“Mighty oaks from little acorns grow” is a saying I’ve heard for many years, but it didn’t hit home until earlier this year. That’s when I saw the heights my little Norfolk Island pine could reach.
In their natural subtropical habitat, like Sydney, Australia, these trees can grow to more than 80-feet tall. They’ve had a long history as landmark and ceremonial plantings since Captain James Cook first made record of them in 1774.
The little pine in my dining room would be surprised to learn it’s actually a member of the Monkey Puzzle family, a small group of ancient conifers found in the southern hemisphere.
This is the time of year when retailers dress up Norfolk Island pines with shiny ornaments and a sprinkling of glitter to sell as miniature Christmas trees. The tiny one I bought several years ago is now an attractive 2-foot-tall houseplant. I still decorate it at holiday time with lightweight ornaments made of wood, glass and felt.
If you fall for this tender evergreen conifer like I did, give it a special place in your home. With a little TLC, your Araucaria heterophylla can live for many years and grow from houseplant to decorative indoor tree.
If your tree’s container is wrapped with foil, either remove the wrapping or poke holes in the bottom and set it on a plant saucer to drain. Enjoy the decorations through New Year’s Day and then remove and store for next season.
Place your Norfolk Island pine tree in a cool spot, away from heating vents and drafts. The needles are delicate, so keep branches from touching windows and walls. The tree appreciates a little sun in winter, but average light works well the rest of the year. If you move your plant outside for summer, place in a sheltered, shaded place.
Keep the soil moist, but make sure not to overwater—the reason most houseplants meet an untimely demise. If you’re unsure when to add water, allow the upper one inch of soil to dry before watering again. Discard any excess water that drains into the saucer.
Hold back on fertilizer during winter. When plant growth resumes in spring, feed with a natural organic soil amendment, such as Buckaroo Worm Castings. Just add 1 inch of worm castings at the beginning of the spring, summer and fall.
When it’s time to repot your tree, select a container that’s slightly wider and deeper. Fill with a high-quality potting soil (like Empire Builder) to keep your Norfolk Island pine tree growing strong.