Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > October 2015 > NORFOLK ISLAND PINES


This attractive houseplant is the only true indoor conifer, although it is not a true pine, and so it has become popular as a living Christmas tree.  It is easy to grow, and doesn’t entail the risks of fire, the mess of dropping needles, and the loss of prized family ornaments when the dog tries to drink from a tree stand’s water reservoir.  The shade-grown, soft-needled houseplant looks very different from the sixty to 200-foot tall pine as it grows in the tropics.  If you’ve traveled in southern Florida or other subtropical areas where this plant is used in the landscape, you’ve seen these towering dark green spears against the sky spotted around a neighborhood, their bases planted next to tiny ranch houses...they must not blow over in hurricanes, as each one would take out at least three homes!  When grown inside, the upper branches of the Norfolk Island pine tend to grow out and slightly downward, losing the narrow conical shape that is its natural habit.
Araucaria heterophylla is not winter hardy in our area, although many people confuse Norfolk Island with Norfolk, Virginia.  Norfolk Island is in the South Pacific Ocean, between Australia and New Zealand.  It has a subtropical climate, and the Norfolk Island pine prefers temperatures between 55ºF and 75ºF, although tolerant of our summer heat.  The more direct sun, the better, as this will help the plant grow in a more “Christmas Tree-like” shape, so an east or west facing window will work best, a south facing window possibly being too hot and dry.  The lower the light level, the more elongated the upper branches become, causing the plant to take on a more umbrella-like shape.
Allow the soil to dry slightly between thorough waterings, never allowing the roots to sit in the run-off water.  The Norfolk Island pine has a relatively small root system for its height, so it should only require transplanting into a larger container every three to four years or so (the exception being those in small 4” or 6” diameter pots which may need repotting more frequently.)  Rotate the pot one quarter turn monthly to maintain its symmetrical shape as the plant will tend to grow toward a light source.  If you choose to decorate the pine for Christmas or any other occasion, use small, light weight ornaments, being careful to avoid cutting through the branches with wire hangers.
We often hear from customers whose pine, after many years, has outgrown their home.  Cutting the top out of a Norfolk Island pine may cause it to grow back in an undesirable fashion, the new growth possibly shooting off to the side as opposed to straight upward.  I recommend they donate the plant to a school, church, or nursing home with a large lobby space.  And there’s always E-bay or Craigslist!    
Posted: 10/30/2015 by Margot | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: MargotGunn, TheGreatIndoors
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