Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)

Norfolk Island Pines

Around the holidays stores often feature Norfolk Island Pines for sale as they look like miniature Christmas trees.  The Norfolk Island pine, (Araucaria heterophylla) however, is a houseplant, despite its name for most of us. It can be grown outside in zone 8 and above. This beautiful tree will continue to grow well indoors long after the holidays if it’s given the correct care. 

Norfolk Island pines have soft, dark green needles and a pyramidal shape of drooping, whorled branches. They are best used as specimen plants with space around them to show off their beauty.  There is no pine scent.  Norfolk Island Pines are hard to propagate from seeds or cuttings and you will want to start with a growing plant.  Look for one with dark green needles and branches that go well down the main stem.

In a frost free climate the Norfolk pine can grow outdoors quite well - and up to 100 feet tall. In the home it grows more slowly and its size is limited by the container it is grown in. Most Norway pines in the house get to 5’ to 6’ if well grown. The stately pine shape is a nice contrast to other houseplants. 

Norfolk Island pine care

While they are often included in dish gardens for texture and height, the Norfolk Island Pine does best when placed in its own pot.  Use a good houseplant potting medium, not garden soil in the container.  Make sure that the container drains well.  You can repot the pine each spring if you want it to grow larger.  Use a pot just 2 inches wider and deeper for best results.  Once the Norfolk Island pine is about the height you want it to remain stop repotting and let it get root bound to help restrict growth.

Keeping your Norfolk Island pine in bright light will keep it dark green and full and keep the bottom branches from dying and falling off.  Keep your Norfolk Island pine in an east, west or north windowsill any time of the year. Keep the Norfolk Island pine in a south window during the winter months or 12” away from a south window in late spring and summer. You could also use a grow light “spot light” over the Norfolk Island pine.

Norfolk Island pines enjoy a summer outside but should be put in light or partial shade when outside.  Put them outside after the danger of frost has passed and bring them back inside before it frosts in the fall.

Crowding the Norfolk Island pine will make it lose its bottom limbs and it doesn’t show the plant to full advantage.  Make sure you leave enough space around the pot for the limbs to expand and droop gracefully. To keep growth natural looking and symmetrical don’t crowd the plant with other plants or by placing it too close to the window. Turn the pot from time to time so the tree doesn’t lean to the light.

Norfolk Island pines need to be kept moist but not soggy wet most of the year.  In the dead of winter in areas where it is gloomy and cold let the pot dry slightly before watering. Use room temperature distilled or rain water if possible. Water until water drains from the bottom and empty drained water from trays promptly.

Fertilize Norfolk Island pine once a month in the spring with houseplant fertilizer mixed according to label directions if you want growth. If you like the plant the size it is, don’t fertilize it.

Keep plants between 40º and 85ºF. Norfolk Island pines prefer cooler temperatures and do well when night temperature in the home is lower than the day temperature.  Drafts of cold air or warm air blowing from a furnace vent may cause needle drop.  When humidity is low in the home needle drop can occur. Occasional misting in dry conditions will help.

Prune off any dead branches with pruning snips. Once branches drop or are pruned off they do not grow back.  Do not prune the top of Norfolk Island pine to limit its size.  This makes the tree look unnatural and it will continue to get taller anyway.

Norfolk Island Pines rarely have insect or disease problems.  If you get one with Christmas decorations on it remove them as soon as possible.  Don’t use heavy Christmas decorations on your Norfolk Island pine as this may damage the shape of the plant or cause loss of limbs.   If your plant comes with a fancy foil pot cover make sure you punch a drainage hole in the bottom or remove the foil. 

With good care your Norfolk Island pine will live for 20-30 years or longer.  Each year it will become more beautiful.  For bringing the feel of nature indoors you can’t beat a beautiful Norfolk Island pine.


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