How to Care for an Indoor Norfolk Island Pine Tree

Norfolk Pine tree is also called star pine tree. Its botanical name is Araucaria Heterophylla and you know it better as a living Christmas tree.  The plant prefers bright light for a few hours on a daily basis. The length of the tree depends on you, as you can grow the plant indoor as a tabletop arrangement or as a tree in a corner. It is a slow grower but over the years it can achieve quite a height.  The plant thrives amazingly well in bright light, however, be careful as not to dry the soil. If you have tall ceilings, then only go for a tree-like arrangement as Norfolk pine can really grow taller.  It is not a true pine and if you are buying it, it needs to make sure that the plant has more than three trunks. Multiple trunks help the plant to look dense and not leggy as it grows.

The plant cannot be pruned without ruining its symmetrical shape. It is an interesting fact to note that the plant’s native habitat is coastal areas where the sea winds are prevalent and can contort even the most flexible of branches but this plant withstand them and out of all, it is the symmetry that makes it much coveted.Norfolk Island Pine Tree

The Norfolk Island pine tree needles are poisonous for pets and kids. If ingested, these can cause stomach problems.  The plant is called ‘living’ Christmas tree because they resemble a Christmas tree and you can have them all year round! You don’t have to show them the way outside once the festive season is over. Instead, you can have them as a houseplant, which is revered all over the world for its pleasing and exotic appearance. You can find the distribution of the plant alongside Mediterranean coastal area and subtropical humid regions. Since it is a coastal plant, it grows quite well in deep sand. It can withstand winds and saltiness of the water.

As stated the plant can’t survive the frost and cold regions of North America and Europe, making it unfit to grow outdoors, it has been observed that a few specimens can survive in the Northern gardens.

The triangular and symmetrical shape of the plant is very prominent during the young age. As the plant matures, it starts losing out on its shape.   The species is grown commercially as houseplants and isn’t treated as a threatened or endangered species. However, the natural strands of the species were restricted for exports and commercial usage and in fact, much reduced since Captain James Cook discovered it first in the year 1774.  It is mainly due to poor land management and invasive species that the natural Norfolk Island pine tree has become so rare.

An Overview for Indoor Norfolk Island Pine Tree:

A Norfolk Island tree isn’t a true pine or share any trait of a pine tree, in fact. It isn’t hardy or true pine at all. They are lot closer to orchids or gardenia in terms of care and habitat than a pine. Norfolk Island is a tropical plant and can’t tolerate temperature below 1 degree Celsius. This is why, in colder area, it becomes important to move the plant inside once the temperature starts dipping. High humidity is a prerequisite to keep the plant thriving and flourishing. Light and water are also important criteria to ensure the well-being of the plant.

As opposed to the contrary belief, Norfolk Pine tree isn’t a native to Virginia, Colorado, Mississippi or England.  The plant originates from Norfolk Island of South Pacific. The native habitat of the plant lets it grow about 200 feet and sometimes the cones of the plant can be as large as 15 pounds. The plant isn’t a pine either. It is a coniferous perennial and it can grow in areas of hardiness zone 11.  The plant is frost-intolerant and can’t take too much heat either.Norfolk Island Pine Tree Growing

However, if you can create a compatible habitat, it can survive away from its native habitat.

It prefers the bright source of light with at least 50% of humidity levels.

However, you need to pay attention to the container you would plant it in as the plant is a slow grower but can be very large over the years. It doesn’t like to be repotted due to its fragile root structure. It needs to be planted in well-drained and moist soil. Waterlogged soil can cause root rot in the plant. You don’t have to fertilize it much but if you do, it should be 50% diluted of the recommended level.  Bring the plant indoors if the temperature dips below 50degrees at night.

The evergreen foliage, upright and pyramidal shape gives it a gorgeous appearance.  In the U.S., the plant can only grow outdoors but gardeners have achieved success in planting it indoors too by following strict care regimen and mimicking the natural habitat. The Department of Agriculture plant has given it out a rating of hardiness zone 10 and 11.  The plant doesn’t like to be repotted early and it should be repotted only once in 4 or 5 years.

Norfolk Island Pine Tree Care:

Light:

Bright yet indirect light is required for the plant. However, the plant thrives better in a few hours of sun. If the plant is shedding its lower branches, it implies that it isn’t getting enough light.  Keep rotating the plant regularly to let it get light on a regular basis.

Water:

Since the plant stays in light, the water intake should be much higher than the normal to avoid dryness of the soil. It is recommended to keep the plant moist all the time. The dryness of the soil can be guessed by brittle and grey fronds. However, if you aren’t regular with the water regimen, the pine tree needles will turn yellow.  The pine doesn’t like to be waterlogged because too much water can cause root rot. Care Indoor Norfolk Island Pine Tree

To avoid overwatering, you can water the plant when the top layer of the soil starts drying. Don’t water the leaves. Water the soil and make sure excess water is drained.

