Instead of a Christmas tree some may opt for a Norfolk pine (Araucaria heterophylla)which is usually available in stores before Christmas. It may be sold plain or decorated to serve as an alternate mini Christmas tree for those with little space. Once the holiday is over, the Norfolk pine can double as a patio or long-lasting houseplant.
Norfolk pine, belongs to the ancient genus of evergreen conifers, Araucaria, which includes the newly discovered extinct Wollemi pine. It is hardy in zone 10-11. In the wild this semi-tropical tree can get up to 200 ft. tall. Norfolk pine grows a massive straight tree trunk with symmetrical lateral branches that are an impressive sight in the landscape. When grown indoors as a potted houseplant the diminutive version usually grows up to 8 ft. tall.
Indoors provide a cool, bright filtered light, humid environment with temperatures of 60-72F during the day and slightly cooler at night. They prefer a few hours of direct sun but can adapt to bright indirect light. Be sure to rotate the plant to maintain a symmetric shape and keep the plant from leaning over to one side. Norfolk pine also need 50% humidity which can be difficult to provide during the dry heating season in winter. Some ways to increase humidity is to run a humidifier or use a pebble tray filled with water.
Water when the top inch of soil feels dry and let the water drain from the bottom. Do not let it stand in water or saturate the soil, over watering will cause bright yellow needles that eventually fall off. Conversely, keeping the plant too dry with low humidity will cause brown tips. Keep it away from heating vents or cold drafts which can dry out the needles.
Feed your plant when it is actively growing (not winter) with a diluted, balanced houseplant fertilizer every 3-4 weeks. Feed new, younger plants every 4-6 months and older plants every 3-4 months.
Repot every 3-4 years.
Prune only brown dead lower branches. Do not cut off the growing tips. If the growing top is damaged, it will not be replaced and you will get a misshapen tree.
Pests: Common pests that attack Norfolk pines are spider mites, scale and mealybugs.
Did you know: In nature, Norfolk pine cones take 18 months to mature, then break down. The scales produce edible seeds that Green parrots favor.