Growing Norfolk Island Pine Trees – Norfolk Island Pine Care Tips
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By: Heather Rhoades
Norfolk Island pine trees (Araucaria heterophylla) are commonly used as those cute, little houseplant Christmas trees that you can buy around the holidays, but then the holidays end and you are left with a seasonally dated, living plant. Just because your Norfolk pine is no longer needed as a holiday plant doesn’t mean that you need to abandon it in the trash. These plants make wonderful houseplants. This leads people to ask how to care for a Norfolk Island pine houseplant.
Care of a Norfolk Island Pine Plant
Growing a Norfolk Island pine as a houseplant starts with realizing a few important things about Norfolk pines. While they may share the name and even resemble a pine tree, they are not true pines at all, nor are they as hardy as the standard pine tree that people are accustomed to. In terms of proper Norfolk pine tree care, they are more like a gardenia or orchid than a pine tree.
First thing to keep in mind with the care of Norfolk pines is that they are not cold hardy. They are a tropical plant and cannot tolerate temperatures below 35 F. (1 C.). For many parts of the country, the Norfolk Island pine tree cannot be planted outside year round. It also needs to be kept away from cold drafts.
The second thing to understand about indoor Norfolk pine care is that, being a tropical plant, they need high humidity. Paying attention to humidity is very important in the winter when the indoor humidity normally falls significantly. Keeping the humidity high around the tree will help it thrive. This can be done by either using a pebble tray with water, using a humidifier in the room, or through a weekly misting of the tree.
Another part of the care for a Norfolk Island pine plant is to make sure that the plant gets enough light. Norfolk pine trees prefer several hours of direct, bright light, such as the type of light that can be found in a south-facing window, but they will also tolerate full indirect, bright light as well.
Water your Norfolk Island pine when the top of the soil feels dry to the touch. You can fertilize your Norfolk pine in the spring and summer with a water soluble balanced fertilizer, but you do not need to fertilize in the fall or winter.
It is normal for Norfolk Island pine trees to have some browning on the bottom branches. But, if the brown branches seem to be high on the plant or if they can be found all over the tree, this is a sign that the plant is either overwatered, underwatered, or is not getting enough humidity.
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Read more about Norfolk Pines
What is the lowest temperature a Norfolk pine can tolerate?
The Norfolk pine tree (Araucaria heterophylla) isn't a true pine. In fact, while most true pines tolerate freezing temperatures, this South Pacific region native prefers warmer climates, including those found in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and 11.
Beside above, can you plant a Norfolk pine outdoors? The trees thrive outside in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and 11. In these warm zones, you can grow Norfolk Island pine in the garden. Acidic is best but the tree tolerates slightly alkaline soil too. When the trees grow outside, rainfall meets most of their water needs.
In this way, can I put my Norfolk pine outside in the summer?
One, in particular, is a Norfolk Island Pine. We have always put this outside in the summer and brought it in, in the winter. Tropical houseplants thrive outdoors in the heat and humidity of our summers (provided they are watered) and often grow quite large.
Why is my Norfolk pine dying?
Norfolk Island Pines require very bright light, even some direct sun. Bottom branches fall off when a Norfolk Island Pine doesn't get enough light. Yellow needles on a Norfolk Island Pine can indicate that the soil is too wet or too dry. If the soil gets completely dry, entire fronds turn gray and brittle.
Use these instructions to care for a Norfolk Pine. This guide will tell you how to water a Norfolk Pine its light, temperature, humidity preferences and any additional care it might need to help it grow.
Your Norfolk Pine can adapt to different light situations, it prefers bright light. If possible, give your plant a few hours of direct bright sunlight each day. The less light your plant receives, the more it will stretch out and reach for the light.
Water your Norfolk Pine when the top 50% of the soil is dry. Water until liquid flows through the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot and discard any water that has accumulated in the saucer. If the plant stays too dry, the tips of its branches will turn brown and crispy.
