Mastering the Art of Baby Rubber Plant Care: 101 Beginner’s Guide

The popular Baby Rubber Plant (Peperomia obtusifolia) and its beautiful variegated cultivars are my favorite houseplants. I received my first Peperomia when I was ten and have loved them ever since. They’re perfect houseplants – attractive, easy to care for, adaptable to most household environments, and pet-friendly.

Peperomias are native to Florida, Mexico, and islands of the Caribbean. They are members of Piperaceae, the pepper family, famous for the black pepper spice, and not to be confused with sweet or hot capsicum peppers that are members of Solanaceae, a different plant family.

This Peperomia species (and there are many) is a short-trailing perennial plant with deep green, waxy leaves and fleshy reddish stems that snap easily. It is a semi-succulent because it stores water in its leaves and stems but is not as drought-tolerant as a full succulent, such as a cactus.

Green Peperomia leaves are broadly elliptical and boat-shaped when young, but in optimal conditions, they flatten out as they mature and become almost disc-shaped. I’ve found that variegated Peperomia leaves, however, tend to retain their oval boat shape more so than the green ones.

Baby Rubber Plants grow 6″ to 9″ high with a spread of about 12″-24″ before they begin to trail over the sides of a container and can be grown on a windowsill or hanging pot. Indoors, I have mine on a bright windowsill during the winter, but it’s suspended from a hook under an outside overhang in the summer.

These plants are grown for their beautiful foliage rather than their flowers, but in the summer, they bloom with 3″ to 6″ slender, tail-like spikes covered in tiny petal-less flowers that remain on the plant for weeks.

The variegated cultivars are showier plants with white or cream splashed on the leaves in different patterns, depending on the variety. Here are some cultivars on the market today:

Peperomia obtusifolia Varieties

  • ‘Alba’ – Some leaves are pure ivory, and others are ivory, splashed with various gradients of green.
  • ‘Golden Gate’ – This variety has an irregular green patch down the center of the plant with cream and dark green around the edge.
  • ‘Gold Tip’ – The leaves are marbled with cream and green with gold toward the tip.
  • ‘Marble’ – This variety has ivory, dark green, and grayish green splashed throughout the leaf blade, giving it a marbled appearance.
  • ‘Minima’ – This Dwarf Baby Rubber Plant is half the size of the species but is similar otherwise.
  • ‘Obtipan Green’ – This variety has deep emerald green leaves, darker green than the species.
  • ‘Red Margin’ or ‘Red Edge’ – A thin rim of red at the edge of the green leaves distinguishes this variety.
  • ‘Variegata’ – Sometimes called ‘Albomarginata’, this popular variety has an irregular green patch down the center of the leaves with cream around the edges.
variegated baby rubber plant
variegated baby rubber plant

Caring for Baby Rubber Plant

Peperomias are excellent plants for beginning indoor gardeners because of their easy care. They need a few primary conditions to be met, and they will grace your home for years.

Light

Peperomias need bright, indirect light to grow their best. They are adaptable and can grow in medium light, but they need bright light out of the direct sun to thrive.

Variegated Peperomias have less chlorophyll in their leaves to run photosynthesis and make food, so they need brighter light than the green varieties.

Set them in an unobstructed east- or north-facing window that provides indirect light all day. I have mine in a west-facing window, but a line of trees blocks the sun, so they get bright light without the direct sunshine.

If you don’t have adequate light for your Baby Rubber Plant, consider using a plant bulb to supplement the light, especially in the winter when the natural light is dimmer.

Don’t hesitate to give your Peperomia a vacation outdoors in bright shade during the summer. Direct sunlight will burn their tender leaves, so keep it under a tree or on a porch or patio where it is bright but not in the sun.

Temperature

Since Peperomias are subtropical and tropical plants, they prefer warm temperatures of 65 to 85 degrees F, within the average household temperature range.

They don’t do well in hot or cold drafts, however. So, set them back from a drafty winter window and out of the way of heater and air conditioner vents. They can’t handle temperatures below 50 degrees, either, so remember to take them in before it gets cold if they’re outdoors in the summer.

Humidity

Baby Rubber Plants love humidity – lots of it. On a windowsill, you can increase the humidity by keeping it alongside other plants and setting it on a pebble tray with water, carefully keeping the bottom of the pot above the water line.

You can also use a humidifier or keep the plant in a high-humidity room of the house, like the bathroom, laundry room, or kitchen if there is plenty of light. But ensure the plant has enough air circulation to prevent fungal diseases from growing.

Soil and Pot

Your plant isn’t fussy about the type of soil it grows in as long as it’s loose, well-draining, and slightly acidic. A good quality indoor potting mix will do fine when amended with some peat and perlite, and you can also mix your own with two parts peat to one part perlite.

Any style and material of a pot you choose is fine as long as it has a drainage hole in the bottom. Peperomias don’t like wet feet and will develop root rot if their roots sit in overly moist soil.

Water

Baby Rubber Plants like their soil somewhat moist, but it’s healthiest to water it only when the soil is dry two or three inches down from the top. This will probably be once every one or two weeks in the spring and summer and less frequently in the winter.

Dig your finger or chopstick into the soil to determine the dryness. If it’s dry, it’s time to water. But if it’s still moist, wait another week and check again. You can also use a moisture meter to see how dry the soil is.

When you water your plant, allow it to run through the soil until it’s soaked. Then, allow it to fully drain before you set it back on its tray.

