I want to trim my rubber tree because it is too tall, but many of the leaves have fallen off. Now, there are only a few leaves left, and they are all at the top.

I water it about once per week and fertilize about every 3 months using 19-6-12 Osmocote smart-release plant food. I live in Seattle, WA, so it has been inside about October-April, and I just moved it outside.

Also, instead of cutting off the branch, I was going propagate the trimmed section into a separate plant using air-layering. But where should I cut it?

I think the plant hasn't been doing very well because it lost a lot of leaves over the winter while indoors. I just moved it outside, so I hope to strengthen its stores before beginning the trimming/air-layering process.

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here


I think I will follow @stormy's and @Bamboo's advice by doing the following:

  • repot the plant and only use distilled water.
  • cut down the mainstem to the highest lateral, and propagate it
  • air layering on the side of the longest remaining lateral and propagate it

Does anyone have suggestions about the timing of these tasks? Here is my schedule: I repot first, wait 3-4 weeks, cut mainstem and propagate, wait 1-2 weeks, air-layer and propagate.

Also, just to be sure, where should I cut the mainstem and where should I perform the air layering on the longest remaining lateral? Here is a labelled photo of my plan:

enter image description here


First, let me just say that you should not leave your rubber plant outdoors all night if you haven't hardened it off first - it needs to be acclimatized gradually, over a week or so, before its outdoors all the time, if its warm enough where you live for one of these to be outdoors during summer.

The plant as it stands is markedly unattractive because of the leaf loss and damaged leaves. I note there is a single main stem with two lateral stems, and because of its general appearance, I would be drastic and cut down the mainstem to the highest lateral, then use the small amount of growth on the top of the stem you've removed as a cutting, rather than air layering. Air layering can be a very slow process, up to two years sometimes, and in the meantime, you're looking at a plant with lots of bare stem and all the growth on top, with a plastic baggy attached to the side of the stem. Instructions as to how to do a cutting are in the link below, but basically, you need a cutting about 6-8 inches long, strip off the lower leaves, use hormone rooting powder if you have it and plant it into a pot with dampened, good potting compost, then cover with a plastic bag or similar to keep the moisture in and stop the cutting drying out.


Feed the main plant after pruning back. The lowest lateral branch does have many damaged leaves, and you may want to consider cutting that branch off later on, when new growth has been generated elsewhere.

UPDATED ANSWER - In light of a comment below, and having thought about it, maybe you could follow the route I've outlined, but try your air layering on the side of the longest remaining lateral (side branch) - that way, you've got two chances of creating a new plant, the cutting and the air layering. Given you've said it's too tall, it's only going to get taller this summer, with all the growth on the tops of the stems, so pruning some of the height off seems to be a good idea, and you might as well use the leafy growth as a cutting anyway.

| improve this answer | |
  • Agreed about the unsightliness of air layering. However, the chances of success are considerably higher with layering than rooting a cutting because the mother plant is sustaining the branch being layered. – Jim Young Apr 16 '16 at 18:36
  • Maybe that's true, I personally couldn't bear looking at the plant as it is now, never mind with a plastic baggy stuck on the side for who knows how long, and with ever increasing growth only at the tops of the stems - I'd rather risk a cutting. – Bamboo Apr 16 '16 at 18:38
  • @Bamboo Thank you for the answer. I updated my question to clarify my plan moving forward, such as the specific cut locations and the timing of each process. Would you be able to confirm whether my plan seems reasonable? – modulitos Apr 17 '16 at 10:37
  • 1
    @Lucas - yes, confirmed, with one exception - don't leave that spur at the bottom on the mainstem you're removing, cut down to just about where the lateral on the left (in the picture) is, at an angle, to leave a clean cut. Use clean and sharp secateurs... – Bamboo Apr 17 '16 at 12:48
  • @Bamboo I finally performed the cut, and I planted the cutting for propagation. Would you be able to offer any advice or suggestions about how to ensure that I performed the cutting properly? I posted a question here: gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/26967/… – modulitos Jun 30 '16 at 7:50

Bamboo is correct but I just have to add your plant is suffering from high salts in your soil. Stop using tap water. I'd either flush this pot with lots and lot of water or better yet use good potting soil and replant this guy. Also it could use more light. Put it on the porch if the porch is in complete shade, no direct sun. Only water when the soil dries. And use distilled water or rain water. Tap water is too full of salts. The burning on the edges is the key. What are you doing for soil and fertilizing and watering?

| improve this answer | |
  • Yes, I've been using tap water and the soil is still wet 1 week later. There is lots of water in the catch tray too. For fertilizer, I am using 19-6-12 Osmocote smart-release plant food (the little yellow spheres). Perhaps I should repot, wait 1-2 weeks for the plant to get healthier, then propagate/air-layer? What kind of soil do your recommend? I am currently using Scott's Hyponex Potting Soil, and then I plan to follow a guide like this. – modulitos Apr 17 '16 at 2:44
  • 1
    Well, if your soil is still wet 1 week later and there is water in that saucer there is too much water!! Water only when the soil gets dry, at least 1 to 2 inches deep. Pour that water out of the saucer. Definitely repot using plain old cheap old potting soil. Or use a more expensive soil that includes bacteria and mycorrhizae! No fertilizer, no water holding gells...main thing is that the soil is sterile. Then you could add decomposed organic mulch from time to time on the top of the soil or packaged bacteria and mycorrhizae. Stay away from companies like Scott's or Ortho. Dr. Earth? – stormy Apr 18 '16 at 21:36
  • 1
    How often are you fertilizing? With Osmocote, you should only be adding the correct amount twice a year. Tap water has lots of salts, chlorine, fluorine...ugh. You shouldn't be drinking that stuff! Use distilled water and allow to dry between watering! If you have cats make sure they don't nibble on this plant, very poisonous. Find a sunnier spot for this plant, not direct sun but lots of light where you actually have to squint when you come into the space. I've always taken my house plants out to a covered porch for the summer. No direct sun as you'll have to acclimatize them 4winter – stormy Apr 18 '16 at 21:41

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.