Rubber plants, or Ficus elastica, are durable plants that are easy to grow and maintain. One of the best things about them is that they can be trained and shaped to grow in several different ways. In this article, we’ll discuss the best way to prune and propagate a rubber plant.
What You'll Learn Today
Should I Prune My Rubber Plant?
Whether or not to prune your rubber plant largely depends on personal preference. There’s a reason why they can either be called a rubber plant or rubber tree. If you let it, rubber trees can grow up to ten feet tall indoors.
Many rubber plant owners prune them regularly to control their growth and maintain a clean look. This could mean different things, depending on whether you want your plant to grow tall like a tree, or more like a compact, bushy houseplant.
Regardless of whether you decide to shape your plant for aesthetic reasons, you should always remove dead or dying leaves and branches. This will allow the plant to focus all of its energy on newer, healthy growth.
When Should I Prune My Rubber Plant?
Rubber plants are easygoing and can handle pruning at any time during the year. But if you want the plant to put out new growth quickly after pruning, it’s best to wait until late spring or early summer.
May and June are when plant owners notice the quickest growth from their rubber plants. They can cope with heavy pruning without any signs of damage or stress, which makes it a great plant for newer gardeners to test their pruning skills on.
Dead and dying leaves or branches can and should be removed as soon as you notice them, regardless of the season.
How to Prune a Potted Rubber Plant?
Although pruning a rubber plant is a fairly easy thing to do, there are a few important things to keep in mind:
- Use clean pruning shears: Although you’ve probably heard this a million times, it bears repeating – disinfect your garden shears in between uses. Many plant diseases go unnoticed until after it’s been passed on to other plants with infected garden tools.
- Make sure your shears are sharp: Jagged, uneven cuts can readily invite infection and cause unsightly damage.
- Wear gloves: Rubber plants secrete a milky, sticky sap when pruned. This substance is toxic to both people and pets. Depending on how big your plant is, you may want to bring it outside or use a mat to prevent the sap from dripping on your floor.
Once you have what you need, here’s how to prune your rubber plant:
Step 1: Remove Dead Leaves
It’s easiest to remove spent leaves and/or branches before you start any major pruning so that you can see what you’re working with. Pull leaves off gently with your fingers, or use pruning shears.
Step 2: Make a Plan
Figure out whether you want your plant to grow tall or if you want it more compact and bushy. If you want to keep it on a shelf where it has limited space to grow, you’ll probably want to keep it on the shorter side.
Step 3: Prune any “Unruly” Growth
This can mean anything from a branch that’s growing in a weird direction compared to the rest of the plant, or branches that are making the plant look denser than you want it to be. This is where you can get creative.
Step 4: Trim the Main Stem
If you want to keep your plant at a certain height, trim the top of the plant off when it reaches that height. Once you’ve done this, your plant won’t send any new growth from the top. Instead, its new growth will all be horizontal, branching out from secondary stems.
Step 5: Keep Pruning Regularly
If you’re going for a bushier rubber plant, you can train it by trimming the branches just above a pair of leaves where you want it to look denser. When you cut a branch, it should push out at least two new branches from that spot.
For a visual demonstration of pruning a tall rubber tree, check out how this YouTuber does it:
How to Take a Cutting From a Rubber Plant?
Pruning your rubber plant not only gives it an ideal shape but also provides a great opportunity for propagating. This is best done at the beginning of the growing season to ensure that the cutting will root and establish quickly.
A good rubber plant cutting should be around six inches long and have four or more leaf nodes. A leaf node is an area where new buds will grow from and looks like a little bump on the stem.
Once you find a good candidate, remove the cutting with a straight, diagonal cut right under the lowest node. If the cutting is dripping with sap, you can gently blot the stem with a paper towel until it stops.
Next, remove the lowest leaves from the stem of the cutting. Place the cutting in a small pot filled with potting mix. To maximize your chance of success, dip the cutting into rooting hormone first.
The cutting should be kept in really bright, indirect sun. To create a humid environment for the new cutting, you can place an open zip-top plastic bag over the pot. Your rubber tree cutting should start to take root within a month.
Taller rubber plants can also be propagated via air layering, which involves getting roots to form on a plant stem while it’s still attached to the original plant.
Learning how to prune any houseplant can involve a lot of trial and error. But fortunately, rubber plants are resilient, customizable plants once you learn how to care for them and prune them properly.
If you make a mistake with pruning or prune too much, you can always use a cutting to start a new plant.