Ficus Elastica - Rescue Strategy

PenzanceUK(SW UK 9)May 2, 2013

Hello. I was wondering if anyone could help? I have rescued a 10 year old rubber plant in a very sorry state and am attempting to bring it back to health.

I have spent an hour going through a massive thread (now discontinued) called "Trimming/propagating Rubber Tree and found three short mentions of my particular problem. Most was not overly clear to me, so I hoped to check a few things before I actually do them. The problem is the length of trunk, which I don't think can be sustained as it recovers - it will be too top heavy.

So far, I have cleaned up the good leaves, removed the dying ones, cleaned up the roots and repotted. The plant definitely has the will to live, new leaves started within 2 days of this! I have also immersed a good deal of the trunk in soil hoping that it may root as well as reduce the height.

If I understand the points in the lengthy thread I mentioned, it is possible to shorten the trunk by as much as 75%, even with no leaves left, once the plant has gained strength with a period of new healthy leaves growing well. Then, if lopped off, the plant should bud back on the previous stem points of lost leaves and branches. I understand this kind of aggressive pruning can only take place June - August.

Before I do any of this, I would feel happier if someone with better knowledge than me could confirm the plant will survive! I thought at the same time I would attempt to propagate from the cuttings, but I would be devastated if neither course of action worked!

Could I kindly ask for any thoughts on this? Many thanks!

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Because of how far north you are, you can't take the same liberties cutting the plant back as you could in more southerly locations.

The safe plan would be to get the plant outdoors when appropriate, see it back to good vitality for this year and let it grow unencumbered by pruning. Next summer, prune the top back to the lowest primary branch and tip-prune any secondary/tertiary branches arising from from the primary. This should force back-budding from the trunk below the primary branch, especially if the tree summers outdoors, and you'll be able to shorten the tree to that branch the following summer.

Unfortunately, trees don't conform to our sense of time. If you can be patient and work toward honing your ability to provide the conditions your tree prefers, you'll be well rewarded, both for your efforts AND patience.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 8:27PM
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PenzanceUK(SW UK 9)

Thanks Tapla, I value your comments. I suppose deep down I knew there was no quick fix! I'll do what you say, and perhaps try to propagate as well next year. Looks like a long haul but I don't mind - I admire this plant for surviving so far through very poor conditions. I bought it as a present for someone a long time ago, so I'm pleased I have been able to reclaim it now and give it some love and care!

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 3:40AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

I think you could take the top off right now and root it as a cutting. We are well into the growing season and I see no reason to wait until next year. Then you could reduce the height of the remainder when you see fit and you would have a back up young plant just in case.

How far North we are doesn't really signify, especially where you live. Ficus elastica is fine to prune here at this time of year. In Penzance you could put this outside fairly soon if you want to summer it outdoors. But do it gently a few hours added each day to get it used to the brighter light and cooler temps.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 1:27PM
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PenzanceUK(SW UK 9)

Thanks Flora. Yes it is more temperate here thanks to the Gulf stream full on Cornwall I expect. Not sure I have the confidence to take a cutting yet - I understand from reading posts that rooting from cuttings doesn't always succeed with this plant, and I haven't got that much to play with. Unless you know of a foolproof method perhaps?!

This post was edited by PenzanceUK on Fri, May 3, 13 at 14:18

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 2:15PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

She could start an air layer (safe), but it would still be better to wait on that, too. It's important that the OP understands that removing the top now would probably offer a less than 50% probability that both cutting and plant proper would make it. The plant is weak and has just been repotted - any significant work should be avoided until it has had time to recover. FWIW, I rate chopping its head off as fairly significant. ;-)

BTW, Penzance, nothing is foolproof. I've proven that over and over. ;-)


    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 4:03PM
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PenzanceUK(SW UK 9)

Ha ha! She is in fact a he, AI!! All of this makes me want to err on the side of caution, so I think I will do nothing this year except gently introduce some outside exposure this summer. Thanks for all the advice, both of you. I'm glad I asked instead of going blind into my original plan.

Many thanks.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2013 at 1:57PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

So sorry about the "she". I beg a pardon?


    Bookmark   May 4, 2013 at 2:27PM
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PenzanceUK(SW UK 9)

No problem Al - you had a 50% chance of getting it right!
Best wishes

    Bookmark   May 5, 2013 at 5:16PM
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