Norfolk Pine keeps giving all year

When my wife and I were first married back in the last century, we lived in a small garage that had been converted into a one-bedroom apartment. Space was at a premium in that “tiny house” and there was little room for a Christmas tree. My mother, who worked as a florist, surprised us with a small potted evergreen tree and a few ornaments.

That was our introduction to the Norfolk Pine.

University of Missouri agronomist Pat Miller is also a fan of this “mighty” evergreen. Norfolk pine is a needled evergreen native to subtropical regions in the South Pacific. Despite the name, it is not an actual pine tree, but rather a relative of the monkey puzzle tree. In its native environment, Norfolk Island, near New Zealand, this tree can grow to be 200 feet tall, and it is often cultivated as a landscape tree in subtropical climates in North America (USDA zones
10 to 11). It has a very straight trunk and pleasingly symmetrical branches covered with short, inward-curving needles.

Norfolk pines grow slowly and seldom need repotting, she says. An extremely tolerant plant, it prefers diffused sunlight or partial shade with full sun in the winter. However, it will survive in cool, warm, light and dark locations. Branches droop in low-light conditions.

Keep the soil uniformly moist but not wet, Miller says. Fertilize lightly every one to two months. Miller says many Norfolk pines come with several stems in a pot. They can be pruned at soil level to one stem. As they grow, the lower limbs will drop off. “This is normal, so don’t be concerned when this happens,” she says.

A newly acquired plant needs time to adjust to its environment. Immediate repotting can stress the plant. Many do not require potting for some time. Pot-bound plants—in which roots are too extensive for the pot—require frequent watering and grow poorly. Repot in a mixture of three parts sphagnum peat, one part vermiculite and one part perlite, or choose a commercially available “peat-lite” mix. In most cases, adding soil to a potting medium leads to poor drainage,
overwatering and root diseases.

To avoid damage to the root system when repotting, firm the soil gently around the root ball. Avoid pressing so hard that the soil becomes compacted. Allow space for water at the top of the pot. Water newly potted plants thoroughly, drain and do not water again until necessary. “With minimal care, the Norfolk pine can provide you with not only a small Christmas tree but an interesting evergreen houseplant year-round,” says Miller.


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