Since it is a coastal plant, it can tolerate a fair amount of salt in water as well as when you fertilize it. However, you shouldn’t over fertilize it or let the salt amount build up in the plant. This is to indicate that the tolerance level for salt and wind is quite high for the plant due to its natural survival traits.

Fertilizer:

The plant requires a balanced plant food, diluted to half the recommended strength. The plant should be fertilized on every alternate week of summer, spring and fall.  Water-based fertilizers work wonder with Norfolk Island pines.  Don’t feed the plant with fertilizer in winters.

Temperature:

Norfolk Island Pine Tree prefers cooler temperatures of about 16-24°C.

Humidity:

A Norfolk Island pine tree doesn’t like to be kept near the source of dry air. Keep it away from cold drafts and vents. If you observe the unusual falling of pine needles, it could be because of dry air.

Pests:

Apart from mealy bugs, nothing much bother Norfolk Island pine tree. You can recognize these pesky bugs from the white and cotton-like residue.

Container:

The pine doesn’t grow much over the years. Hence, don’t repot it unless absolutely necessary, which might take 4-5 years before you do.

Pruning:

The pine doesn’t need pruning because it can take away the symmetry of the tree. You can consider removing any dead leaves and branches from the plant.  Propagation: The propagation of seeds happens via seeds. If you want to start anew with the Norfolk Island plant that is leggy and thing as it is growing up, it is advised that you cut off the top most part of the trunk by 4”.  Yes, to get rid of the straggly nature of the plant, you might have to remove its star-shaped symmetry that gives the plant its Christmas –feel and earned it its nickname, star pine! Once you are through with pruning, you need to put it in a small container that has rich and moist yet well-drained soil.

Leaves:

The plant is a classic case study of heterophylla or different leaves as there is a noticeable difference between young and old leaves. The old leaves are about 2-4mm broad and long whereas the young leaves are awl-shaped and up to 1.5 cm long. The young leaves are often found at the base of the tree and are curved inwards in the beginning.

Cones:

The cones of Norfolk Island pine are in the upper crown and in globose form. They are in 12-14 cm in diameter. The cones take about 18 months to mature. Once mature, the cones erupt and release edible seeds.

Tips for Festive Decoration with Norfolk Pine Tree:Norfolk Island Pine Tree Decoration

  • Since Norfolk Island pine also happens to be “living” Christmas tree and one is bound to lit it more with all those lights, which can eventually dry the plant furthermore. Hence, it is better to keep a check on plant’s moisture.
  • Since the pine needles of the plant are poisonous, it is better to keep them away from kids and pets.
  • You can find a large number of Norfolk Island pine trees for sale in South Florida during the month of November. As Christmas approaches, the houseplant industry becomes abuzz with this living Christmas tree and in order to make their tree look appealing and attractive, they coat it with light green color. However, this results in the death of pine plants as they can’t-do photosynthesis properly. Moreover, in areas like Subtropical Florida and in some regions of southern USA deserts, the pine plants can fall due to storm or lightning and hence, it is prohibited to plant them.
  • The timber of the plant is used by Hawaiian artists for craft work and woodwork with a similar plant, Cook pine.

 

Your Questions. Our Answers about Norfolk Pine Tree

My pine is doing fine if you talk about the topmost part of it. It is the bottom part that is bugging me off as it keeps falling off and dying. It is in a sunny spot and yet it keeps on dying.

The bottom part of the plant keeps dying due to poor lighting. If the top part of your pine is alright, it suggests that the lighting can only reach its upper part. It is very important to understand the tendency of falling off of the lower branches because once they have fallen off, they never grow back. The only way out to let the Island pine not look leggy and spindly after the falling of lower branches is to cut the 4” off the top part and plant in a new container.

I want to re-plant my Norfolk Island tree as it is touching the ceiling now. Shall I cut its tip for a new plant?

Yes, you can if you are willing to risk the star-shaped top part of it!  Hence, it is better to cut the plant just where the tip of its new growth is.  The new growth usually happens around the star-shaped foliage. Place this growth in the small pot and let it settle. The new growth should be placed in a plastic bag for as long as it develops roots. However, the old plant would never look the same but you have a new plant to flaunt of.

Can I keep my Norfolk Island pine tree outside?

Though the plant is versatile and evergreen, it needs specific requirements to comply with in order to flourish outdoors. Bright light, well-drained, and moist soil, as well as optimum temperatures, is the pre-requisites, to begin with.

The needles of the pine tree are turning brown! Help!

The needles of pine tree turn brown when the air is dry. Make sure you haven’t placed the container anywhere near vents or heating source. The humidity around plant should also be maintained. You can keep the plant under a wet pebble tray or create a mini greenhouse effect for it by keeping a group of likewise plants together and placing a mini room humidifier nearby. Usually people try to place the plant in water but that’s the worst mistake that could happen to it as the plant can finally wilt and die due to root rot.