Ficus elastica (FY-kus ee-LASS-tih-kuh) is one of those plants with a scientific name you immediately recognize.
More commonly known as the rubber tree plant, this popular houseplant has many Ficus elastica varieties.
These wonderful (and beneficial) indoor plants is not only easy to grow, but it’s also easy to propagate, too!
How To Propagate Rubber Plant
There are three methods of propagating your rubber plant: soil, water, and air layering.
Note: You should use multiple healthy cuttings to increase the chances of a healthy baby plant.
Before propagating your Ficus elastica, it’s important to have everything you need on hand.
Here are the various tools and supplies to gather:
- Cotton rounds
- Medium for planting (see below)
- Paper towels
- Plastic bag (a 1-gallon storage bag works great)
- Plastic Wrap or Aluminum foil (if air layering)
- Protective gloves (if allergic to latex)
- Rooting Hormone
- Rubbing alcohol (to disinfect)
- Sharp knife (if air layering)
- Sharp pruning shears or scissors
- Small pot or vase (depending on the medium)
- Sphagnum moss (if air layering)
Choosing a Medium: Soil Method
Look for a quality cactus and succulent potting mix.
Be sure it’s from a reputable company, as cheap commercial mixes often aren’t sterilized before shipping and may contain microbes, pests, or spores.
You will also need some perlite to mix into the soil.
A 50/50 ratio of soil or peat moss and perlite works best.
Choosing a Medium (Water Method)
Doing water propagation means using the right water.
If you can collect rainwater, this is the best choice for your plant.
Otherwise, use distilled water (sometimes called baby water).
Avoid watering with tap water. Tap water contains harmful chemicals and sedimentary minerals that can harm your plants.
Preparing Your Cuttings (Soil and Water Methods)
Before anything else, you’ll want to pick a spot on a healthy stem to do the propagation and cover the surface with newspaper.
The sap on all types of Ficus is notorious for staining floors and is used to make latex rubber, so it can cause a reaction if someone comes in contact with it who has a sensitivity or allergy.
You will want to give your shears a quick disinfect using the cotton rounds dipped in rubbing alcohol.
As a general rule, it’s best to wipe down the shears before every cut, and when done, just in case the plant has an infection you aren’t aware of – and so the sap doesn’t get things too sticky.
Next, you’ll need to choose your rubber tree cutting.
It’s a great time to prune away some leggy branches or less dense stems, which could be used for the cuttings.
Beyond that, the cutting should:
- Be healthy
- Have at least four leaf nodes and/or
- Have at least two sets of leaves
- Measure 6” inches or longer (but not longer than the plastic bag)
Donning your gloves (if necessary), grab your shears and make a clean, diagonal cut just below a leaf node (this node will be where the roots grow from).
Your cuttings will likely be bleeding, so gently blot the wound with a paper towel until the bleeding stops.
Finally, prune the lowest set of leaves to give the plant more room to grow and dip the wounded end in rooting hormone.
When possible, leave at least 2 to 3 leaves to help the plantlet grow faster.
The Soil Method
Stick the cutting into your pot of soil, submerging any exposed nodes but leaving the leaves above the soil line.
Cover the plant with your plastic baggie to create a miniature greenhouse.
The higher humidity will help encourage growth and reduce any watering needs.
Put the pot in a location with dappled sunlight or bright, indirect light that’s warm and free of drafts. Avoid direct sunlight.
Give the plant 4 to 5 weeks, then give a gentle tug.
Resistance is proof that the plant’s developing a nice, healthy root system.
The Water Method
Slip your cutting into the vase of water, so the nodes are submerged.
Place the vase in a warm spot with bright, indirect sunlight and change the water every 2 to 3 days.
After a few weeks, you’ll begin to see the roots forming.
When the roots are approximately 1″ to 2” inches long, the plantlet is ready to be transplanted to soil.
Aftercare for the Mother Plant
Keep in mind. Propagation stresses the parent plant, so you must make sure she has a nice spot to recover.
Even if the plant is used to a bit of neglect, try to give it some extra love over the next few weeks.
This means proper watering and light and keeping an eye on humidity and other conditions that will help the plant begin recovering from the loss of limb and leaf.
This method is best for older plants and will require a steady hand and some skill.
In mid-spring through summer (when the plant’s most active), choose a branch that’s at least 12” inches long and healthy.
Pick a spot where you’ll create the roots and remove the leaves directly above and below that spot.
Using a sharp, sterile knife, cut away the bark in a 1” inch wide strip where the roots will be, exposing the pulp.
Blotting the sap away with a paper towel as needed, carefully remove the softer pulp in that denuded ring and avoid harming the firmer wood core.
Now, dust the core with rooting hormone and wrap it in damp sphagnum moss, using plastic Wrap as an airtight bandage.
After about 2 weeks, you can remove this poultice to reveal tiny roots.
Clip the stem below these new roots and plant your new plantlet.
Comparing Rubber Plant Propagation Methods
Each of these three methods has its pros and cons, so compare and choose the one best for you:
- Pros: Easiest method, best success rate
- Cons: Cannot monitor root growth
- Pros: Can watch the roots develop
- Cons: Higher risk of failure
- Pros: Fun, unusual method; works well on older plants
- Cons: Needs a steady hand to avoid damage