If you purchase real Christmas trees, as we do, you will have observed that pines and their relatives get needled—or, rather, de-needled!—by the warm air and low humidity that prevails indoors during the winter. Of course, the fact that most of them have been severed from their roots doesn’t help.
Understanding Your "Pine"
Fortunately, the potted tabletop Christmas trees sold in department stores usually are Norfolk Pines (Araucaria heterophylla). That genus name means they aren’t really pines, no matter what their common moniker may be, but we continue to call them that for convenience’s sake.
Native to Norfolk Island in the South Pacific near Australia, they thrive outdoors only in USDA zones 9b to 11. However, since temperatures on the island seldom drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or climb above 82 degrees, typical household temperatures generally suit these trees fine. As they can tolerate a variety of light conditions from full sun to partial sun to bright indirect light, they make ideal houseplants.
Mine had reached three to four feet in height before it toppled while outdoors during the summer and someone accidentally ran over it with the lawn mower. That shortly put paid to it as Norfolk Pines don’t like pruning—especially such a drastic kind. So, if yours eventually reaches the ceiling, you may need to raise the roof! Otherwise, it should make an amiable guest.
Caring for Your "Pine"
Remove any foil wrappings from the pot after the holidays, and check to make sure that pot has drainage holes. Since Norfolk Pines grow in sandy soil down under, they don’t like soggy conditions, which can cause root rot. So you may want to add about an inch of gravel to the bottom of your pine’s pot. In addition to helping with drainage, that weight could also prevent the tree from tipping and falling prey to the lawnmower later. Wait until the surface of the soil is dry to the touch to water the plant, but don’t allow that soil to dry out more than an inch down.
These tabletop Christmas trees often are sprayed with green paint and/or glitter before being sold, which can adversely affect their ability to “breathe” If yours has been tarted up, try washing it with warm water to remove as much of that “make-up” as possible.
Since your tree may have stood in dim conditions for awhile, adapt it gradually to more light to avoid burning it. Mine seemed to do best in partial sun (2 to 6 hours of sun per day) indoors and in bright shade outdoors. As for pruning, you can snip off lower branches which have died, but you should avoid cutting the pine’s tip. That reportedly may cause the tree to grow sideways instead of upward.
This island dweller will appreciate you misting it with water occasionally to remind it of the sea breezes back home. In The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, Barbara Pleasant recommends that you feed the tree only from March through September. She also suggests that you spray it with a micronutrient spray a couple times during that period.
The Norfolk Pine can shoot up to over 100 feet outdoors and reportedly can reach at least 9 feet indoors in an optimum location. If it grows large enough, you might even be able to dispense with all those rootless Christmas trees in favor of the one which is right at home in your home.
Photos: The Norfolk Island photo is by Lynn Alcock and the other photos by rntx22, all from the Dave's Garden PlantFiles.