Your Norfolk Pine will appreciate a boost in humidity during the winter months. You can increase humidity for your Norfolk Pine by misting regularly or using a pebble tray.
Your Norfolk Pine prefers average room temperatures between 65-75 degrees. Norfolk Pines hate hot or cold drafts when grown indoors. Protect your plant from heating or cooling vents, and don’t keep them next to drafty doors or windows.
Feed your Norfolk Pine once a month during spring and summer with a general-purpose fertilizer diluted to half the recommended strength. No fertilizer is necessary during the winter when plant growth naturally slows.
Mildly toxic to pets. Ingestion will cause mouth and stomach irritation with possible vomiting.
If you wish to stimulate faster growth from your Norfolk Pine, move it outdoors to a shaded or partially shaded spot during the summer. Because it’s a tropical tree, wait until all danger of frost has passed before moving it out, and bring it back in before the first frost in fall.
Norfolk Island pines are not true pines they are members of a pre-historic family of conifers Araucariaceae, an incredibly diverse and widespread plant family during the Jurassic and Cretaceous time periods. The end of the Cretaceous period saw not only the extinction of the dinosaurs, but the extinction of members of the Araucariaceae family in the northern hemisphere. However, in the southern hemisphere, members of the Araucariaceae family continued to thrive. Today there are three genera—Agathis, Arucaria, and Wollemia—with a combined total of 41 species.
Norfolk Island, where this tree hails from, is located in the South Pacific between Australia, New Zealand, and New Caledonia. The flag of this Australian territory actually features the Norfolk Island pine. While sold here in the states as tabletop Christmas trees, in their native habitat these plants can incredibly reach 200 feet tall and have trunks that swell to 10 feet in diameter! In Florida these trees typically grow to only 60 to 80 feet.
This mature Norfolk Island pine in a New Zealand park is so tall, the people standing next to tree look like ants.
While not true pines, their tiered branches, slender pyramidal or columnar shape, and narrow evergreen leaves appear pine-like. Norfolk Island pines have a single upright trunk and occasionally develop a graceful lean. These trees are tropical plants that thrive on humidity and can't tolerate temperatures below 35°, so Orlando is the approximate northern range of this plant. Naturally found in coastal areas, it is no surprise that these plants have a high salt tolerance.
How to Keep a Norfolk Pine Alive
The Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) can loom 200 feet tall on its native island, but seldom grows higher than 10 feet in containers. It is not actually a pine and perennial only in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and 11. Although this "pine" towers too much -- and has too weak a root system -- for planting in the ground, it's frequently sold as a potted Christmas tree. Fortunately, it adapts well to indoor conditions after the holidays.
Remove any ornaments from the Norfolk pine, and place it within four feet of a large, cool window that faces either south or east. Make sure it gets partial sunlight or plenty of bright, indirect light.
Water the pine only when the top 1 inch of soil is dry. Dump out any water that drains into the pot's saucer, as it can cause root rot.
Position the pine in a grouping with other plants to raise humidity levels. Mist the tree once a day with rainwater or spring water.
Give the pine's pot a one-quarter turn once a week, to keep it growing relatively straight. Add a plant stake to the pot to keep the trunk from leaning, if necessary.
Fertilize the Norfolk Island pine once a month from March to November with a fertilizer made for acid-loving plants. Apply the fertilizer according to the directions on the label. Do not fertilize it during the winter.
Prune only to remove dead branches or brown tips, as cutting does not encourage new growth on this tree. Place the tree outdoors during the summer, either in light shade or where it gets only morning sun.
Repot the pine only every two years or so, as its single tap root resents disturbance. Replace the top few inches of soil every year instead of repotting, once the tree reaches 3 feet tall.
Watch for mealybugs and scale insects on the branches or orange needles -- which generally indicate spider mites. Spray the tree, if you see any of these signs, with an ultrafine horticultural oil and water solution - -usually about 2 percent oil mixed with 98 percent water. Keep the tree out of the sun until the spray dries. Treat the tree again with the same oil and water solution one week later.