In nature, a rubber tree (Ficus elastica) can grow up to forty meters high. At this size, the trunk has a gigantic diameter of two meters. Such dimensions are of course not desired in the home. That is why it is necessary to prune the popular houseplant when it gets too big. Some specimens only grow with one or two shoots, others crooked or unevenly over time, so that something urgently needs to be done to preserve their beauty. For this reason, it is good to know how to properly cut a rubber tree.

Does a rubber tree need to be cut?

Rubber trees usually grow beautifully and evenly even without any pruning measures and therefore do not necessarily have to be cut. A cut is only one of the maintenance measures that only occur every five to ten years, because rubber trees grow very slowly. There are several reasons a ficus elastica might need an incision. These include:

  • the rubber tree has become too big for the apartment
  • the plant has grown unevenly and is no longer appealing
  • the tree threatens to fall over due to crooked growth
  • no or only a few side shoots form (the tree should become bushier)
  • Shoots are dead or sick

Cut tolerance

A rubber tree is very easy on pruning. It is one of those plants that very rarely get sick or even die from being pruned. Therefore, if you prune the tree, you don’t have to worry about something happening. As long as there is only one sleeping eye left, the Ficus elastica will reliably sprout again. A pruning is very easy to do and can also be done by any inexperienced hobby gardener. The rubber tree can withstand almost all prunings without any problems, but a few basic rules must be followed in order for it to grow appropriately.


In order to avoid bruises and not to severely injure the rubber tree, make sure that the cutting tool is sharp. It is best to disinfect the tool in advance with hot water or alcohol so that no diseases or germs get into the wound.

  • sharp, sterile knife (for unwooded, younger shoots)
  • Rose or secateurs (for finger-sized shoots)
  • Pruning saw (for thicker trunks)

Tip : A pruning has the advantage that the branches can be used as cuttings straight away.


In principle, a rubber tree can be cut all year round, but the winter months are recommended, as the plant restricts its growth at this time. In addition, the metabolism slows down significantly in the evening hours. This means that the plant does not bleed as much when it is cut.

Stronger branching

If you want to branch your rubber tree more, you should make sure that you shorten over one eye or a leaf axil when cutting. In this case, new shoots will form from these vegetation points under each cut after a short time. If the tree is not bushy enough, pruning helps, because two new shoots usually grow for each branch that is removed.


If the rubber tree is only to be trimmed vertically, cut off all main shoots at the desired height. The following applies to side shoots: only those shoots that are supposed to branch may be cut above a pair of leaves or an eye. If the tree is not to branch further at one point or another, it must not be cut there. Here all unwanted shoots are cut off at the base.

  • Branch desired: cut above a leaf base or dormant eye
  • no branching desired: cut or leave the shoot at the base
  • make the cut as straight as possible
  • Do not kink the shoot or tear off remains

Instructions for cutting

If a shoot of the rubber tree is cut, it sprouts from the leaf axils or eyes below. Since two new shoots usually grow for each cut branch, the tree branches out more and more over time and thus becomes bushier. It is always important to think carefully beforehand where additional branches are required and where not.

Step 1: Preparation
Before cutting, put the rubber tree up a little so that you can see it clearly. So that you do not contaminate furniture or the floor with the leaking plant sap, it is advisable to place the pot on a surface made of cardboard, old towels or kitchen roll. The same applies to the clippings.

Step 2: Mark the desired height Choose
an acceptable height for the rubber tree and check whether there are side shoots at this point or just below it. Never cut directly above a branch, but rather at least two pairs of leaves above, otherwise the tree will be misshapen.

Step 3: Find the right cut
So that the rubber tree can branch out nicely, it is important to examine the trunk carefully before pruning. Ideally, you cut a few centimeters above a sleeping eye or pair of leaves. After shortening, new shoots will form in these places. Look for these eyes on the trunk, they can be seen as small bumps on the bark.

Step 4: Cut
the trunk If the trunk is not yet branched (as with young plants), it is cut above the third pair of leaves. In all other cases, choose the last branch that should remain on the rubber tree. From there, count two to three pairs of leaves towards the tip and cut the trunk about two centimeters above the last pair of leaves with a smooth cut.

Step 5: Cut side shoots
If the rubber tree already has side shoots, these should also be shortened if they are higher or longer than the main trunk that has already been cut. Above all, the shoots directly under the intersection usually need to be shortened, otherwise they will be longer than the middle of the tree and the Ficus elastica will lose its natural and stable shape. So cut off the first side shoots (seen from the tip) after the second pair of leaves.

Step 6: Align the lower shoots
If there are other long shoots further down on the trunk, these will also be shortened. They are allowed to stay a little longer than the above. The best thing to do is to simply ensure a good basic shape and cut the lower shoots so short that either a uniformly slim shape or a slightly conical structure emerges.

Step 7: Prevent bleeding Milky sap
emerges from the interfaces after a short time. Dab this with a clean cloth (kitchen roll or similar) so that the wound can dry off more quickly. Wound sealing is usually not necessary, as the tree is warm and dry in the apartment and there is little risk of pathogens entering the wound.

Tip : If, contrary to expectations, the interface continues to bleed, seal it by first pouring warm water over it and then drizzling some wax over it.

Keeping the rubber tree slim

If strong branching is not desired, for example because the rubber tree is already heavily branched on one side or only limited space is available, it is not allowed to cut over a pair of leaves or an eye. Otherwise this drive branches even further. In this case, all excess (unwanted) side shoots are simply cut off at the base. This will prevent the Ficus elastica from forming new shoots at this point.

Raising young plants

A ficus elastica tends to only grow upwards at first and only rarely branch out. This growth is normal for the typical location of the rubber tree in the rainforest. In order for the plant to reach regions where there is sufficient light for survival, it must first grow in height. Only then does the rubber tree form numerous side shoots and become bushier. This behavior is not desired in the home, as it means that after years of cultivation a rubber tree only consists of a single main shoot. This then hits the ceiling at some point and does not have a single branch. It is therefore important to properly train a young plant right from the start. This is done with a targeted cut.

  • Cut back the main stem after the third to fifth pair of leaves
  • Check side shoots again and again for branches
  • Cut off the side shoots after the 1st to 3rd pair of leaves, depending on your requirements and growth habit
  • Completely remove branches that are too close together or unwanted branches

After the cut

Radical pruning is an intervention for the plant that should not be underestimated. The sudden loss of much of the branches and foliage greatly weaken the rubber tree. Therefore, it should be placed in a sheltered location for the first time after the procedure. Specimens that are otherwise in a very bright place in the room are placed a little more shade for one to two weeks to protect them. If the plant is in partial shade anyway, it can be returned to its original location. In order for the wounds to close properly, the Ficus elastica should not be sprayed, heavily watered or even fertilized for the next few days.
Tip: With radical prunings, make sure that the plant can immediately evaporate less water through the leaves and thus requires significantly less irrigation water than before. With increasing growth, the water requirement increases again.

Rubber trees are very easy on pruning. Regardless of whether you are cutting into fresh or old wood, they will reliably sprout again. Basically, the plant can be cut purely according to visual aspects or space. If the rubber tree is to become slimmer, the shoot is cut off completely. If it is to branch out further, it is shortened over a pair of leaves or a sleeping eye.

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