By Beth Berlin, University of Minnesota Extension
Many people will receive a Norfolk Island Pine for the holidays. These beautiful evergreen trees can become a wonderful houseplant with the right care for many years to come.
Norfolk Island Pines, Araucaria heterophylla, is not actually a pine tree. It is a coniferous evergreen native to Norfolk Island in the South Pacific near Australia. They have short dark green needle-like leaves with broad spanning branches that give it a tiered appearance. In its native climate they can reach 200 feet tall with a ten foot diameter trunk. As a houseplant it is very slow growing, only growing about 3-6 inches per year, but can reach a height of 5-8 feet.
To care for a Norfolk Island Pine, place it in a bright, sunny location. Be sure to spin your plant each week so that it doesn’t start to lean or grow towards the window and light. In general Norfolk Island Pines can be kept at 65-72°F, but it is important not to expose them to extremes, both hot and cold. The minimum night time temperature this plant will tolerate is 50-55°F. The plant will perform best where night time temperatures are about 10°F cooler than the day temperatures.
Humidity is important for nearly all houseplants. The Norfolk Island Pines prefer higher humidity than what most of our homes are in the winter time, preferably around 50% humidity. Placing a humidifier nearby may help alleviate dry air. Fertilize when plants begin to put on new growth, typically March through September. However the plant will tolerate very little fertilizer which will minimize growth and keep the plant shorter and grow slower. The plant prefers moist roots but doesn’t like to be wet so be sure to have a well drained soil and container. Water thoroughly once the top one-inch of the soil is dry.
Norfolk Island Pines that experience wet soil and low light conditions may have lower limbs drop off. Some may experience needle drop which could be caused by dry conditions, including soil moisture, lack of humidity, or either cold or hot drafts or airflow. However in general this is a fairly pest free plant and can be enjoyed for decades if well kept.