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How to Prune a Ficus Elastica

By Jay Golberg ; Updated September 21, 2017
A toy cow inside a Ficus elastica plant.

Ficus elastica is the scientific name for the rubber tree plant, a common houseplant. In the very southern tip of Florida, where it is not exposed to freezing temperatures, Ficus elastica is grown outdoors to 40 feet. In its native habitat of South America, it can grow to 100 feet tall. The leaves are long, up to 12 inches, and dark green with burgundy undersides. The plant grows well indoors in a brightly lit area away from cold or hot drafts. Fertilize the plant with a half-strength water-soluble fertilizer labeled for houseplants every two weeks. Allow Ficus elastica plants to dry out slightly between waterings.

Locate the Ficus elastica plants outside or over several sheets of newspaper before pruning. The plant oozes white latex from the wounds after it is cut that can drip on furniture or other furnishings. The sap can irritate the skin of sensitive individuals, so wear rubber gloves.

Decide what shape the Ficus elastica should be. You can prune it back to only one or two trunks and allow it to grow into a tree shape or prune into a bush or shrub shape. The bush or shrub shape is more commonly used for a houseplant because plants trained as trees can become rangy or spindly if growing indoors.

Prune the Ficus elastica into a bush or shrub shape by cutting the longest limbs first. Cut them back to the soil surface or to a main trunk or branch depending on where the limb originates. The limbs that need to be cut back first are longer than the other limbs, are unruly and give the plant an uneven look. Cut the next longest limbs back to a main branch or the soil level and continue in this way until the plant is the desired size. Stop between cuttings and look carefully before choosing the next limb to cut. The remaining limbs and foliage should give the plant a natural look.

Prune the Ficus elastica into a tree shape by cutting all the main trunks except the strongest and most vertical trunk or trunks at the soil level. Then, decide on the height of the tree and cut the main stem 1/4 inch above a leaf node or a swollen area where the leaves grow from the trunk. The Ficus elastica will put out new growth from that leaf node and the leaf nodes below that point, forming a tree-like shape. Keep the leaves from growing on the bottom two-thirds of the trunk while letting the top third fill out with leaves and limbs to keep the tree shape. If the tree is already at the desired height, simply prune off the limbs and leaves from the bottom two-thirds of the plant.

Allow the dripping sap on the plant to dry. Once it dries, the plant is ready to place back on display at the appropriate location.


Things You Will Need

  • Hand shears
  • Ficus elastica
  • Newspaper
  • Rubber gloves


  • If you make a mistake, don't worry. The Ficus elastica will recover with normal care.

About the Author


Jay Golberg is a certified Texas nursery professional and professional project manager. He has 30 years of business and farming experience and holds bachelor's degrees in English writing from St. Edward's University and finance from Lamar University.