Baby Rubber Plants are somewhat drought tolerant, but letting them go too long without water isn’t healthy for them, and their growth will become stunted. I find that I need to water my Peps more frequently in the summer when they’re outdoors since they dry out more quickly in the warmth.

Fertilizer

These Peperomias have short, epiphytic roots and don’t need much more nutrition than is already in the soil. After a couple of years, however, the soil will become depleted.

To boost your plant from the start, use half-strength, all-purpose liquid fertilizer (or powder that you dilute) once a month during the spring and summer. If you use slow-release granules, mix less than recommended into the top layer of soil once in the spring and summer.

Refrain from fertilizing your plant in the fall and winter since its growth will slow down.

Pests

The main pests of Peperomias are spider mites, mealybugs, and fungus gnats.

Spider mites are tiny red or black pests with eight legs that suck plant juices and cause stippled and distorted damage to the foliage. You can control them by spraying the leaves with insecticidal soap or Neem oil per instructions or with 75% rubbing alcohol.

Mealybugs are soft-bodied, cottony insects that hide in the axils or undersurfaces of leaves and suck plant juices. You can pick them off with tweezers and then spray the plant with 75% rubbing alcohol, which will kill any remaining bugs on contact.

Fungus gnats are more complicated. Commercial potting soils are often contaminated with fungus gnat eggs that will hatch into larvae when the soil is kept too moist. The larvae feast on organic matter and the roots and can cause the plant to droop.

After about two weeks, the larvae hatch into small, black, flying adults that you will see fluttering up in a cloud when the pot is jostled.

The control of these pests is twofold – you need to eliminate both larvae and adults. Control the larvae with a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water that you pour through the soil, one part hydrogen peroxide and six parts water. The plant will love it because it brings oxygen to the roots.

Then, controlling the flying adults is essential because they will lay eggs back in the soil, and the cycle will continue. Catch the adults with blue or yellow sticky traps that you poke into the soil. They are attracted to the colors and get stuck when they land.

Diseases

The primary diseases of Peperomias are root rot, fungal leaf spot, and ring spot.

Root rot is a fungal disease that grows when the soil has been overwatered. It can rot the roots, cause the stems and leaves to become water-soaked and swollen near the soil line, and the plant to droop and eventually die.

Tip the pot on its side and pull out the root ball. Shake or wash off the soil to get a good look at the roots. Healthy Peperomia roots should be firm and white, but if they’re black, mushy, and smell foul, they are infected and must be removed.

Cut them off with clean scissors or shears and remove any infected stems and leaves. Then, wash the roots with a solution of one part hydrogen peroxide to one part water, a fungicide like Neem oil, or dip them in cinnamon, which is also a fungicide.

Repot your plant in new soil in a clean pot and water the soil lightly while the plant is getting established. Then, only water it when the soil is partially dry.

Fungal leaf spot causes dry, brown spots on the leaves. Remove the infected leaves immediately, and spray the whole plant with a fungicide like Neem oil, or use a systemic fungicide that you add to the soil.

Ring spot is a virus that causes brown, sunken rings to appear on the leaves. Unfortunately, it can’t be treated, so an infected plant should be discarded.

Propagation

Peperomias are one of the easiest plants to propagate in water, soil, or perlite and water. I’ve tried all three methods, and propagating in water is the quickest and easiest.

When your Peperomia is overhanging the pot, and could use a trim, snip off a section of stem between the nodes where the leaves attach. Remove the bottom leaves, leaving at least two or three leaves at the top, and you’re ready to propagate.

Water

Fill a bottle or jar with water and put the Peperomia cutting in. Clear glass is best so that you can follow its progress and see when it develops roots.

Set it in bright light and change the water every five or six days to prevent algae from growing. You should begin to see roots develop in a couple of weeks.

Soil

Dig a hole in fresh soil with a pencil and insert your cutting so that one or two nodes are beneath the soil level. Press the soil gently around the stem and water it a small amount when the top of the soil becomes dry. Don’t overwater or soak it. Just keep the soil moist.

You won’t be able to see the roots developing in the soil, but you’ll know that it has taken root when you see growth from the top.

As an option, you can dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone before inserting it into the soil.

Perlite and water

One summer, I tried propagating my variegated Peperomia in perlite and water with both stem and leaf cuttings. I set the trays outdoors under a porch so that they would get bright light but out of the direct sun.

I prepared trays filled with perlite and added enough water so that it was completely moist. Then, I dipped the ends of the cuttings and the leaves in rooting hormone and stuck them in the perlite. As it evaporated, I kept adding more water throughout the summer.

It took all season for roots and new leaves to develop, and I was in for a surprise. The rooted stem cuttings produced new variegated leaves like the plant they came from, but the leaf cuttings grew new, all-green leaves.

Keep this in mind when you’re propagating Peperomias. Stem cuttings will grow leaves true to the variegation of the parent plant, but leaf cuttings will revert to the species color, which in this case was all green.

With proper care, Peperomias are excellent houseplants you can grow and propagate with great success.

Author & Editor | + posts

Nancy has been a plant person from an early age. That interest blossomed into a bachelor’s in biology from Elmira College and a master’s degree in horticulture and communications from the University of Kentucky. Nancy worked in plant taxonomy at the University of Florida and the L. H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, and wrote and edited gardening books at Rodale Press in Emmaus, PA. Her interests are plant identification, gardening, hiking, and reading.