Caring for Norfolk Island Pines

Horticulture Hints

You have seen them in the stores this holiday season, those cute little Christmas trees for sale growing in pots. But unfortunately, many who purchase these Norfolk Island Pines for holiday decorations or gifts, may have had them die as not knowing proper care to provide for these plants.

Norfolk Island Pines are tropical plants that must be grown indoors in Iowa to overwinter. These conifers grow slowly, and if grown with ideal conditions over the years may become quite large, but rarely over 15 feet tall. This is in contrast to the growth achieved in their native habitat of New Zealand, a southwest Pacific island, where they can reach heights up to 200 feet!

Best suited for bright, indirect light conditions, such as from an east or west window, these conifers need to have sufficient light to prevent irregular growth. Keep soil evenly moist, but do not over-water. Do not allow soil to become too wet or too dry, and water regularly only when soil surface becomes dry. Be sure to provide proper drainage and empty plant saucers after watering to prevent root rot.

Provide above average to high humidity levels during the winter months such as with a pebble tray, keeping water level well below pot or place a humidifier nearby. Norfolk Island Pines prefer average temperatures, so keep out of drafts and not too close to cold windows.

Do not place near a heat source, as hot, dry conditions can cause needles to turn brown and die. Plants that become pot-bound will become restricted in growth. Repot to a container no more than 2 inches larger than the previous pot size, about every four years. Use a well-drained potting mix for best results.

Another point to remember is to remove any decorations from the plant after the holidays, as to prevent damage to your Norfolk Island Pine needles and branches.

Did you know? The Latin name for these conifers is Araucaria heterophylla, this information may come in handy if your family plays trivia games during the holiday celebration!

Horticulture Questions? Contact McCormick at yvonne@iastate.edu for information or advice.

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