Rubber trees used for commercial production are known by the botanical name of Hevea brasiliensis, and many varietals available for home and garden use go by the botanical name of Ficus elastica. Rubber trees produce a milk-like sap called latex that is very valuable to produce the wide variety of products in demand on the market place today. While the majority of commercial rubber production takes place on plantations in South America and Thailand, many garden enthusiasts enjoy growing rubber trees, which are fast growing, easy to care for, undemanding trees that are both attractive and sustainable.
Rubber trees are widely available through online sources and from commercial growers. Another way to obtain a rubber tree is to simply take a cutting from an existing rubber tree and repot or plant it. Rubber trees re-propagate from cuttings, so this is an easy and reliable way to begin growing rubber trees in a home or office setting.
Different varietals of Rubber tree plants can grow to different heights - small ones may top four feet, while large varietals can grow as high as 50 feet or more. Choose a location that will accommodate the varietal type you have chosen. As a rule, Rubber trees prefer indirect bright light with some access to shade. Light should not be scorching, as this will damage the new Rubber tree. Prepare the soil to ensure there is a mixture of soil, compost, peat, garden loam, and some sand, to make for loose, well draining soil. If planting in a pot or container, factor in whether this is the right choice for the varietal you have selected. For pot-grown Rubber trees ensure the chosen container allows adequate space for the root system to spread and grow.
Plant the Rubber tree in an area that meets its basic requirements and water thoroughly. After the first watering, wait until the soil has dried completely and is dry to the touch before offering a second watering. It is recommended to add a small amount of water-soluble fertilizer each time watering is done. Immersion is the recommended way of watering potted Rubber trees. A good method is to fill a large outdoor tub or even an indoor bathtub with warmish water and fertilizer solution and simply dunk the Rubber tree container in the water and wait until bubbles stop rising to the surface. At this time, the Rubber tree can be removed and drained before being replaced in its original location. For outdoor Rubber tree plantings, watering can be done around the roots with fertilizer added to the soil. Where possible, wiping and misting the leaves of the Rubber tree also assists the tree with retaining moisture and helping the leaves to attain and retain a natural sheen. Do not use commercial shine promotion products as these can clog the pores of the Rubber tree leaves and be a danger to wellbeing. Watering can be reduced during the winter months, when growth slows or stops.
Rubber trees can benefit from regular maintenance through pruning. To prune a Rubber tree, consider where the strongest existing growth is - near the inside of the tree nearest the trunk or stem. Prune the outermost areas only in a uniform pattern to encourage new uniform regrowth and protect existing strong internal growth. Find the point where the thin areas and newer stalks just begin to thicken, and prune at that point. This will encourage new faster regrowth and help the Rubber tree maintain its shape.
For most home and garden Rubber trees, it will not be necessary nor desirable to harvest latex. However, this process is accomplished in a commercial plantation setting by making a diagonal cut across the midsection of the trunk and allowing the latex to flow down and collect into a bucket carefully positioned for that purpose. This process is done in the evening to allow the latex to run for a longer period of time in the coolness before it dries up. The latex is then transferred to a metal pan and a diluted acid mixture is applied to coagulate the latex. Next, the latex is washed to remove the acid and rolled with a rolling pin to exhume the excess water. Finally, the latex "cake" is run through a roller, which flattens it into a sheet. The latex sheet is then hung out to dry, smoked, and sent to a manufacturer.