Rubber trees, also called rubber figs, are a lovely, popular plant native to several parts of southern Asia. These easy-to-care-for ornamental plants are Ficus elastica, not to be confused with Hevea brasiliensis, another plant that is commonly referred to as a rubber tree. If you already have one Ficus elastica, or if you know someone who has one that they’re willing to share, then you may want to know how to propagate it to produce more rubber trees. Don’t worry, the process isn’t complicated, and we’ll walk you through each step in this simple guide.
When should you propagate rubber trees?
Since most rubber trees are indoor plants, you can begin propagating them in any season. In general, due to the warm temperatures rubber trees prefer, many regions in the US will see better results in spring or summer. However, if you live in a region with mild or warm winters, you should be able to propagate year-round with little to no issue. If your region has cold winters, you can still propagate your rubber tree in fall or winter, but remember to keep your rubber tree away from drafts.
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You should also wait until your rubber tree is mature to begin taking cuttings. This is best for the overall health of both the parent plant and the cutting. Since they’re typically indoor plants, but can grow quite tall, some gardeners find it easier to pair propagation with pruning.
Taking a cutting
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Before you take your cutting, you should be aware that the sap of the rubber tree can be a skin irritant. If you have sensitive skin, or just want to avoid any potential itchiness, you may want to put on gloves. Regular gardening gloves or gloves of similar thickness should work well. Avoid using gloves made of material that will absorb sap, since it can be difficult to get clean.
You can use a knife, garden shears, or pruning shears to take the cutting, depending on the size of your rubber tree and the thickness of its branches. Whichever tool you use, make sure it’s clean. Additionally, choose a sharp blade. Dull blades are more likely to slip, leading to potential injury to both you and the plant.
Your cutting should be at least six inches long, but can be longer, and should have at least two leaves on the end opposite where the cut will occur, as well as a leaf node nearer to the cut. Avoid taking a cutting where the only leaves will be near the cut end. Using your clean tool of choice, make one cut diagonally across to separate the cutting from the rest of the tree. This cut end will form the base of your new rubber plant.
Rooting the cutting
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Once you have your cutting, there are a few things you can do to encourage it to root. First, strip off any leaves that are close to the cut. The cut end of the cutting will be underground, so any leaves near it will also be underground, and would begin to rot, leading to potential infection. You can apply some rooting hormone to your cutting, but this isn’t strictly necessary. Rooting hormone can speed up the rooting process, and is fairly easy to find at most garden supply stores.
Rubber tree plants can be rooted in soil or water. If you want to root your cutting in water, place it in roughly two inches of water. Keep it out of direct light, but make sure it’s warm. Change the water once a week. Cuttings can take 12 weeks or longer to root using this method. Since cuttings rooted in soil take roughly half the amount of time to grow roots, it’s often the preferred method. Plant your cutting, cut side down, about two or three inches deep in the soil. Cuttings longer than six inches can be planted deeper.
Caring for the cutting
If you already have a rubber tree, you can use the same potting mix for your cutting. Otherwise, regular potting soil will work, as rubber trees are not especially picky about soil type. Keep the soil consistently moist, and place your cutting near a light source, but not directly in the path of the light. Although adult rubber trees can tolerate some direct light, cuttings are slightly more sensitive. Make sure your cutting is somewhere warm, and away from any drafts or air conditioning vents. The cutting should have a full root system after a few months, and you should see signs of healthy growth by then as well.
Propagating rubber plants is a simple, easy process. If you have a large, mature rubber tree, then you can propagate it multiple times. Cuttings that have established root systems make great gifts, and, if you pair your propagation with pruning, you’ll also get the benefit of a smaller, more manageable rubber tree. Now, no matter what you plan to do with your cuttings, you know everything there is to know about propagating your rubber tree plant.
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