How and when? Ficus Elastica

KrisenrOctober 15, 2011

Hey All,

First time posting here, long time lurker. Learned a lot browsing the threads and finally decided to join the conversation. I recently bought a ficus elastica, maybe a month ago. It's doing great, hasn't dropped any leaves and the leaf that is half brown in the picture was that way since I bought it.

All of the branches have leaves towards the top but not towards the bottom and I'd like to make it fuller. I'm thinking the best time would be June 2012 to do whatever it is I'll need to do. What exactly would you guys do?

Thanks in advance for the help!


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marquest(z5 PA)


I could not see your pic. To post a pic from Photobucket you have to post the line that has ....a href="

I had the same problem and posted about the top growth. I was told how to get it to branch by knicking the stem and it worked.

Someone will come along and explain it in details better than I can.

Welcome to the group there are some great people here as you can see from lurking.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2011 at 11:43AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Your tree appears to be a standard, and it's unclear if you want growth to occur low on the trunk or if you want to increase ramification. The term 'ramification' refers to branch density, and we increase branch density by removing the apical meristems, which are located at branch tips and are where the growth that causes branch extension occurs. We often refer to the practice as 'tip pruning' or 'pinching'.

The hormone/growth regulator that stops the plant from getting bushy and prevents side branches from growing (auxin) is produced in the very tip of each branch. If you pinch off that tip (the apical meristem), another growth hormone (cytokinin) 'takes over' and makes new branches grow in some or all crotches of the leaves still left on the branch you tip-pruned, depending on how many leaves you left, how much energy the plant has stored, and how vigorously the plant is growing (time of year). The best and most dramatic results of tip-pruning/pinching will occur when the plant has the most energy & is growing robustly - in the summer months, but you can tip-prune any time as long as the plant is reasonably healthy.

The flow of the growth regulators I mentioned above is polar, meaning auxin flows mostly downward & cytokinin upward. Nicking the plant, actually cutting out a thin slice of bark down to the cambium above a branch interrupts the downward flow of auxin. Since we know auxin suppresses lateral growth or keeps dormant buds in leaf axils (crotches) from waking up, interrupting its downward flow by nicking above a branch or old leaf (bundle) scar allows the other growth regulator to become dominant and stimulate new buds/branching.

This works best in younger branches, and success, like other forms of manipulating a plants growth regulators when pruning, is fairly dependant on the plant's energy reserves and how robustly it is growing; so again, summer is the best time to try nicking the trunk or a branch, especially in older branches or trunks with bark that is maturing.

What I would do: I'd worry about what's MOST important for any plant - root health. Before I did any serious top pruning, I would bare-root the plant and get it into a fast draining & durable soil that allows you to water properly w/o risking root rot. When it recovers to the point it is pushing new growth, I would fertilize with a recommended full dose (MG 24-8-16 or 12-4-8, or Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 are excellent choices with FP getting the nod because it also has Mg & Ca (few soluble fertilizers contain these elements), and gets most of it's N from nitrate sources. After it's grown for a month or so (July) You can cut every branch back to 2 leaves, and remove any branches that don't fit with the image you have for the tree's future. Then, regularly allowing branches to grow to 4-5 leaves before pinching back to 2 leaves will give you the fullest tree possible within the limits of available light and air movement, both of which stimulate back-budding and are the reason getting your plants outdoors when temperatures allow is such a boost.

You might find the thread & subsequent discussions I'll link to below of some value - at least I hope you do.


Here is a link that might be useful: More about Ficus in containers if you click me

    Bookmark   October 16, 2011 at 2:14PM
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Thanks for the responses!

Thanks! Do you ahve any updated shots of your ficus?


I've actually read that quite a few times. Having you on this forum/board actually was part of what made me finally join. Thanks for the very thorough explanation. I'm going to read it over when I get home from work. I'm going to wait til the next leaf extends on each branch to be sure it's settled in well before making any changes.

I potted up slightly from the plastic pot it came it. The diameter is maybe an inch larger all around. The soil that was in the original container was pretty solid, almost to solid. When would be the best time to take it out and do some root work. It's probably been in that soil for way to long. I'm assuming early next summer June/July would be agood time for this?


I'm very intrigued by ficus, have the one pictured above, a benjamina variegata, a ficus alli, and more ficus elastica variegata than I can count. I also have a spindle palm, a couple tropical hibiscus, a dumb cane, a 3 year old mango tree, and some other misc plants. I'm thinking about picking up a lyrata today, but only if I can figure out how to get it to branch out. It's $13 for a 4ft plant, can't go wrong I guess.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2011 at 4:21PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hi Folks,

Can I chime in here w/ thanks to Al as well? I followed along here, especially since I too grow this variegated F. elastica as Marquest has shown. I also have a Burgundy version I recently got, I grow indoors only.

