How To: Propagate a Rubber Tree
Have a Rubber tree out of hand? Don’t be afraid to propagate! You now have the help of Leaf and Paw. Keep on readin’.
Sometimes doing something once is all you need to have the confidence to do it again. That’s not the case for plant propagation. After two (!) successful Monstera propagations from Monty, my Monstera deliciosa, I had a much better understanding of how and why we propagate the way we do. But that doesn’t quite curb the fear of chopping off plant heads and limbs.
Falling into Monty’s boat, Rudy, pictured above, my oldest houseplant of the family, was also becoming quite big. Actually, his size didn’t bother me, it was the bout of spider mites that infested him that did. For those who have never dealt with spider mites, they are purely creation of the devil and have no purpose but to spread anger and hatred on earth. Anyway.
After I cured Rudy of spider mites, he was left with some funny growth, weird leaves and botched stems. While I think everyone’s unique appearance make them special, Rudy had too many quirks and I wanted him to be pretty again.
When to Propagate
While I know I’m not the only one who prunes their plants for shallow reasons like these, it was time for a trim. I also want to add that Rubber trees do grow quickly, and pruning to maintain a decent shape is necessary for some. Plus, Ficus elastica have a tendency to get leggy if they are not exposed to decent sunlight. Either way, it was time for a haircut.
Like any houseplant, the best time to propagate a rubber tree (or any plants) is in the early spring to late summer, when the weather is warm. This ensures a much better recovery for plants. I performed this in early September, so I was able to still have some sun for Rudy to soak up in NY.
Before we dive in, I want to talk about propagating healthy plants. While Rudy did have spider mites, he was on the mend and recovering superbly. I would not recommend propagating distressed or pest-ridden plants. Many times these pests continue on to affect the cutting which will then die shortly after propagating. I can’t stress enough that the best way to propagate a Rubber tree, or any indoor plant in general, is with a healthy, established mother (or father) plant.
How to Propagate
Prep Your Station
Propagating and pruning is messy, especially for Rubber trees or Ficus elastica. If you have one you know what I mean. They ooze a milky substance when cut and leak everywhere. This sap is annoying to remove and is sticky and unpleasant, so be prepared.
-A clean surface
–Rooting hormone (I always use Bonide because it actually works)
-A pair of sharp pruners
-A small pot with filled with a 50/50 mix of gardening soil and perlite
-A gallon zip top bag
Before propagation, I like to gather all of my materials first. For you cooks out there, think mise en place. Now, let’s jump in.
- Pick the stem.
Pick a healthy stem with healthy leaves. I picked a leggy stem on Rudy that didn’t receive much sun and would benefit from being pruned.
- Make the cut.
Cut about halfway up this stem. Preferably, have a leaf right below the cut on the main plant. Immediately dab this cut stem on the mother plant with rooting hormone. Be careful of this oozing sap, it’s sticky and annoying. You’re now done with the mother plant. Time to focus on the cutting.
- Trim the cutting.
Remove the bottom set of leaves from the cutting. I snip these off with my pruning shears. Next, if your cutting is too long (6″ is best) you’ll want to cut it in half like I did below. You’ll want to discard these leaves and this other half of the cutting – they’re useless. At the end of this step you’ll want 2-3 leaves on top.
- Pot the cutting.
Dip the cutting in rooting hormone and grab your pot filled with moist soil. Unlike Monsteras, Rubber trees do not need to root in water. These get planted right into fresh soil and are happy clams. He should look like this!
- Provide a (mini) greenhouse.
Remember that plastic bag? This is where you need it. You’re going to make a super casual greenhouse for your new baby. Place him gingerly in the bag and seal it 90% of the way. It’s important the leaves don’t touch the bag too much – you can use toothpick or chopsticks to keep its distance. Give Planty a good soak and place him in a warm spot with partial sun.
- Take care of Planty.
Rubber trees seem to take FOREVER to grow the initial new leaves. Keep the soil moist and his home warm – you need to be patient. You can remove the bag in a month or two. In about a month roots will develop. In about six months you’ll see good root development and will have a new (and free) Ficus elastica with leaves like this!
Now, I not only have a new Rubber Tree, but a happier Rudy. New leaves began sprouting immediately! Remember that the cut will never sprout leaves directly, so don’t be alarmed. Instead, new growth will spawn from the sides of the stem. Pruning stems on Rubber trees every year can help keep their bushy appearance.
Propagating in Water
Experimenting is fun. A less reliable but additional option to propagate a Rubber tree friend is taking that cutting and letting it grow roots in water. It’s similar to the way a Monstera is propagated. Why is this way less reliable? After three tries, I found only one took to rooting, which I wasn’t happy with. They were all cuttings from the same plant, too. You’re welcome, I did the trial and error portion so you don’t have to.
However, I did find this process, when it did start to work, works well. You’ll only need a cutting (removing the lower leaves as above) and a glass bottle filled with water for this method:
- Take the cutting and plop it into a small glass vessel (Starbucks jars are perfect). Be sure to not have the bottom of the cutting touch the bottom of the bottle/jar. This hinders root development which looks sad.
2. Wait. Yup, just wait. Place in a sunny, warm window and in about 2-3 months you should see white barnacle-looking things, some fuzzy stuff. It’s all good – just let it do its thing.
3. Soon you’ll see small white roots show up that look like this! This is a good sign. Let the plant hang out and continue this root growth for another few months.
This is a new cutting (as of March 2020), so I’m still waiting for some more goods to show. It’s March now and I’m planning to plant in May or June. Yay!
Did you propagate a Rubber tree using either of these methods or another? Need some tips? Leave a comment below!
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