By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Why won’t my rubber tree branch? This is a common questionin garden chat groups and houseplant exchanges. The rubber tree plant (Ficus elastica)can sometimes be temperamental, growing upward and refusing to grow sidebranches. Let’s takea look and see if we can get your rubber tree branching this year.
The most common way of correcting a rubber tree that won’tbranch is to break apical dominance. In layman’s terms, this means removing thetop growth on the main stem, thus re-directing a hormone called auxin downward,where it will encourage branches to sprout on down the stem. This is best donewhen the plant is young. Older plants do not like their leafy top canopydisturbed.
When pruning a rubber tree for branching, make the cuts while the plant is activelygrowing, in March through October. The top cut is most important. Remove thestem and leaves as far down as you like. With patience, the parts you removecan be rooted to start more plants.
Cut at 1/4 inch above a leaf scar (a line where a leafpreviously grew) or a leaf node. You may nick or lightly slice the leaf scarwith sharp pruners to further encourage a new leaf to grow there.
Other ways to encourage rubber tree branching, or to use incombination with the cuts, include freshening the soil with a compostedmixture, watering and feeding, and providing proper light.
Now that you’ve learned how to get rubber trees to branch,use some or all of these steps to get your plant in shape this year. Newbranches and new leaves will appear before the plant enters dormancy in autumn.
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Read more about Rubber Trees
Rubber Plants grow fast and can hit the ceiling in no time. Perhaps yours needs to be cut back because it’s gotten leggy, is just too tall or maybe you want your plant to have a new look. Did you know that you can turn your tall, skinny Ficus elastica into a tree form? Here are some steps to follow if you want to learn how to make a Rubber Tree branch out.
If you’re not getting what I’m talking about here, please let me explain it through the pictures below. I worked in the houseplant trade when I 1st graduated from college. The grower’s label plants with leaves all the way up and down as “full to base”. Plants with a trunk and foliage at the top are labeled as “standard.”
My 6′ Variegated Rubber Plant before I pruned off the top & air layered it. It would be hitting the ceiling in my dining room in about a year. This form is called “full to base.”
The same plant developing a branching structure. This is called a “standard” or tree. Riley cat is enjoying a little sniff before I take it back in the house!
Last Updated: February 18, 2020 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Maggie Moran. Maggie Moran is a Professional Gardener in Pennsylvania.
There are 27 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
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The rubber tree or plant (Ficus elastica decora) is a favorite houseplant with large, thick, glossy green leaves. Rubber trees will grow well in most homes with just a little care, but they can get fairly large if you don't prune them. They also grow well outside in temperate climates. Provide the rubber tree with the right mix of soil, light, and water, and you'll have a happy, healthy plant that makes a beautiful addition to your living space.