The reader would be forgiven for not understanding why this is a big deal, but one of the troubles with Ficus elastica indoors is that they're reluctant to branch, so after you've had one a while, it often looks like a single tall thin stick with a tuft of leaves at the top. Even pruning -- which ordinarily causes plants to branch -- won't necessarily do it: it's common for an indoor-grown Ficus elastica to respond to the removal of a growing tip with . . . the production of a single new growing tip.
So I was pretty pleased to discover a spontaneous branch on my plant:
Granted, this is not going to do much to fill in the base -- as you can see, the plant's lost all the leaves down there -- but I figure it can't hurt, and I didn't have to do anything, so I'm happy.
In general, to get a Ficus elastica (or F. lyrata) to branch, the best way to do it is to let it spend a few months outside. It may also help to cut the stem back and/or move it up to a slightly larger pot first, though that's not strictly necessary. There are four things to keep in mind about letting your plant go outside for a season, though:
- The leaves can sunburn, so don't put it into full sun right away; keep it in a shady spot to begin with, and gradually introduce it to more and more light.
- When you bring it back in, it will likely drop some leaves as it re-acclimates to the lower light in your home.
- It will be much thirstier outside than it was inside.
- Check for bugs before you bring the plant in.