Christmas Tree Alternative Norfolk Island Pine | Almanac.com

Norfolk Island Pine: A Christmas Tree Alternative for Small Spaces

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Costa Farms

Want a smaller Christmas tree this year?

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If you are short on space (or energy) for a large Christmas tree, why not try a Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)? These potted pines used at Christmas can remain as wonderful houseplants throughout the year! Learn more.

During the holidays, Norfolk pines are easy to find at your local garden center or big box store in pots. They have soft, short, dark green needles and widely separated, tiered branches, making them a perfect Christmas tree for hanging ornaments. 

Even small ones look great decorated with tiny LED lights and lightweight ornaments. Line them up on a mantle, or they’re the perfect size for a tabletop. No, they aren’t as dense as a large evergreen, but if it’s good enough for Charlie Brown, it’s good enough for me. 

We have a Norfolk pine that we now decorate every Christmas with all the “tasteful” holiday jewelry I have amassed over the years. If I need a pair of Santa earrings as I head out the door, they are hanging on the tree, where I can quickly find them!


How to Care for Your Norfolk Island Pine

Caring for your Norfolk Island pine couldn’t be easier. Buy one for the holidays and enjoy it all year long!

  • They like a bright, cool room in winter and can take nighttime temperatures in the 40s. Ours is in the greenhouse, which regularly drops to 45 degrees at night. 
  • They tolerate dry air but prefer some humidity, so mist them occasionally or keep the pot on a tray of moist pebbles. For a treat, you can give it a cool shower in the bathtub, undecorated, of course. 
  • A south window in full to filtered sun is optimum, but they will still grow well with bright indirect light. The more light they have, the faster they will grow. Turn it to keep it from leaning toward the sun. 
  • Their fibrous roots dry out fast, so water when the top of the soil feels dry. The tips of the branches will turn brown if the plant gets too dry. 
  • Feed your plant monthly in spring and summer with a low-nitrogen fertilizer. No fertilizer is needed in fall and winter. 

Your plant can spend the summer outside in a shady spot where it will thrive in the humidity and rainfall. 


How Tall Do Norfolk Pines Get?

Norfolk Island pine is native to tiny Norfolk Island located in the South Pacific east of Australia. It is a valuable export and treasured as a symbol of the island with the tree on its flag. There, it grows to be a 200-foot tall tree with a trunk 10 feet in diameter.

But fear not! As a houseplant, the Norfolks Pine is slow growing—only 2 to 3 inches a year. The plant rarely gets over 5 feet tall when grown in a pot. 

However, gardeners in zones 9 to 11 are discouraged from planting them outside because the trees will eventually outgrow their welcome and must be removed.  A subtropical evergreen, it is not really a pine but a prehistoric conifer that once fed the dinosaurs!

Propagating a Norfolk Pine

The plants we see for sale are grown from seed collected from cones high in mature trees. The seeds germinate fast—in 9 to 13 days—and then are grown on for several years before the plants make it to the store. 

If you want to try propagating one, you can root a cutting from the top of a plant, but be aware that cutting the top will make that plant bush out and lose its pyramidal shape. 

A cutting taken from the tip of a side branch will always grow sideways instead of vertically. It still thinks it is a branch!

Learn more about how Christmas trees grow!

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

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