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Most of us are familiar with the rubber plant, a stunning, dark burgundy-colored tree that grows tall and luscious in tons of homes. But if you're someone who loves more vivid color, it may not be the plant for you. Thankfully, its sibling, ficus Tineke (otherwise known as the variegated rubber tree) is a beautiful pink, green, and white plant that instantly adds a pop of color to any room. The best part? It's totally beginner-friendly and easy to care for. It is also, however, toxic to humans and pets, much like other members of the ficus family, so keep that in mind before you bring one home.
- Botanical Name: Ficus elastica Tineke
- Common Name: Variegated rubber tree
- Plant Type: Tree
- Mature Size: 50 feet tall outdoors, 2–10 feet tall indoors
- Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
- Soil Type: Well-draining potting mix
- Soil pH: 6.0–6.5
- Toxicity: Toxic to people, toxic to pets
Thankfully, the ficus Tineke is a relatively low-maintenance houseplant. If you give it the correct placement and water, chances are, it will thrive.
These plants like having slightly moist soil, but it's always better to under-water than overwater. Giving your plant too much water can cause root rot, which can be hard to fix. Always be sure to check the soil moisture with your finger or a soil probe before giving it a drink. When it's time to water, the top two to three inches should be relatively dry. This means you should water it just about once a week, but every plant is different.
Avoid getting water on the leaves when you give your plant a drink, as it can stain the leaves.
To keep your plant looking its best, don't forget to dust the leaves with a microfiber cloth and turn it periodically. This will ensure the leaves get the light they need on all of their leaves.
Best Growing Conditions for Ficus Tineke
Pot your plant in well-draining potting soil and repot when roots begin growing out of the drainage holes. Place it in a spot with moderate temperatures between 60–80 degrees and away from vents, cold drafts, and dry heat.
The Tineke gets its gorgeous colors from living in bright lighting conditions. But too much light, like sun from a south- or west-facing window, can actually scorch the leaves, so be sure to place it a couple of feet away from the window to keep that from happening. Placing it directly in an east-facing window is great.
The more indirect light it gets, the better the chances are that the leaves will hang on to their pink and ruby hues. Because of the variegation in their leaf color, they don't have as much chlorophyll in their leaves as other plants. This can make it difficult for them to photosynthesize if they don't have enough light. Plus, they're less likely to produce new growth in low-light conditions.
How to Propagate Your Ficus Tineke Plant
Much like other ficus varieties, the Tineke can be propagated via air layering or from cuttings. While the process may take months to complete, new plants will grow faster if begun during the spring growing season. Here's how to propagate your variegated rubber tree:
How to Propagate Ficus Tineke via Air Layering
Air layering is often used with tall plants that grow leaves atop a bare stem. This technique allows you to turn the top portion of the stem into a new plant. The process causes nutrients in the plant's vascular system to accumulate at a stem cut, prompting new roots to grow from that point.
Step 1: Gather sharp gardening shears, a toothpick, long-fibered sphagnum moss, twine or twist ties, a clear plastic bag, and optional rooting hormone.
Step 2: Identify a healthy spot on the plant to propagate. When air layering before pruning leafy tops from a too-tall specimen, chose a place at least six inches below the leaves on the stem.
Step 3: Using a clean, sharp blade, carefully make an upward diagonal cut about one-third of the way through the stem or branch.
Step 4: Insert the toothpick sideways in the cut to keep it open. To speed up the process, apply rooting hormone to the cut surface (new roots will still grow without it).
Step 5: Moisten a handful of sphagnum moss, then tie it around the stem cut using twine or twist ties. This gives the new roots a medium to grow into.
Step 6: To hold in moisture, tie the plastic around the stem just above and below the cutting to completely cover the ball of moss.
Step 7: After new roots grow within a few months, remove the plastic wrap, then trim the stem or branch just below the new root growth. Plant your new Tineke—leaving the moss on the roots—in a pot with fresh soil. Keep the soil moist, but not wet. Once new growth appears on the stem, your ficus can gradually handle more water.
How to Propagate Ficus Tineke via Cuttings
Propagating via cuttings is a great way to put the pruned-off pieces of your ficus to work. You can use tip cuttings—the end of a branch with new growth—or a portion of healthy stem.
Step 1: Gather a sharp knife, a sealable plastic bag, a chopstick, and optional rooting hormone.
Step 2: Using a clean, sharp blade, cut off a six-inch portion of a healthy branch just above a leaf node. Tips should have a cluster of two to three leaves at the end, while stem cuttings should have at least one leaf at the top.
Step 3: Trim any lower leaves. Apply optional rooting hormone to the bottom end of your cutting, then plant it in a small pot with moistened all-purpose potting soil.
Step 4: Place the cutting in a clear, sealable plastic bag (like a gallon zip-top bag). Use a chopstick in the soil to prevent the bag from touching leaves. Seal the bag almost shut—but not completely—to hold in moisture.
Step 5: Put the bag in a warm place with moderate, indirect light. Remove the plastic bag once roots have grown within two to three months, and look for new foliage in about six months. Care for your plant as usual.
Common Problems With Ficus Tineke
Like other ficus plants, the Tineke can be a bit finicky. Normally, though, rubber trees will give you hints as to what is wrong through the leaves.
Yellow or Brown Leaves
Yellowing leaves may mean you've overwatered, so check the soil to see if it feels too wet or soggy, and let your ficus dry out more between waterings. On the flip side, if your leaves are crispy and have brown spots, your plant may be too dry or getting too much sun exposure. A ficus elastica will also let you know it needs a drink when its leaves get a little droopy and sad-looking.
Leaves Losing Color
If your ficus Tineke leaves are losing their variegation in color, try moving the plant closer to a light source. Often, the leaves will become more green and plain in color if not receiving enough light.
As always, keep an eye out for tiny pests that may be hiding out under your plant's leaves. If something is feeding on them, you might notice funny spots on the leaves or rapidly dropping leaves.
Potting and Repotting Your Ficus Tineke Plant
Ficus plants tend to grow slow and steady, so it all depends on the size of your plant and how quickly it's growing. If you notice roots coming out of the bottom or top of your pot, or if the soil is really pulling away from the sides of your pot, it may be time to put your plant in a new home.
Make sure not to place your plant in a vessel that's too big, though. Anything more than two inches wider in diameter than the original pot may shock your plant. It's kind of like going from a fish tank into the ocean—it's overwhelming.
When you repot, be sure to use a potting medium that drains well and isn't super clumpy. These plants don't like having soggy roots.
Are ficus Tineke easy to care for?
Compared to their fickle cousin, the fiddle-leaf fig, variegated rubber trees are much easier going. However, they still require more babysitting than some other neglect-proof houseplants. Beginners should be prepared to keep a close eye on them.
How fast does ficus Tineke grow?
Rubber trees in general are slow growers, and Tineke is no exception. You can expect a happy plant to grow up to 24 inches annually, maxing out at 10 feet indoors.
How long can ficus Tineke live?
Indoors, ficus Tineke can live up to 25 years with proper care. Outdoors, they've been known to live as long as a century.
Safe and Poisonous Garden Plants. University of California, Davis. October 2012
Rubber Tree Plant. Pet Poison Helpline