The Norfolk Pine - A Perfect Living Tree for the Holidays

If you're looking for the perfect potted Christmas tree, consider the Norfolk Pine. They have soft, compact needles, a naturally symmetrical shape and they come in a variety of sizes-small enough for a table-top display in the kitchen or hall, or large enough to be the focal point of a large room. Best of all, they are easy to grow, and make a beautiful indoor tree all year long.

Secrets to Success

Growing any plant successfully requires meeting its needs. Generally speaking, Norfolk Pines are easy to grow and are known to be fairly forgiving of less than ideal growing conditions.

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Temperature: They will not survive a harsh winter outdoors, but despite the fact that the Norfolk Pine hails from the South Pacific, it isn't terribly picky about temperature. Temperatures on their native Norfolk Island are in the temperate 65-75ºF range (summer) and 43-50ºF (winter), but these pines grow best on the cooler side of the range. Optimum daytime temperatures from spring to early autumn are in the 60-65ºF range, with somewhat cooler temperatures (not below 50ºF) at night. In the winter, they prefer temperatures around 50ºF (never below 40ºF).

Light: These pines are known to be tolerant of low light conditions, but prefer the bright, indirect or filtered light of a southern exposure. They will survive, but not thrive for a few years in low artificial light conditions (incandescent or fluorescent lighting in a home or office setting) provided they receive at least 16 hours of light per day. Because this plant has the tendency to bend toward the light, turn it often to maintain symmetrical growth.

Water: During the active growing period (spring to autumn) pines should be watered regularly to keep soil thoroughly moist but not saturated. In the summer, soil should not be allowed to dry out. In the winter, water sparingly after soil has been allowed to dry out. Many experts recommend using rain water that has been allowed to sit (outgas) for 24 hours when misting or watering Norfolk Pines. This is good advice if you have hard water, as lime will mark the tender needles.

Feeding: These are slow growing evergreens so don't expect to see big growth spurts from your Norfolk Pine. In the wild, they grow up to 200 ft. tall, but when kept as a houseplant, they will reach a maximum height somewhere around 5 ft. Feed them every two to three weeks during the active season with a soluble house plant food, and back off the fertilizer in the winter until new growth appears again in spring.

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Humidity: Keeping the humidity levels at optimal levels is probably the most challenging aspect of caring for Norfolk Pines. They are one of the few types of houseplants that actually prefer to be misted with cool water. This becomes especially important in cold climates, where indoor air becomes dry during winter heating. Lack of sufficient humidity will cause the tips of their branches to turn brown and needles to drop off. This is important because once the tips of the branches turn brown, growth will stop from that point. Once the needles fall off, they don't grow back. Mist them regularly with cool water (especially in winter). If the air in your home is dry, try increasing the humidity around your Norfolk Pine by setting the pot in a shallow tray filled with water and pebbles. You can also use an air humidifier or if you keep fish, place it in the room near your aquarium.

Pruning: Any time you prune a Norfolk Pine, keep in mind that you will stop growth at the point of pruning. For this reason, only prune when you need to remove dead branches or brown tips. When left to grow in their natural state, Norfolk Pines will naturally shed some of their lower branches as they grow. Increasing the humidity will slow this process, but expect to see your pine shed a few branches over time.

Repotting: Keeping your pine root bound will restrict its growth and keep it to a manageable size. Still, Norfolk Pines should be repotted every 3-4 years in the spring. Use a loam-based commercial potting soil, or a home-made mix with plenty of drainage.

Propagation: Seeds can be sown in the spring, but Norfolk Pines are difficult to propagate and take a long time to reach a transplantable size. It is best to buy young plants.

Signs of Trouble

Brown tips on the ends of branches and excessive needle loss are probably signaling a lack of moisture. Make sure soil is kept moist, but not saturated and increase humidity around the plant with frequent mists of cool water. Plants that have too much water will exhibit yellow or brown clumps of needles that fall off with the slightest amount of movement. Back off on watering and check to see that the pot has enough drainage.

Norfolk Pine pests include mealy bugs and scale. Symptoms of mealy bugs include small, cotton-like patches or sooty mold. The best way to get rid of a mealy bug infestation is disrupt the bug's reproductive cycle. This can be done by spraying plants with an all natural insecticide over a period of weeks. These are readily available at most garden centers and nurseries.

Scale infestations appear either as red or brown bumps, or cotton-like patches along the stems at leaf and branch nodes. They can be controlled by drying them out with an application of rubbing alcohol or applying a horticultural oil directly onto the insects to suffocate them.

Decorating Norfolk Pines for the Holidays

Keep the decorations small and lightweight. To avoid stressing the plant, keep an eye on soil moisture and make sure to remove any ornaments quickly after the holidays. If your decorating your pine with lights, make sure to use bulbs that are cool. Lights that run hot may dry out and permanently damage tender needles, causing them to turn brown or fall off. Consider lightweight paper ornaments or garlands made from popcorn and dried fruit for a more natural look. When the holidays pass, return to a winter care regime until new growth appears in the spring.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is our Green Living and Gardening Expert. Click here to ask Ellen a question! Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com

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August 12, 20060 found this helpful

The Norfolk pine we have is on our Lanai in Florida and is subject to the Florida temperatures...it is about 7 feet tall and has another one coming up that is about 4 feet tall. The pot is about 12 to 14 inch diameter.

We water with water that has set out for 24 hours or more to release chlorine etc. I use Miracle grow to fertilize it

However the plantis suffering from brown "leaves" and they are falling off regularly.

What do we need to do?

dennyinstlouis@aol.com

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December 6, 20070 found this helpful

We had one. It was my mom's when she passed. We put it outside ever summer, soon as it got warm, (named it Noel). After about 15 years it got so large, we did not put it out one year, and Noel got very upset. I called my favorite greenhouse expert, Joe, and he told me that, because we did not put Noel outside she got mad. She started to droop her lovely branches big time . SO the next year we put her out, but she did not perk up. ended up giving her to my friend Mouse, and Noel is now happy and not drooping!

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November 3, 20160 found this helpful

Just a little note about norfolks, mine is 20 feet tall, and is indoors.

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