How To Prune A Rubber Tree

Ficus elastica – The name might mean very little to most, but the moment you mention its common name, the rubber plant, suddenly the room lights up. That’s because this wonderful houseplant is treasured for its shiny, dark green foliage, full growth habit, and versatility to grow as a tree or a bushy shrub.

That’s right – rubber plant pruning fills multiple roles, making it an incredible addition to any home.

Rubber Plant PruningPin

Whether you have the emerald green leaves of the parent species, a variegated rubber plant cultivar, or prefer the dark red leaves of the burgundy rubber plant (Ficus elastica ‘Burgundy’), you can shape the appearance of these wonderful plants to suit any room environment.

So let’s look at how you can prune this amazing plant to best suit your home or garden.

The Basics Of Rubber Plant Pruning

Before we get into specific pruning methods, let’s go over some basics, including regular pruning, pruning for shape, and even propagation with pruning.

There’s a lot to cover regardless of the type of pruning you plan to pursue, so let’s get started!

The Best Time To Prune Ficus Elastica

Ideally, the best time for any major pruning is spring into early summer.

These plants can handle a pretty aggressive pruning session during this period but won’t fare well during their winter dormancy.

That’s not to say you can’t do a bit of light, strategic pruning of dead limbs or a diseased branch, although said cuts should be kept to a minimum.

Another good rule of thumb is to avoid pruning your Ficus for a few months after repotting.

Transplanting any plant can cause a lot of stress, and it will take a while for the roots to settle into their new soil.

Be patient and keep your pruning cuts restricted to maintenance until you see some healthy new growth appearing.

Pruning Equipment

Every form of pruning has a few things in common: the small but essential list of equipment needed.

  • Ficus elastica gets its name because the sap contains natural latex, an allergen for many people. 
  • It may cause some degree of skin irritation on contact, even for those not allergic, and the sap can also cause a sticky mess.

For this reason, we strongly suggest that protective gloves are at the top of everyone’s list.

If you have a latex allergy, you may also wish to add long sleeves and possibly goggles to the gear list (the latter in case of splashing or accidental eye rubbing).

  • You will also want sharp, clean pruning shears and isopropyl alcohol. A sharp pair of pruning shears will help reduce the risk of splintering or damaging your rubber plant.
  • The alcohol will help ensure your shears remain sterile between cuts, significantly reducing the risk of spreading the disease if a portion of the plant harbors an unseen infection.

Will Your Plant Be A Tree Or Shrub?

This is where the real pruning adventure begins!

Take a good look at your Ficus and ask what it wants to be when it grows up.

Some may want to be mighty trees, striving to reach the towering 100′ feet height of their natively grown siblings, although a domestic rubber plant will generally top out at 13′ feet tall outdoors and around 8′ feet indoors.

Or perhaps they’d prefer to be a bushy 4′ foot tall shrub with a 3′ foot spread.

The good news is that you can always try one shape and switch things up if it doesn’t work out.

Maintenance Trimming Your Rubber Plant

Of course, shaping isn’t the only reason to prune your rubber plant.

It’s often a good idea to grab some clean garden shears and remove a dead branch or any diseased leaves throughout the year.

Remember that even in a greenhouse-like environment, you should avoid any heavy pruning in the fall or winter months.

Rubber Plant Cuttings Are Baby Rubber Plants!

  • Before simply chopping off and tossing rubber tree cuttings, take a moment to decide if you want to propagate the plant.
  • Rubber plants can be propagated through air layering and stem cuttings.
  • The big difference between the two is that air layering allows a cutting to take root before it’s removed from the mother plant, while stem cuttings are rooted afterward.
  • You’ll have a wonderful baby rubber plant in both cases after just a few months.

Pruning A Rubber Shrub

Now that we’ve covered all the basics, let’s get creative with a happy, bushy shrub.

Of the two major forms, the shrub is easier to convert and makes for a great indoor and outdoor display. Not only can you shape the plant to fit smaller spaces, but your rubber tree plant will also have a nice, full growth.

Begin by planning out your cuts. You’ll want to make lateral cuts where the leaves are sparse to encourage a bushier rubber plant.

Any lower branches horizontally growing should be removed to prevent a leggy rubber plant.

Also, cut away any branches growing at odd angles or otherwise unsightly (this can be either a matter of personal preference or functionality).

Once the lower part of your Ficus plant looks good, it’s time to cut it down to the desired height.

A good rule of thumb is always to cut the top above a node rather than below, as the latter can cause your rubber plant to send up more vertical shoots.

4′ feet tall is a popular height for the shrub form due to the spread rarely passing 3′ feet across, although you can make yours as tall or short as you wish.

To convert to tree form, simply follow the steps below.

Pruning A Rubber Tree

So let’s say you want a rubber tree instead of a shrub.

If starting with a shrub, you’ll want to let it grow vertically to the desired height to make shaping easier.

Check your rubber plant’s stems and pick the biggest, healthiest stem to serve as the main trunk.

The other stems may be cut to ground level.

When pruning any side branches, cut above the node so the plant doesn’t try to branch out further unless it’s in an area where you want a bushier appearance.

Only behead the plant after it reaches your preferred height.

You can maintain a happy, healthy tree form by keeping any low branches pruned and trimming away any new vertical branches that sprout from the soul.

You can convert your tree to the bush form by allowing vertical stalks to spring up and follow the shaping steps as the plant begins to fill out.


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