Ficus: Rubber Plant
Numerous species and varieties of ficus are grown nowadays as greenhouse and room plants. By far the best known and most widely grown is the stylish Rubber Plant, Ficus elastica, and especially its variety decora. This last has dark red undersides to the young leaves and a pink sheath to the terminal bud. The bold, ovate leaves are of a dark green colour, glowing and handsome when the plant is in good condition. A comparative newcomer but not so easy to grow as well as F. e. decora is the variegated variety tricolor which has leaves marked with cream, pink and green, a pleasing com bination of colours. This must be given a lighter position than the ordinary green-leaved kinds. It is also a much slower growing variety, as is common with variegated plants.
A ficus of great charm is Ficus benjamina, with spreading, arched branches from which hang pointed, glossy green leaves to give the impression of a miniature weeping tree, hence its common name of Weeping Fig. Another choice ficus, but one which is harder to please than the Rubber Plant, is Ficus lyrata, the aptly named Fiddle-leaved Fig with large leaves of distinctive shape and a slightly paler green than the Rubber Plant. Two trailing kinds are the small-leaved, almost hardy Ficus pumila (syn. F. repens) and the larger-leaved F. radicans, which also has a silver-variegated form, F. r. variegata.
These plants should be potted or planted in February. March or April using John Innes No. 2 Potting Compost. Water should be given in only moderate quantities from October to March but freely at other times. In hot weather all ficuses will benefit if the paths and staging of the greenhouse are damped down to provide a more humid atmosphere. Creeping species like pumila and radicans are best planted in beds where the shoots can cling to walls or to mossed supports which can be kept damp. These ficuses need rather lower temperatures and a moister atmosphere than the others if they are to flourish.
For the rest, a temperature of 10 to 16°C. (50 to 60°F.) is suitable from October to April and 16 to 21 °C. (60 to 70°F.) for the remainder of the year.
All these ficuses are grown nowadays as house plants, in the case of Ficus elastica decora, very widely indeed, but it should be remembered that low or fluctuating temperatures and hot, stuffy conditions are likely to cause brown or yellow marks to appear on the foliage – and the same unwelcome result is likely to follow overwatering in winter. Another possible cause of trouble is over-potting which leads to stagnant root conditions and consequently leaf fall.
As the Rubber Plant ages it tends to lose its lower leaves and become rather leggy. A new plant can be made from the old plant by air. This is best done in the spring and summer when the weather is warm, for the plant is growing actively and rooting will therefore be quicker.
A diagonal cut, about 1-½ in. long, should be made in the stem about 9 to 12 in. from the tip. If necessary, one or two leaves should be removed so that this is possible. To keep the cut open a match stick can be inserted between the two surfaces. To assist good roots to develop at the cut surfaces the wound can be treated with a hormone rooting powder. The area is then surrounded with thoroughly moistened moss into which roots will develop. To keep the moss in a moist condition for some time it is necessary to enclose it in a piece of polythene film which is sealed at the top and bottom with string or raffia. The plant should be kept in a warm part of the greenhouse where the atmosphere is moist and watering should be carried out normally.
Inspect the layer occasionally for signs of root development, and when a good root system can be seen through the polythene the plant can be severed below the new roots. As the polythene covering is removed a mass of white roots will be seen twining among the moss. Care must be taken not to damage the young roots, which will be quite brittle.
Before the plant is potted the old piece of stem immediately below the roots should be cut off cleanly with a sharp knife. Potting may then be done without removing the moss and, depending on the size of the plant, a 5- or 6-in. pot can be used. John Innes No. 1 Potting Compost is suitable to use at this stage and it should be worked around the roots of the plant as it is held in position. The compost must be made firm around the roots without being rammed hard. Afterwards, a good watering may be given, and to help the plant establish itself quickly it should be stood in a warm, shaded part of the greenhouse. Bya plant in this way, a sizeable and attractive specimen is obtained in a very short period of time, which should be potted on as necessary.
When the lop of the old plant has been removed the dormant buds in the leaf axils will begin to develop and form sideshoots. When these have produced several leaves they, in turn, can be air layered. They will give rise to slightly smaller plants than an air layering from the main stem.
Leaf Bud Cuttings
Although air layering provides a few good plants fairly quickly more plants are obtained if leaf bud cuttings are taken in spring or summer. These consist of small pieces of stem each containing a bud and a leaf. They are placed singly in 2-in. pots containing a mixture of moist peat and coarse sand in equal parts. A propagating frame with a temperature of at least 21°C. (70°F.) is needed and the pots can be plunged in a bed of moist peat inside the frame. To prevent damage to the leaves from drips of condensation it is most important to wipe the glass covering of the frame each day. When the cuttings have rooted and the buds begin to develop they can be moved to 5-in. pots and be grown in a temperature of 16 to 18°C. (60 to 65°F.). John Innes No. 1 Potting Compost should be used for this potting, and the atmosphere around the new plants should be kept moist until they have become well established.