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Caring for Norfolk Island Pines

Their soft needles, distinctive flat branches and naturally symmetrical shape make Norfolk Island pines a popular and attractive choice for indoor Christmas trees. The small and medium size varieties are often used as accent trees during the holidays. When January arrives and the ornaments are packed away, Norfolk Island pines are beautiful indoor trees that are easy to maintain.


A Norfolk Island Pine with soft spreading branchesCarefully select the pot to hold the tree and its location. Norfolk Island pines grow well in a mixture of equal parts of potting soil, sand and peat moss. Use a fast-draining mix that lets the water drain freely. Also, carefully choose the tree's location, as it doesn't like to be moved.

Most of these pines range in container size from four to 10 inches. For a larger, fuller tree, plant up to three plants in a single large pot. They reach a maximum height of about five feet, but most are much smaller.

Spring through autumn is the active growing season, so fertilize the pines every two to three weeks with a soluble house plant food. There's no need to fertilize during winter's dormant period. Start fertilizing again with springtime's new growth.

Norfolk Island pines are known for their fragile root system. While similar plants have many roots, this variety has one main tap root without hearty root system. It's best to keep the plant stable. It may need staking to help keep it upright and prevent unintentional movement that could injure the root system.

While Norfolk Island pines don't respond well to frequent re-potting, it is recommended every three to four years in the springtime.

Watering and misting

Norfolk Island pine trees need moisture and require consistent watering. Water them thoroughly each week during the growing season to keep the soil slightly moist. Don't allow them to dry out, particularly during the summer. During the inactive winter months, let the soil dry out completely and then water lightly.

Never let the tree sit in water. Over watering causes root rot. The needles turn yellow or brown and fall off easily. If the tree is too dry, the lower branches turn brown and die, and the needles drop off. Once that occurs, growth stops.

Norfolk Island pines also benefit from added humidity. Mist daily with cool water. Maintaining adequate humidity levels is challenging, especially in cold climates. If winter heating dries out indoor air, consider setting the pot in a shallow tray filled with water and pebbles to add humidity. Lack of humidity causes the branch tips to turn brown and needles to drop off.

Lighting and temperature

Place Norfolk Island pines in bright, filtered sunshine indoors to receive indirect natural light. Keep them out of direct, full sun. While they can survive solely with incandescent or fluorescent light, they won't thrive.

Turn the plant regularly to keep it symmetrical, ¼ turn at any given time so as not to shock it.

Even with the sunshine requirements, Norfolk Island pines grow best in day time temperatures of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. They like slightly cooler temperatures at night. Avoid sudden changes in room temperature, temperature extremes and chilly drafts.

Pruning and pests

As Norfolk Island pines grow upward, the trunk thickens and the branches increase in size. Cutting off the growing tips destroys its naturally symmetrical shape. The only pruning that's suggested is cutting back any brown tips and dead branches. Remember, all growth stops at the point of pruning.

Mealy bugs can harm the pine, so spray it with an insecticide as directed for a few weeks.

Control scale infestations by applying rubbing alcohol or horticultural oil onto affected areas.

Holiday decorating

Norfolk Island pines require special attention when decorating them for holidays. Use small, light weight ornaments, and keep them on the tree for only a few days. Cool burning LED bulbs prevent permanent damage to the branches or needles as can be caused with hot incandescent bulbs. Maintain moisture, because of the added heat.

Have you had success with Norfolk Island pines? Share your tips for growing them with others in the comments section below!

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