Norfolk Island Pine – A Great Option for Christmas

If you lack the space for an 8 foot Christmas tree, or detest the 3 foot plastic types, here’s a great option for you – a Norfolk Island Pine.  This choice will prevent you from cleaning pine needles out of your carpet until May and still provide the living tree look and feel inside for the holidays.

Native to the (you guessed it) Norfolk Island off of the coast of Australia, this double-duty plant can serve admirably as a Christmas tree in December and a great houseplant the rest of the year.  In its home habitat, these species can grow to more than 100 feet tall with a trunk of 7 to 8 feet in diameter.  Here in the Midwest, inside the home, they’ll stall much smaller, usually in the 2-6 foot range. 

Using a Norfolk Island Pine is perfect for apartment dwellers because the size isn’t overwhelming, but if more mass is needed in a larger space indoors, a grouping of plants placed on blocks or pedestals of varying heights can create an interesting “forest” and an impactful focal point for a room.

When decorating a Norfolk Island Pine, a shift from the large round ornaments is needed.  Most people prefer to use ribbons, bows and strings of popcorn or cranberries.  Smaller, lightweight balls can also be used, or just leaving the plant unadorned can work quite well also. 

Picking out a Norfolk Island Pine has a couple of simple rules that are easy to follow.  First, choose a plant with a straight trunk and well formed, symmetrical branches.  Because it is a woody plant, correcting oddly shaped tree structure just isn’t feasible.  Second, be sure that the pot has several drainage holes at the bottom.  You may have to remove some decorative foil to check for them, but it’s well worth it.  Plants growing in an environment without adequate drainage will develop poor roots and not last long in your home.

Finally, like most other houseplants, a Norfolk Island Pine requires certain indoor care.  Place it near a window where it can receive medium bright light, but not direct sunlight which can cause the foliage to burn.  Once burned, the needles will always be discolored and not recover.  The soil should be kept moist, but not soggy.  A catch basin is handy to allow for water drainage and will prevent damage to your carpet or wood floor.  The plant can be kept straight by giving it a quarter turn every week or so.  If it remains in the same spot without turning, the plant will develop a lean which it may never recover from.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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