Norfolk Island Pines (Araucaria heterophylla) are evergreen trees often grown indoors to use as living Christmas trees. Norfolk Island is between Australia and New Zealand. The tree lives near the coast and likes humid conditions.
Although the Norfolk Island Pine is called a pine, it is not. It is in the family Araucariaceae, which was widespread in the age of the dinosaurs. Now the family only grows in the Southern hemisphere. The tree is a dark green evergreen with a straight trunk. On Norfolk Island, the tree can reach 200 feet in height and be ten feet around. Indoors, the tree will grow to a height of five to eight feet over a decade. Norfolk Island pines have needle-like leaves.
How to Care for a Norfolk Island Pine
Norfolk pines are not hard to grow. They are picky about temperature, humidity, and light, but they are beautiful if well taken care of.
Because Norfolk pines are top-heavy, you should use a heavy pot. It is best to put the pot on rollers as the tree gets bigger so you can easily move it. Make sure the pot has drainage holes.
Like many indoor plants, Norfolk pines need bright, indirect sunlight for at least a few hours a day. They will tolerate less light but grow slowly and may not look as well. The limbs will be long and droopy in low light. If your tree isn’t growing, it may not be getting enough sunlight.
Norfolk pine trees need acidic, well-drained soil. The pH needs to be 4.5 to 5.5. If the soil is too alkaline, the tree will not grow well or will die. The potting soil should have lots of peat moss in it.
This tree is native to the coastlines, so it is used to lots of water. When the top inch of the soil around the tree is dry, water the tree enough to make water out of the pot’s drainage holes. After 15 minutes, dump the water out of the saucer. Norfolk pines will not tolerate being dry.
Norfolk pines need 50% humidity, much higher than in most homes. To fix that, set the tree, pot, saucer, and all, on a pebble tray. A pebble tray is a big saucer that you fill with pebbles. Set the saucer of the tree’s pot on the pebbles. Fill the pebble tray with water but do not cover the tops of the pebbles. As the water evaporates from the tray, it creates a humid microclimate. Be sure to refill the tray with water frequently.
Norfolk pines are sensitive to low and high temperatures. -They grow best at 60-70 degrees F during the day and slightly cooler at night. They will die if the temperature gets too hot or too cold. Do not place the tree in hot or cold drafts. Extreme fluctuations in temperature will cause the tree’s needles to drop.
During the growing season, usually March through September, fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer every two to four weeks. Do not fertilize between October and February, as the tree rests during those months.
Dust and inspect the tree weekly. Turn the pot one-quarter turn each week, so the tree doesn’t begin to lean into the light. The trunk should remain straight.
Any branches that are broken or diseased should be removed. The lower branches die as they age, so remove those as well. You may need to prune the top of the tree to keep it to a manageable height.
Norfolk Island pines only need to be repotted when they show signs of being root bound or the roots are growing out of the drainage holes. Every two to three years, replace the potting soil in the pot, so it does not become compacted and hard for the roots to penetrate.
Propagating Norfolk Island Pines
The best way to grow Norfolk pines is by seed. In the wild, Norfolk pines sprout from the seed in the cones they produce. While you can start cuttings, they will not have the symmetry that makes the trunk and limbs so lovely. Cuttings need to be dipped in rooting hormone and will root quickly.
Diseases of Norfolk Island Pines
Overwatering can cause fungal diseases that will kill the tree. Giving the tree enough water without giving it too much is a delicate balance. With too much water, the plant is vulnerable to anthracnose. This disease causes dead spots on the needles, which spread to the entire needle. Whole branches become brown and die. Let the top of the soil dry between waterings to prevent this disease.
Overwatering can also cause root rot. If the tree wilts and turns yellow, check the roots. They should be white and healthy. If they are black or soggy, the roots have rotted, and the tree cannot be saved.
Pests of Norfolk Island Pines
Several pests will damage the Norfolk pine tree. Pests usually come in with new plants. It is a good idea to isolate new plants for ten days to ensure they do not have any pests. If you find pests on your Norfolk Island pine, isolate it immediately to prevent the pests from spreading to other plants in your home. Most of these pests can be treated with neem oil or insecticidal soap.
Aphids are small and pear-shaped. They are soft-bodied pests with clearly visible legs and antennae. Aphids pierce the plant and suck the juice out of it. In addition, they produce honeydew, a sweet sticky substance that ants eat. Sooty mold often grows on the honeydew. The mold prevents sunlight from reaching the leaf surface, stopping photosynthesis.
Mealybugs are also soft-bodied insects. They are covered with a white, waxy, powdery substance. Mealybugs have white filaments sticking out of their body. They also produce honeydew., so you will have to wash the sooty mold off the leaves after eliminating the mealybugs.
Adult scale insects secrete a waxy covering that covers them like a shell. Soft-bodied scale insects secrete honeydew, while armored scales do not. The shells make scale insects harder to eliminate because they protect them from soaps and other treatments. As a result, you may have to treat your tree multiple times to eliminate all the scale insects.
Whiteflies are tiny white-winged insects. They look like gnats. The easiest way to diagnose whiteflies is to shake the branch of your tree. Then, the whiteflies will take off in a cloud of white.
Common Norfolk Pine Tree Problems
Many problems that Norfolk Island pine trees have are not caused by pests or diseases, but by how they are taken care of. Here are a few of the most common problems people encounter.
Tree Falls Over
The most common problem Norfolk Island pines have is due to their weak root system when they are young. As the tree grows taller, the roots may not be strong enough to keep the tree from falling over. Staking the tree will help prevent this.
Needles Turning Brown
Brown needles can indicate too much water or not enough water. Keep the soil moist and water when the top of the soil is dry.
Brown needles can also occur when the tree gets too cold or too hot. Make sure your Norfolk pine is not in cold or hot drafts.
Needles Turning Yellow
While extreme temperature changes can cause yellow needles, the culprit is usually too little sunlight. Move the tree so it gets more bright indirect sunlight.
As the tree grows, the needles on the lowest branches gradually drop. Some needle drop is expected. If the needles drop on other branches, the tree is being overwatered or does not get enough sunlight.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, Norfolk pines are toxic. They should be kept away from pets and children. When eaten, Norfolk pines cause gastrointestinal upset.
Norfolk pines are widely available at nurseries, big box stores, and online. You can purchase small trees are much larger trees, depending on what you are looking for.
Yes, Norfolk pines are generally grown from seed. The seeds are found in the pinecones the tree produces, or you can purchase them online.
Norfolk pines are slow-growing. They may take a decade to reach their mature height.
Norfolk pines do not flower until they are mature. Female trees are mature when they are 15, but male trees are not mature until they are 50.
When given good care, Norfolk pines can live to be 150 years old.
They do, but only when mature. Female trees produce pinecones when they are 15, but males do not produce pinecones until they are 50 years old.
You can hang small ornaments on your tree. Take care not to overload any one branch, or it will break. Light weight decorations like strings of popcorn and cranberries will be cheery without hurting the tree.
In conclusion, Norfolk Island pine trees make excellent houseplants. Make sure they get lots of bright, indirect sunlight and the right amount of water, and the trees can live for decades.