Norfolk Pines

Ken Johnson

In addition to poinsettias, Christmas cactus and amaryllis, a plant we often see during the holidays is the Norfolk pine (Araucaria heterophylla). Despite their name these evergreens are not actually pine trees. Instead, they belong to an ancient plant family named Araucariaceae (pines are in the Pinaceae family), which was widespread during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

Norfolk pines are native to Norfolk Island, which is located in the South Pacific between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. In their native habitat they can reach heights of up to 200 feet and have trunks up to 10 feet in diameter.

As with most houseplants, in order to get the most out of your Norfolk pine you want to mimic their native environment as closely as possible. They typically grow in coastal areas, which are humid areas. Our homes tend to be dry, especially in winter so it is important to take steps to increase the humidity around your plant. One way to do this is to fill a saucer with rocks and water and place the plant on top of it. This will create a microclimate of high humidity around it. If you have quite a few plants consider using a humidifier to increase humidity. Not only will your plants appreciate the humidity it can also help prevent spider mite outbreaks. One of the most common problems with Norfolk pines is needle drop. This occurs because the plants have been exposed to dry air or dry soil.

When it comes to water, allow the soil to dry out between watering. If the plant is overwatered it can lead to the loss of branches. Water your plant until water begins to flow out of the pots drainage holes. After about 15 minutes discard the water that has drained from the pot. A diluted liquid houseplant fertilizer can be used every two weeks while they are growing, they often don’t grow much during the winter so there is no need to fertilize.

Norfolk pines enjoy bright indirect light. They can tolerate lower light conditions if they are acclimated over a period of time to the lower light levels. If plants are not allowed to acclimate to lower light levels entire branches may die. In low light conditions the branches will become long and droopy growth will slow. If your plant is only getting light from one direction, make sure to rotate the pot a quarter turn every week so it continues to grow straight. Often times these plants are painted green during the holidays. If this has been done to your plant try to remove as much of the paint as possible because the paint will affect the plants ability to absorb sunlight.

Norfolk pines can tolerate temperatures as low as 45 degrees, but do best when grown between 60 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and 50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Since they are subtropical they will not tolerate temperatures below 40 degrees without damage.

Norfolk pines are slow growing plants, three to six inches per year, so don’t be alarmed if your tree isn’t growing quickly. They typically will reach heights of six feet when grown as a houseplant. With proper care your tree will last for years to come.

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