Pruning A Rubber Tree - Knowledgebase Question

Pahrump, NV
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Question by vincelorenz
February 2, 2000
I was given a rubber tree that was kept in a smallish planter. The stems are turning brownish and there are very few leaves on the plant except at the end of the stalks. What is the best or recomended treatment for pruning and transplanting this poor thing.

Answer from NGA
February 2, 2000
Rubber trees (Ficus elastica) do best with little light and very little water. They don't like wet feet. Let the soil dry out between waterings.

They do best when slightly pot-bound and should only be repotted every 2-3 years. You can use regular potting soil but a soil mix for cactus would be a good choice as well (because it will drain well).

You might try it in a location that's less bright also. Summer's approaching and maybe it's getting a little too much hot sun.

Finally, our water is extremely high in salts, which can build up in the soil quickly and destroy plant roots. Always flush plants with a slow and deep watering at least once a month to "leach" out these salts past the root zone. Let the water run out of the pot for several minutes.

The rubber plant is pruned in the following way: For starters, be sure to use clean, sharp pruners - also keep some rubbing alcohol handy, you will need it to clean the pruners periodically. Take a look at the plant and note that you will be removing 1/3 to 1/2 of the plant's branches. Do not remove more foliage than that because doing so could compromise the plant's ability to complete photosynthesis and could shock the plant. Leaves on this plant grow alternately, you should be sure to prune the growth all the way down to a leaf joint, not between the leaves. You will eventually get new growth (basal sprouting) at this area. After awhile, this new growth will help make your plant appear more full and lush rather than leggy. Pruning is messy, as the plant will probably leak a milky sap at the cut sites. Also, if your plant will look a bit sparse when you are finished, don't think you have ruined it! This trim will result in a nice chubby Rubber Plant in a short while. A common complaint with this plant is leaf drop. When Rubber Plants are grown in "captivity" they naturally have a tendency to lose their lower leaves as they put on new growth at the top.

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