat it correctly.
Think about how often you’ve watered your rubber plant lately and check the soil moisture level.
If that seems to be all right, move on to troubleshooting for these other causes.
Helping A Rubber Plant Recover from Over-Watering
Chronic over-watering can lead to root rot, which is irreversible damage that often kills the affected plant.
But if you identify an over-watering issue soon enough, there’s a chance you can save your rubber plant.
Follow these steps right away:
- Stop watering the plant immediately, and don’t give any more water until the top 1 inch of the soil is dry.
- Cut off the dead leaves.
- Check the drainage holes to make sure there aren’t any clogs.
- Take your plant out of its container to check the root system, using a clean scissors to trim off any discolored or squishy sections.
- If you don’t have a drip tray with a rock layer under your rubber plant, set one up now.
Going forward, make sure to keep a careful eye on soil moisture before watering.
And always water properly for the season. Remember, during the winter months, the plant goes dormant and only needs water a couple of times a month.
In the spring, summer and fall, give water whenever your rubber plant needs it, as determined by the finger test or a moisture meter.
Adding water vapor to the air around your plant is another great way to keep things moist without adding too much water to the soil.
You can achieve this by misting your rubber plant’s leaves with a spray bottle, or go the automatic route with a plant humidifier.
Frequently Asked Questions about Watering a Rubber Plant
If they have to, rubber plants can last about thirteen to fifteen days without being watered.
But during the active growth phase of the year, rubber plants prefer to get watered about every five to seven days.
Over-watering symptoms include:
- Yellow leaves
- Leaves falling off
- Soil that’s damp to the touch
- Rotting roots
- Bad smell
- Moist spots on leaves
Underwatering symptoms include:
- Leaves that appear lifeless
- Faded leaf color
- Soil that’s dry to the touch
- Increasingly slower growth
Avoid watering plants at night.
Without the sun, the plant can stay wet for longer periods of time, leading to potential root rot or pest infestations.
According to Healthline, rubber plants can help eliminate toxins from the air, including these:
- Carbon monoxide
So it’s definitely worth learning how to keep your rubber plant healthy, happy and properly watered for a long life!
And even if you’ve incorrectly watered your plant, don’t fret. If you catch it early and follow the steps outlined here, you stand a good chance of saving it!
We want to hear from you! Do you have any other questions about watering a rubber plant? Are there any other tips you would like to share?
Let us know in the comments!