It just doesn’t seem quite like the holidays without a brightly decorated tree sitting in the corner of the living room. Some people go with plastic trees that they can collapse into a box and others choose freshly cut pines, but gardeners in the know often choose Norfolk Island pines. Although not a true pine, Norfolk Island pines produce beautiful, scaly branches and leaves and adapts well to indoor life, making them true, living Christmas trees.
These trees require special care to look their best. High humidity, plenty of bright light and reasonable fertilization are on the menu, and any Norfolk Island pine trouble shooting should start by examining these key ingredients. Branch drop in Norfolk pines is common and happens for a couple of reasons.
Norfolk Dropping Branches
Branches, needles or branch tips falling off Norfolk pine is a regular occurrence with these plants, even when conditions are ideal. As Norfolk Island pines grow, they may shed a few needles or even entire lower branches – this type of loss is natural and shouldn’t cause too much concern. However, if brown, dry needles or branches appear widespread on your tree, you definitely need to pay attention.
Widespread branch drop in Norfolk pines is usually caused by incorrect growing conditions. Low humidity, improper fertilization and improper watering are the typical culprits. Norfolk Island pines are tropical plants, originating in an environment where it rains frequently and the humidity stays high. You can replicate these conditions indoors, but it will take some effort on your part – Norfolk Island pines aren’t plants that will thrive on neglect.
Correcting Branch Drop in Norfolk Pines
Norfolk Island pine trouble shooting begins with correcting environmental issues like water, humidity and fertilizer.
When troubleshooting your Norfolk Island pine, start by examining your watering habits. Do you water frequently, but just a little bit at a time? Is your plant always standing in a pool of water in a saucer? Either of these situations can lead to problems.
Before watering a Norfolk Island pine, check the soil moisture with your finger. If it feels dry about one inch below the surface, you need to water. Water your plant well when you do, providing enough irrigation that water runs out the holes in the bottom of the pot. Never leave them soaking in water, as this can lead to root rot. Always empty saucers right away or water your plants outside or in the sink.
Even when watering is right, Norfolk dropping branches can be caused by improper humidity levels. Norfolk Island pines need approximately 50 percent relative humidity, which is difficult to achieve in many homes. Use a hygrometer to measure the humidity around your tree, as most homes will only be in the 15 to 20 percent range.
You can increase humidity with a humidifier if your plant is in a sunroom, or add a basin of water filled with pebbles below your plant. The addition of large pebbles or rocks moves your plant out of direct contact with the water, keeping root rot at bay. If this still doesn’t help, you may need to relocate the plant.
A much less common problem for Norfolks is a lack of fertilization. Older plants need to be fertilized once every three or four months, where new plants or those recently repotted can wait four to six months for fertilizer.
Repotting once every three or four years should be sufficient for most Norfolk Island pines.