Al, I'd never seen anything about the nicking before, interesting & very accessible info., special thanks.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2011 at 11:32PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Thank you both for your kindness. I always appreciate knowing something I offered was found to be helpful - that's why I'm here. ;-)

Krisenr - potting up a size is a good temporary measure in consideration of the timing, and your plan to do the repot & root work next summer is sound. You're either a strong reasoner, or have been paying attention. ;-)

All plants can be forced to branch out in the same manner - by judicious pinching or pruning. Whenever you terminate a branch's ability to extend by pinching or pruning, you literally force it to start new branches. Gotta head to work now, but if you need a more thorough explanation, let me know. I've often considered starting a thread that explains how the grower can manipulate plants to grow fuller instead of longer and the mechanism by which it works.


    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 7:45AM
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marquest(z5 PA)

Krisenr, Al was the one I knew could explain it better than I could ever tell you how to do the process. If I started explaining I knew I would kill your plant. I did nick mine in the summer last year in July. It started branching by August. I was afraid so I just took an exacto knife and pushed in where Al said.

I am like you I love them. I have three now.

This is my newest one on the left it is a deep purple pink and you can see how my variegated one is branching now.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 10:55AM
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I've learned a lot reading here and it definitely has helped me reason about what is best for my plants. I definitely think a how-to for promoting fuller plants would be an awesome idea. I've search high and low and have yet to find something concrete.

Thanks for the photos! Those look great! I've got the exact same varieties you've got from what I can tell. Unfortunately with apartment life, mine never get to be outdoors. During the late spring and summer my windows are left entirely open and all my plants sit on or right in front of south facing windows (i lucked out with all the windows).

pirate_girl, I'm in NYC as well, Brooklyn to be more exact.

On a side note, I ended up buying that ficus lyrata I mentioned I might buy. I got lucky and found one that had 2 plants in one pot, maybe not so lucky since this plant is huge! Some of the leaves are the size of a dinner plate. Like the ficus elastica I want to train these plants into standard form. This one is going to need some serious rootwork come next spring, there are roots EVERYWHERE. They've grown out the side of the pot, out the bottom, it's really something. I trimmed some of the lower leaves off that were dying/dead and that's where I stand with it. I have it sitting by a window now.

Is there anything I can do now to help me start the transformation? If pics would help, I can get them up tonight. The plants are about 4ft tall and support themselves, luckily.

Thanks for all the help!


    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 11:24AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

I think these are fairly recent pix:

A shot of an assortment at the foot of my bed, on far right a green & white F. elastica variegata, left of that a ZZ plant (in the Blue/white planter), left of that the newer F. elastica variegata 'Burgundy'.

Some closer, better shots (I hope)

Handsome plants these guys, I too hope to do some rootwork & then prune to better shape next Summer.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 11:48AM
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One more question, if I planned to do a full repot every 2-3 years, would you still recommend your 5-1-1 + lime mix or should I alter it?

Many thanks!

Awesome pics and plants! I'll try to post some of my collection soon :)

    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 2:40PM
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marquest(z5 PA)

pirate_girl, You have some beauties. I keep a lot of my houseplants in my bedroom in the winter too. LOL

The last one looks like the last one I brought. I am trying to find the name. It is either
Variegated Ficus Belize or
Ficus elastica 'Tineke'/Tineke

I am thinking mine is Belize because there is no hint of cream or white.

The one that I nicked may be Tineke because it does have the white but light green/pink combo colors.

This is the description of the pics I found for both.

Timeke - Striking variegated green and white variegated foliage with a blush of burgundy
Belize - Pink/Burgundy combo foliage

    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 3:25PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Krisner - you can probably tip prune/pinch, but let's see the pics first?

The plant will appreciate an open soil like either the gritty mix or the 5:1:1 mix. A properly made gritty mix offers a little better potential for growth and vitality, but the 5:1:1 mix will still stand head & shoulders above heavier mixes made with significant fractions of peat/compost/sand/coir/topsoil/other fine particulates.

Take care.


    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 3:32PM
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I'll get some more pictures up tonight.

I'm going to do rootwork and repotting on all of my woody plants in a 5-1-1 mix. Gonna have to track all the stuff down, pretty sure between Lowes and HD I should be able to find it all.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 3:59PM
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Here are the pics as requested :)

Ficus Lyrata

Ficus lyrata top 1

Ficus Lyrata top 2

Ficus Alli

Ficus Tineke/Belize (too many in one pot..oops)

Spindle Palm (2 years old now)

Ficus Benjamina Variegata

    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 7:54PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You can easily afford to tip-prune/pinch the fiddle leaf fig. Just remove the growing tip & 1 or 2 leaves from the end of each trunk. This will force back-budding. Eventually, for the sake of eye appeal and if you keep the twin trunk arrangement, you'll want one of the trunks - the thinner of the two, to be about 2/3 the height of the fatter trunk.


    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 8:47PM
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Thanks Al. I'll tip prune a little later this week. I was thinking about making one shorter than the other so it doesn't look so "bushy" all over. I'll cut the thinner of the two back when I start doing the real remodeling next spring/summer. For now I'll just do the tip pruning and remove a couple of the leaves.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 9:41PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Good Luck!


    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 7:44AM
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AsarumGreenPanda(z6 MA)

Lovely, lovely plants, Kris, Marquest and Pirate Girl. Kris, I'd love to see a picture of the tip-pruned lyrata if you have a chance to post one.

