Growing Norfolk Island Pine Trees - Norfolk Island Pine Care Tips

Norfolk island pine tree planted in a white container against a deep red background
(Image credit: Ryan McGurl)

Norfolk Island is a South Pacific paradise and the home of a tree called Norfolk Island pine. In the wild, these trees tower some 200 feet. However, these “pines” are also sold as small ornamentals, often used as potted Christmas trees. Anyone caring for a Norfolk Island pine should know that these trees are not pines at all, and require entirely different cultural care as indoor houseplants.

Quick Norfolk Island Pine Facts:

  • Botanical name: Araucaria heterophylla
  • Height: 80 - 200 feet, up to 8-10 feet (2-3 m) as a houseplant
  • Spread: 12 - 20 feet, 2 - 3 feet (3.6-6 m) as a houseplant
  • Sun exposure: Bright indirect light
  • Soil requirements: Well-draining soil with high organic content
  • Hardiness zones: 9 - 11
  • When to plant: Spring or fall

Norfolk Pine Care

The preferred Norfolk pine care is typical of ornamental plants that are, in the wild, rainforest plants. Here are the details about how to care for Norfolk pine.

Light

Norfolk Island pine needs sun, but direct sun is not the ideal exposure. Rather, a location in the yard or in the home that gets bright indirect light is best. The plant can survive in lower light situations too but may thrive in a south-facing window, where it can tolerate full, indirect, bright light.

Water

Norfolk Island pine grows in the wild in a rainforest environment. In cultivation, the plant requires moist soil. Be sure not to confuse moist with wet, since wet soil may cause root rot. Providing too much water is the primary reason for the death of indoor plants. Water Norfolk Island pines when the top layer of the soil feels dry.

Temperature

The temperature you prefer in a home is likely just fine for indoor Norfolk Island pine plants. This plant is flexible about temperature indoors as long as it’s within a normal average range. It can also stay outdoors until nighttime temperatures fall into the 50s (10-15 C).

Norfolk pines are not cold hardy. They are a tropical plant and cannot tolerate temperatures below 35 degrees F (1 C). In many parts of the US, the Norfolk Island pine tree cannot live outside year round, and needs to be kept away from cold drafts.

Humidity

As a rainforest plant, Norfolk Island pine likes humid air. The plant will appreciate the increased humidity that comes from sitting on a pebble tray or living near grouped houseplants. It also helps to use a humidifier in the room, or provide a weekly misting of the tree.

Soil

The preferred soil for this plant will have plenty of organic matter. Folks at the New York Botanical Gardens recommend, “For the soil, use a sandy, peaty, slightly acidic mix.” Excellent drainage is essential.

Fertilizer

Many homeowners grow Norfolk Island pine without adding plant food. However, if you wish to fertilize the plant, use diluted applications of a liquid houseplant fertilizer. How frequently? Some experts say twice a year, others say twice a week during the growing season. Or, you can fertilize a Norfolk pine in the spring and summer with a water soluble balanced fertilizer.

Problems, Pests & Diseases

Norfolk pine trees are relatively healthy but, like other plants, can suffer from some issues. Most are caused by incorrect cultural care, especially overwatering. You should also keep an eye out for spider mites or scale. They can also be vulnerable to sooty mold and leaf spot.

It is normal for Norfolk Island pine trees to have some browning on the bottom branches, which may indicate it is needing water. However, if the brown branches seem to be high on the plant or all over the tree, this is a sign that the plant is either overwatered, underwatered, or is not getting enough humidity.

Pruning a Norfolk Pine

Pruning Norfolk pines is not generally necessary, although dead, broken or damaged branches should be removed.

Norfolk Island Pine Propagation

The best way to propagate Norfolk Island pine is by seed. Place the seeds on moist, sandy soil and mist them. Put the seed tray in bright, indirect light and keep the soil medium moist until germination.

Repotting a Norfolk Pine

The general rule of thumb is to repot Norfolk Island pines annually but at least 2-4 years. Use a slightly larger container and fertile, porous, well-drained potting soil, sinking the plant’s roots about 2 to 3 inches (5-8 cm.) below the surface of the soil.

Planting a Norfolk Island Pine Outside

If you are planting your Norfolk Island pine in the landscape, the process is very like any other small container tree. You dig an ample hole, put the plant in the soil so that the level of the soil remains the same, and water it in well. Be sure to select a site carefully so that the plant’s requirements are met.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a Norfolk Island Pine Go Outside?

If you live in a relatively warm climate, USDA zones 9 through 11, your Norfolk Island pine may grow outdoors if its required conditions for soil, moisture and light are met.

Should You Mist an Indoor Norfolk Island Pine?

These trees like humidity. While misting does create temporary humidity in the air, the preferred methods are to use a pebble and water tray and/or grouping houseplants together.

Heather Rhoades
Founder of Gardening Know How

Heather Rhoades founded Gardening Know How in 2007 and built it up to what it is today.

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