CERTIFIED TEXAS EXPERT GARDENER — Bring Norfolk Island Pine home for holidays

Published 12:04 am Saturday, December 16, 2023

The needled branches of Norfolk Island Pine trees (Araucaria heterophylla) are beautiful and look right at home during the holidays.

Easily decorated with lights and ornaments, these trees become “living” Christmas trees. After the holiday season has passed, remove the decorations and enjoy their stately, classic look anywhere in your home that has bright light.

Norfolk Island Pine trees are not deciduous, maintaining needles year-round, except when the tree is stressed. They are evergreen conifers and while they resemble other pine tree varieties, not “true” pine trees.

The trees are tropical with their native habitat originating in the South Pacific Islands of New Zealand, Australia and New Caledonia.

Grown indoors the tree is slow growing but can easily grow to 8 or 10 feet within a few years. While small, the tree makes a wonderful accent to a kitchen counter, Livingroom end table, or mantle.

As the tree grows larger, it is better situated as a floor plant used as a stand-alone focal point, to fill bright corners or flank large furniture. If faster growth is the goal, move the Norfolk Island Pine tree outdoors to a site, which receives morning sunlight, but protected from afternoon sunlight.

The tree is tropical and all danger of frost must have passed before relocating the tree outdoors but also make certain to return it indoors before our initial SETX frost.

The Norfolk Island Pine tree enjoys growing in our homes when it receives medium to bright light. One of the most important things to remember is the plants light requirement-the less light it receives, the slower the tree will grow.

Avoid low light situations since the tree will not perform well if it doesn’t receive enough light, becoming flimsy, unsightly and lanky.

The watering requirements for Norfolk Island Pine trees are straightforward, they like evenly moist soil but do not like “wet feet” where the roots are standing in water.

The tree’s roots will rot quickly if they remain standing in water. If the plant remains dry for long periods, the tips of its branches will die, turning brown. Fertilize the tree twice annually once during the spring and again during the summer months, or more often if you prefer faster growth.

Norfolk Island pines are low maintenance plants for the most part but do require some care. Use the following tips to maintain a beautiful tree almost effortlessly, year after year.

Tips for growing Norfolk Island Pine Trees:

Growing Medium – if the tree was purchased during the holidays, remove the festive colored wrap once the holidays have passed, they retain too much water, and the tree will suffer from root rot. Repot the plant with a good quality, peat based potting soil mix adding perlite, sand, pebbles, or bark for increased drainage. Choose a new pot with substantial drainage holes at the bottom of the pot to ensure adequate drainage.

Light Requirement – for the Norfolk Island Pine tree to flourish indoors, make certain they receive enough light. Direct sunlight can severely damage the tree. Place the tree near a south-facing window as bright, indirect light is best.

Root Care – Norfolk Island pines are highly susceptible to root rot. If the needles begin to brown or the tree limbs wilt, immediately look at the tree’s roots as this is preventable with the correct soil mix. If root rot is noticed, remove the clumpy, rotten roots and rinse thoroughly with clean water and repot the remainder of the root system in a soil mixture, which provides increased drainage.

Fertilizer Application – provide them with the extra boost of fertilization half as often as you would with other plants. Keep in mind young Norfolk Island pines want to grow — and grow very tall. While these tropical plants are slow growers, if the tree begins reaching heights beyond what is manageable, it may be time to consider pruning.

Pruning – the pruning process is simple and consists of cutting the tree down to a desirable height, discarding the top portion, and allowing it to grow again from that point. Consider trimming the upper branches and leaving the lower branches intact for a more natural look.

Pests – Norfolk Island Pine trees are susceptible to the same insect assailants as any other house or garden plants. Utilize insecticidal soaps or pesticides as necessary depending on pest infestation: aphids, mealybugs, etc. and following insecticide use guidelines.

Propagation – propagation of the tree is possible through planting of seeds or cuttings. Seeds should be purchased rather than from the tree itself. Cuttings must be taken from the tree’s trunk (center)—as limb cuttings will not propagate.

Watering – these trees prefer to stay slightly moist and can tolerate the soil becoming just a tiny bit dry on the surface, but don’t let it dry out too much. This plant will become ‘fussy’ if it doesn’t receive consistent, ample moisture and will show its disdain by dropping lower branches.

Humidity – Norfolk Island pines enjoy high humidity levels (greater than 50 percent), which is challenging to achieve indoors during the winter months. Utilizing a humidifier or grouping with other plants is mutually beneficial (due to transpiration). Note: misting plants (contrary to popular belief) does note increase humidity levels.

So long for now fellow gardeners. Let’s go out and grow ourselves a greener, more sustainable world, one plant at a time.

Send Certified Texas Expert Gardener John Green your questions and please continue sending comments to jongreene57@gmail.com.