norfolk island pine

Growing and Caring for Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)

Sharing is caring!

Every year when the festive season comes around, small Norfolk Island pines become available, often bedecked in glitter and ornaments, or even painted. They usually survive for a few weeks before slowly dying away. 

With the right care, however, these tiny Christmas trees can live for many years as fantastic houseplants. Read on to learn how to grow and care for these plants in the long term.

The Norfolk Island Pine is not really a pine at all, although it is a conifer. In nature, this evergreen tree grows slowly to an amazing height of 200 feet (60m) or more. They are usually seen for sale around the festive season because they have a great Christmas tree shape.

They are, in fact, subtropical plants, and northern winters are not at all suitable for outdoor growth. The green, needle-covered branches are soft when young, becoming spinier when mature. Their symmetrical, whorled branches look amazing when viewed from above. 

Plant Facts

Scientific nameAraucaria heterophylla
Common namesChristmas tree, Polynesian pine, star pine, triangle tree
FamilyAraucariaceae
Plant TypeConiferous tree
Height and Width6-7 ft. tall (indoors), 3-4 ft. wide (indoors)
OriginNorfolk Island
Flower colorsNone
Foliage colorGreen
Sun ExposureDirect sunlight, dappled light, bright indirect light
Soil Type & pHWell-drained, acidic soil
Special featuresLarge houseplant, Conifer, Slow grower

How to Grow a Norfolk Pine Tree

The Norfolk island pine trees can be grown outdoors as a fine evergreen tree. Many gardens are simply too cold for the species, however. Fortunately, this plant is slow-growing indoors and makes an excellent houseplant.

Propagation

It is possible to propagate your own Norfolk Island pine tree, although most growers choose to buy established plants. This species can be grown from seed that germinates within 10-15 days. Seeds should be sown on the surface of the medium, rather than buried. 

Soil

The Norfolk pine tree is not particularly fussy when it comes to soil selection. There are a few important factors to consider, however. First and foremost, the soil needs to be well-drained and have a slightly acidic pH below 6.5. Standard potting soil with plenty of organic material and humus works well for this. 

The root system of this plant tends to be rather weak, so a medium that can support the plant is recommended. Mixing some coarse sand or grit into a potting mix, or using a cactus mix is, therefore, a great option to keep the plant firmly rooted. 

Pruning

Pruning this plant is not generally necessary or advisable. Dead or unhealthy growth can however be removed to keep the plant neat and healthy.  

Repotting and Transplanting

Young Norfolk Island pines have a relatively small and weak root system. This means that great care should be taken when transplanting the pot and repotting should be avoided unless necessary. The species can easily outgrow its space in the home if given plenty of room, so keeping it contained to a relatively small container is advisable. 

You should consider repotting If the container the plant came in is unsuitable, or the plant is heavily rootbound after 2 years of growth or so. It is very important to grow this plant in a pot with drainage holes to prevent root rot. A heavy container that is about 2 inches (5cm) larger, and has good drainage holes is the recommended choice. 

norfolk pine tree

How to Care for a Norfolk Island Pine Indoors

Whether you’ve bought this plant impulsively around Christmas time or bought a larger specimen from a garden center, there are some important things to know about its care. Read on for more indoor Norfolk island pine care tips. 

Water

These plants require frequent watering, but should not be left to stand in water. This is why a free-draining growing medium and a container with drainage holes are so important. Don’t wait until your plant looks dry, at that point it may already be too late.

Feel the soil regularly to work out the ideal watering schedule for your plant. It’s time to water when the soil has dried out to a depth of about an inch. Water enough so that it begins to drain out of the bottom of the container, that way you know you’ve watered the soil through. 

Sunlight

The Norfolk Island pine plant is adaptable to relatively low light conditions because it spends years in the gloomy understory of its native habitat when young. A position near an east or west-facing window is ideal. Be sure to rotate the plant occasionally to keep growth even and prevent the plant from leaning. 

Temperature and Humidity

The Norfolk pine comes from a moderate, frost-free climate. It is a coastal plant, which prefers moist air. 

It is not frost tolerant, so do not expose the plant to temperatures below 50°F and position it away from cold draughts. Take care to keep the plant warm when transporting it from the store to your home. 

You can maintain a humid environment around your plant by placing its container over a pebble and water-filled tray or using a room humidifier. You can also mist the foliage lightly once a week. 

Fertilizer

The Norfolk Island pine does not require much in the way of fertilizer. Apply a balanced all-purpose fertilizer in the spring once new growth appears, and on into the summer months if you wish. Avoid feeding in the fall and winter as this can result in thin, leggy growth. 

Pest and diseases

The most commonly seen issues relate to over and underwatering. Branches may droop and needles may turn brown due to stress from underwatering. Yellow needles can also indicate a lack of water, but be sure to feel the soil as this may also be a sign of overwatering. 

Root rot can develop in plants grown without adequate drainage and leaning or tipping may occur due to uneven access to light or loose soil. Scale insects, mealybugs, and thrips have all been reported.  

Conclusion

The Norfolk pine makes a great indoor potted plant for the festive season like a Christmas tree but also deserves a spot in the home for the rest of the year especially as a bonsai pine tree. For the best results, choose a specimen that hasn’t been painted or covered in glitter, and remember to keep the plant moist and warm.  

*image by sweemingyoung/depositphotos

References

Reference list:

Chase, A. R., Osborne, L.S. & Poole, R.T. Norfolk Island Pine

Production Guide

Deardorff, D. & Wadsworth, K. What’s Wrong With My Houseplant. Save Your Indoor Plants With 100% Organic Solutions

Close

About The Author

Scroll to Top