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A living Christmas tree

By Ralph E. Mitchell

A tiny forest of beautiful Holiday Norfolk Island Pines

A tiny forest of beautiful Holiday Norfolk Island Pines

If you want a small “living” table-top Christmas tree for the Holidays, the Norfolk Island Pine will likely fit the bill.  Easy to maintain for many years in a container, the Norfolk Island Pine is the perfect Holiday gift and an ideal decorative interiorscape floor plant.

The Norfolk Island Pine is native to Norfolk Island in the South Pacific just east of Australia. These evergreen trees develop a single trunk and can grow up to two-hundred feet tall in nature.   Valued as an exotic looking tree, it also provides wood that has been used in shipbuilding.  But there is something especially appealing about the small seedlings that are seen at garden centers and florists at this time of year.  Pyramidal in shape with soft looking, dark green, needle-like leaves, Norfolk Island Pines look like miniature versions of our more familiar fresh cut traditional firs.  They will also tolerate small bulbs, tinsel and bows when decorated for the Christmas season.  After the Holidays, remove the decorations and use these trees as subjects for patios, pool cages, and Florida rooms year-round. With proper care, Norfolk Island Pines can live for a long time as a house plant for both indoor and outdoor environments.   It is very important, however, that you are careful not to over-water or over-fertilize.  Over-watering, as well as excessive dry air caused by indoor central heating, will cause potted Norfolk Island Pines to drop the lower foliage. Norfolk Island Pines prefer full sun, but can also tolerate bright indirect light indoors. An acid, fertile soil mixture is recommended as a potting medium.  Potted plants should be fed with most any liquid fertilizer at normal strength once every two weeks or according to label instructions during the active growing season. Although Norfolk Island Pines have weak root systems and do best on the pot-bound side, repotting every four years or so may be required.  If they become a bit leggy or a bit droopy, a stake may be required for support.

Eventually, these plants will outgrow their useful size to a point where most people will not want to deal with them.  Once your plant gets too big for a normal-sized pot, please don’t be tempted to plant it out in the yard – these trees can get over fifty feet tall!  While you do see these trees dotting our landscape, keep in mind that they have large surface roots and are known to uproot in storms – especially hurricanes.  Those specimens that survive hurricanes end up looking like giant pipe cleaners! Additionally, this plant really does not produce much shade and the trunk tends to curve and lean as it grows to an enormous size.  The great height of Norfolk Island pines also makes them candidates for lightning strikes.  As such, I really cannot recommend them for landscape plants in our area – just enjoy them for as long as you can in a pot.

Make a memory with a Norfolk Island Pine this year.  Enjoy its soft, evergreen nature and let it brighten up your home!  For more information on all types of Holiday plants, or to ask a question, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline/.   Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Don’t forget that Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ is a program that our office encourages as it promotes planting the “right plant in the right place”, water conservation, common sense pest management, sensible use of fertilizers, composting, etc. that help develop a sustainable landscape.  For more information on this important, over-arching program, please contact Sara Weber, FFL Education-Training Specialist, at  Sara.Weber@charlottecountyfl.gov .

Resources:
Gilman, E. F. & Watson, Ryan, D. G., Klein, W., Koeser, A. K. , Hilbert, D. R. & McLean,  D. C. (2020) Araucaria heterophylla: Norfolk Island Pine.  The University of Florida, IFAS.
UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions(2018) – Norfolk Island Pine.  The University of Florida, IFAS.
Brown, S. (2011) Norfolk Island Pine Recovery After Hurricane Charley.  The University of Florida, IFAS – Lee County.
Scheper, J. (2004) Araucaria heterophylla.  Floridata.com Tallahassee, FL.

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