By: Mary Ellen Ellis
The lacy, delicate foliage of this pretty, south Pacific tree makes it an interesting houseplant. The Norfolk Island pine thrives in warmer climates and can grow very tall, but when grown in containers it makes a nice, compact houseplant in any climate. Learn how to transplant your Norfolk so you can keep it happy and healthy.
In its natural environment outdoors the Norfolk Island pine can grow as tall as 200 feet (60 m.). When you grow it in a container though you can manage its size and restrict it to 3 feet (1 m.) or smaller. These trees grow slowly, so you should only have to repot every two to four years. Do it in the spring as the tree is beginning to show new growth.
When transplanting a Norfolk Island pine, choose a container that is only a couple inches (5 cm.) bigger than the previous one and be sure that it drains. These trees don’t tolerate soggy roots, so use a soil with vermiculite to promote drainage.
Researchers have actually determined the ideal depth for repotting Norfolk Island pines. A study found the best growth and sturdiness when the top of the transplanted pine’s root ball was situated 2 to 3 inches (5-8 cm.) below the surface of the soil. The researchers saw less growth when the trees were planted deeper or shallower.
Do your Norfolk Island pine repotting very gently, both for your sake and its. The trunk has some nasty spikes that can really hurt. The tree is sensitive to being moved and transplanted, so wear gloves and go slowly and gently.
Once you have your pine in its new pot, give it the best care to help it thrive. Norfolk pines are notorious for developing weak roots. Overwatering makes this worse, so avoid too much water. Regular fertilizer will help strengthen the roots too. You may also need to stake your plant as it grows. The weak roots can make it lean or even tip over all the way.
Find a sunny spot for your Norfolk, as dim light conditions will make it stretch out and grow leggy. You can put it outdoors in warmer weather or keep it in year-round. When you see roots start to grow through the bottom of the pot, it’s time to transplant and give your Norfolk roomier conditions.
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Read more about Norfolk Pines
Despite their undeserved reputation as disposable décor, Norfolk Island pines are naturally long-lived. Though not true pines, they're part of a plant family that dates back to prehistoric times. In modern home landscapes, where frost-free climates or protected locations allow, Norfolks are known to live 150 years or more. 1
Along parts of the California Coast, Norfolk Island pines grow 100 feet or taller, stretching up to 60 feet wide and growing up to 2 feet per year. 1 On their native Norfolk Island, east of Australia, they're known to grow twice as tall. 2 It's a far cry from their tiny footprint on holiday tables. Given time and proper care — and tall ceilings — your potted Norfolk may grow 20 feet tall indoors. 3
The conditions in my apt. are not ideal -- I have only northwestern light and the windows all have blown-air heaters. However, I've done my best, as far as I can tell. I have two humidifiers running at all times and I have fed the new tree with Jobe's plant sticks. Yet now this tree is following last year's example. Three or four branches in the middle of the tree are beginning to dry out and curl under. Is there anything I can do to save the plant, or is it already too late? Any instructions on watering, feeding, need for artificial light in addition to the natural northwestern light, emergency care, etc, would be very greatly appreciated.
Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) are so pretty and yet they can be a bit difficult to grow successfully.
This plant prefers cooler winter time conditions than are found in the average home, with temperatures ranging from about 40 to a maximum of 60 degrees being the preferred range. Moderate light (generally an east window is recommended) is adequate, as is moderate watering. Fertilizer is not needed during the winter as the plant growth slows in sync with the season.
Based on your description it is difficult to give you a diagnosis, but there are several possible explanations for the problem ranging from general cultural conditions to injury from either insects or decorations.
This tree is a large tree (up to 200 feet!) in nature and some individual plants simply do not tolerate prolonged container culture, particularly if allowed to become terribly rootbound. The plant may have been stressed before and/or after you bought it most plants suffer to some degree during the retail process and subsequent adjustment to the home environment. Unfortunately, if the plant has been either over-watered or under-watered it may show a delayed die-back response from which it may or may not recover.
It is also possible that the plant is suffering an insect infestation. Two possible culprits would be mealy bug and scale. Mealybugs are easily visible and look like little bits of bright white cottonball dotted on the branches. Scale can be found by inspecting very carefully in a bright light for little flat hard-shelled disks attached tightly and parallel to the surface. As it happens, mid winter is a prime time for scale to be a problem and it can be a difficult one to control. Mealybugs and immature scale can be treated with insecticidal soap according to the label instructions, or can be hand picked if the infestation is somewhat localized on the plant.
