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How To Make A Rubber Tree (Rubber Plant, Ficus Elastica) Branch Out

Has your Ficus elastica gotten too tall or too leggy? Did you know that you can turn it into a tree form? Here's how to make a Rubber Tree (Rubber Plant) branch out.

close up of the branching of a variegated rubber tree rubber plant ficus elastica

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’s how to make a Rubber Tree branch out.

How Does a Rubber Tree Plant “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.”

a tall narrow rubber tree plant in a colorful outdoor desert garden

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.”

a grey kitty named riley sniffs the trunk of a variegated rubber tree rubber plant ficus elastica

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!

How to Make Your Rubber Tree Branch Out

To get this all started, you can cut the trunk or stem (whichever you prefer to call it) straight across with clean, sharp pruners and either toss the top or root it in a light mix. I air layered mine which is another very successful way to propagate a Rubber Tree.

Air Layer Your Houseplant

Some of the other houseplants which air layer beautifully are Weeping Fig, Fiddleleaf Fig, Dracaenas, Dumbcane, Umbrella Tree, Dwarf Umbrella Tree and the Split Leaf Philodendron. The 2 plants which I’ve successfully air layered in the past are the Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia Tropic Snow) and Burgundy Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica Burgundy).

I air layered the mother plant & removed the baby once it was showing significant rooting.

a finger points at a root emerging from a variegated rubber tree rubber plant ficus elastica in the process of being air layered

I’m pointing to where the roots are emerging. I cut the propagated portion off about an inch below (just above the next node down. It was a nice, clean cut straight across.

I let the mother plant settle for a few weeks before starting to remove the leaves at the very bottom.

2 variegated rubber trees rubber plants ficus elasticas stand side by side in a desert garden

You can see I’ve removed a few of the leaves at the bottom & that the plant is already branching at the top. The baby is doing beautifully & has already put out some new growth.

Every 3-6 weeks I took a couple more leaves off. 

Head’s up! Watch out for the sap.

The Rubber Tree emits a milky white sap which is considered toxic to people & pets. The sap has never irritated me but it could be irritating to you. Be sure to keep it away from your face & wear gloves & long sleeves when pruning or handling a Rubber Plant if you think it’ll affect you. You’ll need to clean your pruners soon after.

a variegated rubber tree rubber plant ficus elastica in a green grow pot stands next to the top of the plant which has been air layered & cut off

This was taken right after I pruned the top off. It’s 2 plants for the price of 1!

Immediately after removing any of the leaves I wrap the trunk with a rag to cover the nodes where they’ve been taken off. I also wrap the leaf stem that’s been cut off. The sap drips like crazy for about a minute or 2 & this prevents it from running down the trunk of the plant, onto your skin or clothes, or onto your floor.

Head’s up: The sap can stain your clothing or rug if not contained or cleaned off right away.

You can see my 2 Variegated Rubber Trees here:

A few of the leaves were stubborn to come off. I used a sharp floral knife to start the process & then pulled them off. Be sure not to dig too deep into the bark. 

Head’s up: You want to remove the as much as the leaf stem from the trunk as you can. It just looks better that way.

When the top 4 nodes were producing new growth, I then removed the 4 older leaves right below those new sprouts.

I don’t remember any new growth appearing on the trunk after I took the leaves off. I removed the leaves gradually because of the dripping sap factor – it was just easier for me to do it this way than all at once.

the top of a variegated rubber tree rubber plant ficus elastica which has been cut off

Here’s the mother plant right after I cut the air layered top off.

Rubber Tree Plant Care Timeline

I thought you might be interested in how long this has taken. Here’s the timeline of how this all went down:

I did the air layering at the end of April 2018.

The air layered portion was cut off & planted at the very beginning of Sept. 2018. I could have done this at the end of July but got involved in traveling & with other projects. You know how that goes!

I started to remove the leaves in early October 2018.

It is now the end of May 2019.

the branching at the top of a beautiful variegated rubber tree rubber plant ficus elastica

A close up of the branching. The foliage on this plant is gorgeous!

Rubber Plant Repotting Coming Soon!

I’v already repotted the baby and plan to repot this standard Variegated Rubber Plant as well as my Rubber Plant Decora soon. Stay tuned for that post and video.

My living room has 20′ ceilings but the light in there isn’t quite bright enough for a Variegated Rubber Plant year round. Once this plant hits the ceiling in my dining room in a few years I’ll have to do this all over again. Another pruning adventure!

Happy gardening,

Signed by Nell Foster

Did you learn how to make a rubber tree branch out? Here are some of our other guides for Rubber Tree Plant Care!

Rubber Plant: Growing Tips for this Easy Care Indoor Tree

How to Prune Off and Plant An Air Layered Rubber Tree Plant

7 Easy Care Floor Plants For Beginning Houseplant Gardeners

You can find this plant, more houseplants and lots of info in our simple and easy to digest houseplant care guide: Keep Your Houseplants Alive.

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