Al, firstly, thank you for all the information you've posted here. You have a wonderful way of explaining complex situations very clearly and I learn a great deal from reading your posts. You mentioned starting a thread about how growers can manipulate plants to make them grow bushier rather than longer. I would really appreciate such a thread. I'm generally interested in the topic. I'm also feeling a little frustrated by some cane begonia hybrids that really don't seem inclined towards branching, no matter how I pinch, prune, repot, or fertilize.

I'm glad you posted this thread, Kris. Please post updates when you have them.


    Bookmark   October 21, 2011 at 11:55PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I wrote myself a note so I wouldn't forget. Lately, I'd been working on a post that should be helpful to most growers if they decide the information sounds valid enough to act on.

Sometimes it takes a while for me to decide how to approach a subject, and still longer trying to figure out how to explain things so everyone can understand what I'm talking about and actually gain something from it. I will say though that I've given that particular subject some thought already, as I've considered posting something that would explain pruning basics. I'll be working on it in my spare time, but give me a week or two?

Thank you, btw, for your kind words. I know I sometimes rub people the wrong way because I tend to automatically assume the role of teacher, and because I often disagree on points that are not really open to interpretation because the sciences have them nailed down pretty tightly ..... and I DO get enthusiastic about being able to help. That's really my only reason for hanging around - to try to help others learn in a few minutes or hours what took me much longer to learn. What fuels me and where I get my kicks is when people offer the message that they're learning and/or they're grateful for the effort, so thanks again!

Sorry for getting off the rails on your thread, Krisenr - I beg a pardon?


    Bookmark   October 22, 2011 at 8:08AM
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Thanks asarum! I'll take some pics of the lyrata later today and post em up.

Al, no worries! The more info the better :)


    Bookmark   October 22, 2011 at 8:49AM
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Hey! I owe you those pictures. I'll do my best to get them to you tonight! I've been swamped at work.

Al, I've been reading up on your Gritty Mix vs. your 5-1-1 mix. If I want to do full repots every 2-3 years (for different kinds of ficus, a tropical hibicus, all the plants in my pics above) which mix should I use and why? Appreciate your time in answering my questions.


    Bookmark   October 25, 2011 at 5:51PM
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Asarum, here is the pic.



You can see two little shoots starting to make their way out. Both of the plants are doing the same, this one just seems to be moving a little quicker than the other.

Let me know if I can get you any other pics!


    Bookmark   October 25, 2011 at 9:32PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Great shots of what happens when you tip prune or remove a leaf. You see one dormant bud breaking in the crotch of the branch, or it could easily be a leaf axil (because the response would be the same), and one bud breaking immediately above an old leaf bundle scar (which, if the leaf was still attached would also be in the leaf axil.

I would use the gritty mix for the Ficus if you're planning 3 years between repots because it remains structurally stable indefinitely. You never need to repot because of soil collapse; root congestion is the determining factor. For the tropical hibiscus, I'd use the 5:1:1 mix because it's going to need repotting annually because it makes roots so fast. I use the gritty mix for plants that will be in the same soil for 2 years or more, and the 5:1:1 mix for things that will only be in the soil for a single grow season, though I often do press the 5:1:1 mix into service for 2 or even 3 years.

The length of time I establish as reasonable intervals between repots are my own preferences based on what I feel is best for the plant. It doesn't mean that the 5:1:1 mix is only suitable for plants to be in for 1 year, or 2. The bark fraction of either soil breaks down at 1/4-1/5 the rate of peat, so based on that comparison ... well, there isn't much of a comparison.


    Bookmark   October 25, 2011 at 10:12PM
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Thanks Al. Yeah that hibiscus can put out roots like there's no tomorrow.

For the Gritty mix is there anything I can replace the grani-grit with? Would regular old aquarium gravel work or does the grani-grit have special properties?

    Bookmark   October 25, 2011 at 10:40PM
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Hey All,

So my ficus lyrata has leafed out great on one of the plants, 3 new leaves on one branch plus another branch almost ready to open up.

The other plant in the pot however is growing much slower, it's where the other plant was 1 week ago. It has 3 shoots that seem to be growing at the same pace.

Any possible reasons for this?

I'll post some more pics soon.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 10:15AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You could use screened perlite in a pinch, as a substitute for granite if the size is appropriate. Aquarium gravel or silica sand in the right size, if you can find it, is also a good choice. Pumice/lava rock/Haydite can also be substituted for granite if you can find the right size, but if you use these, you'll want to use more of either one and less Turface because all are more water retentive than granite.

There's nothing chemically special about crushed granite. For all intents, it's inert. It simply serves as a very sharp contrast to Turface's water holding ability, and its inclusion in soils serves as a way to adjust the soil's water retention by varying the ratio of Turface:granite while keeping the bark fraction at 1/3 or less.

... so glad your plant is doing well! I'm not sure what you're describing as far as, "... it's where the other plant was 1 week ago." and, "It has 3 shoots that seem to be growing at the same pace.". Maybe if you clarify ...... and pictures WOULD be helpful.


    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 2:07PM
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