Finally, it is possible that the weight of the ornaments (or heat from lights) damaged tissues while the tree was decorated and the damage is only now becoming apparent.
I spoke with our resident NP cultivator who has successfully kept his for 20 years and 4-5 repottings. He conferred with my suggestion to try repotting in a larger diameter pot and new soil to see if that alleviates some of the symptoms. I can't say definitively without a picture or nutrient levels from a plant or soil sample. but it's possible that either your salts are too high from fertilizer residual or evaporation ( no fault of your own) or the soil is in need of nutrients from constant water leaching or is basically played out from supporting the tree over its lifetime.
Sorry to be wishy washy on this but let's try the least draastic measure and see if we get some improvement. Good luck.
Thanks for your valuable advice. I believe that I was using too much water and was flushing the nutrients from the soil. I've been adding small amounts of fertilizer infused water to stabilize my Norfolk Pine--with the goal of repotting it in a few days.
Advice needed (please): what mixture should I use for repotting? I have read that a ratio of 3 peat moss to 1 sand is a good mixture. Is this correct? Also--what type of sand? Will sand advertised for a child's sand box work--or is there a special type of potting sand?
I have read it is good to mix some perlite with the peat moss/sand, but I have also read some negative reviews of perlite in terms of bad ph. Any suggestions?
Should I add organic potting soil to the mix, or should I add a fertilizer enriched potting mix (given the previous nutrient deficiency).
How much of the old mixture from the old container should I retain in the transplant.
Thanks in advance for advice. You and your colleagues provide a valuable and much appreciated service.
Most reputable nurseries and plant suppliers will offer great advice on the best choice of soil mixtures to use. Those with perlite and slow release fertilizer will likely yield the best results. Be mindful that the sand and peat moss mixes are largely devoid of fertilizer the way a natural soil would be. So opting fore a mixture with slow-release fertilier already incorporated will make like easy and ensure success. If you choose to add it your self. use a slow release or low X-X-X mixture usually in the single digits. For instance I fertilized the garden plants this week with an organic 4-2-6 mixture for tomatoes. Low fertilizer rates like that are ideal and will allow you to not burn or overload the plant. Follwo lable directions and you'll be fine. less is often more when it comes to plants. especially those that are in shock from transplanting.
Our recent foray into container gardens have been successful using a pre-fertilized mixture. The prepared mixtures are sterile and have been treated to remove or reduce many of the soil borne pathogens that can arise from native soils. Almost any choice would be fine. If you want to be certain or success you might try an acid loving plant mixture that would be conducive to pine growth over a gardening plant mixture which might be more neutral ph.
I think you are on the right track. Good luck
Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterophylla) appear in various shops around Christmastime, often decorated with bows and lightweight bobbles. Its branches aren't strong enough for heavy ornaments, but it looks elegant strung with twinkle lights. Here's how to take care of this evergreen as a houseplant.
The Norfolk Island pine is a conifer native to Norfolk Island, which is east of Australia and has a subtropical climate. The air temperature there generally ranges from 50˚F to 79˚F. It does not survive the winter outdoors in most of the United States. It is winter hardy only to USDA Zone 9. It appears as a landscape plant in south Florida, Southern California and Hawaii, but elsewhere it's kept as a container plant that needs winter protection.
Norfolk Island pine makes a nice and fairly long-lived houseplant, slowly reaching a height of six feet. (In the wild, it can reach 200 feet tall.) It does not like having its roots disturbed, so it should be repotted only every two or three years. Once it gets over three feet tall, just replace the top few inches of potting soil instead of repotting the plant entirely.
Keep Norfolk Island pine in a bright location with some direct sunlight. It likes moist soil and humid air. Water it when the top inch of soil feels dry. If its needles seem dry and begin to turn yellow, it likely needs more water and more humid air. The easiest way to increase humidity around houseplants is to cluster them in groups together. The plant may enter a period of dormancy in winter, especially if kept in a cool (50–60˚F) room. In this situation, water it less frequently than usual.