If you are short on space (or energy) for a large Christmas tree, why not try a Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla)? These are small potted trees found at the holidays that also can remain as wonderful houseplants! Here’s more information about the Norfolk Island pine and how to care for this tiny indoor tree.
This time of year they are easy to find at your local garden center or big box store. Its soft needles and tiered branches make it a perfect Christmas tree. 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.
We have one that 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 temps in the 40s. Ours is in the greenhouse where it 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.
Norfolk Island pine is native to tiny Norfolk Island located in the South Pacific east of Australia. There it grows to be a 200 foot tall tree with a trunk 10 feet in diameter but fear not, as a houseplant it is slow growing - only 2-3 inches a year - and 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 have to be removed. A subtropical evergreen, it is not really a pine but a prehistoric conifer that once fed the dinosaurs!
It is a valuable export and treasured as a symbol of the island which features the tree on its flag.
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!