Sunday, December 7, 2014

No room for a traditional Christmas tree? Try a Norfolk Island pine.

Kiama, Australia

 Dear Readers,

While we were in Australia and New Zealand I discovered what turned out to be Norfolk Island  pines growing in the wild.  I always think of these attractive trees as indoor ornamentals, but of course they do thrive outdoors, and can grow to impressive heights in their native habitats. They are considered tough trees that make excellent specimen plants.

Planted in Paihia, Bay of Islands, NZ in 1880.
In America, Norfolk pines (they actually aren't pines at all) can grow up to 80 feet in USDA Hardiness zones 10A through 11, although they are easily damaged by high winds. 

Here is the original story I wrote for The Christian Science Monitor about using these graceful plants as holiday trees:


The day we set off to find “the” Christmas tree is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s usually the day after Thanksgiving when we’re still stuffed from the holiday feast and in need of an outdoor adventure. I say adventure because the search for my perfect tree can last an entire day.

Before leaving home, I bring down the boxes of holiday decorations and set each ornament out on the dining room table. There’s everything from Woody Woodpecker (who does his famous laugh when you press a button) to pipe cleaner Santas that belonged to my grandmother.

My rocking horses, glass turtles and miniature carved birds are lined up, waiting to be placed on the bushy, beautifully symmetrical Frasier fir soon after it comes through the front door.
There was no room for a big tree before our big move
Four years ago when we put our Maryland house on the market, we decided not to get our traditional tree.

I discovered I really missed looking through the ornaments – it’s rather like visiting with old friends.

And I missed the festive lights in the corner where the tree usually stood. So I bought a little Norfolk Island pine, added a string of 20 lights, a few bows, and voila -- Christmas tree!

It wasn’t our usual statuesque 7-footer, but it did just fine for that unusual holiday season.

A winter ornamental from the tropics.

Araucaria heterophylla is native to a small island in the South Pacific that was sighted in 1774 during Captain James Cook’s second voyage of exploration. The island was named in honor of the Duchess of Norfolk and the trees seen growing there were estimated to be over 200 feet tall.

Barney the Barn Owl glides effortlessly through the tree branches
Here at home, the Norfolk Island pine is almost always grown indoors as a compact houseplant since it is far too tender for most areas of the country.   

The popularity spikes during the holiday season for obvious reasons. But these charming little trees need not be thrown out with the dried-up Poinsettias once January arrives. With proper care they will last for many Christmases to come.

Indoor climate is the key.

Norfolk Island pines are relatively easy to grow and make appealing accent plants all year-round thanks to their graceful branches and soft, touchable needles. They can tolerate low lighting for a brief time (such as during the holidays) but do best when exposed bright light.

I've managed to collect every bird from this series

An hour or so of direct sunlight won’t hurt, but be sure to rotate the tree a quarter turn every two weeks to keep it from becoming lopsided.

Despite their tropical homeland, these trees prefer an environment on the cool side.  Ideally, temperatures should range from 50 and 70 degrees  -- anything in the 80’s will likely cause needle drop.

My vintage 40's Santa
Norfolk Island pines don’t require as much water as other houseplants. In fact, they won’t tolerate saturated soil. Give them a drink only when the top inch or so of soil in the pot feels dry to the touch. Allow some water to run out of the bottom of the container, then discard any excess in an hour or so.

In addition they don’t like to be pruned – in fact pruning can deform these plants. The only trimming required is removing any dead lower branches. If you prune a tip or healthy branch, the tree will not grow at that spot again.

Gator ornaments are a must

Feed your tree lightly every other month during spring and summer with a fertilizer specifically formulated for indoor foliage plants. Some experts suggest repotting every three years; others say the practice disturbs the roots and isn’t necessary.

I didn’t have my Norfolk Island pine long enough to worry about fertilizing or repotting  – I gave it to a neighbor before we moved to the mountains.

But I must confess even though I missed my heirloom ornaments that Christmas, the little tree made our holidays merry and bright.


Ann in England said...
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Lynn Hunt said...

Cheers Ann! Hope Father Christmas is good to you this year!

Phillip Oliver said...

Beautiful! I love your blog format.:)

Lynn Hunt said...

Thanks so much, Phillip. I also love your blog and hope to see your fabulous garden in person one day!

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

When we first moved to Virginia we were in a temp apartment, we had a Norfolk Pine for our Christmas tree. Great little tree.
I do love seeing my ornaments each year as they each hold a special memory.

Lynn Hunt said...

Yes Janet, those trees are great for apartment dwellers or older folks who can't cope with a tree (live or fake) and stand anymore.

Wishing you all the best for Christmas!

Daricia said...

That Norfolk pine is adorable...had to pin it! I love my Christmas ornaments, too. Still have the ones the kids made and even though I don't hang them all anymore, I look through and remember. Merry Christmas, Lynn!

Lynn Hunt said...

Merry Christmas to you, Daricia! I have a glass bulb dedicated to daughters I bought when my little one was five. Won't tell you how old she is now :)

Have a wonderful holiday season, my gardening friend!

Sunil Patel said...

Hi Lynn, we re-arrange the whole of the downstairs to make room for the Christmas tree (7 ft) each year (and then re-arrange it again when it comes down). I just couldn't do without one. The idea of having a tender pine instead is strange but I do like its arching shape that makes it look rather graceful. The poinsettia is a nice touch too. Merry Christmas.

Lynn Hunt said...

Sunil, I'd love to see a picture of your tree! We have a big one (7 footer) again this year in the mountains and I am enjoying it so much.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

You posted great information on the Norfolk Island Pine. I was going to give mine a trim before decorating and glad I read your post before I did!
The tag on the one I bought said that it started out as a seed on the Island of Hawaii. Very cool since I was going to use it as a Jesse Tree. Isaiah 11: 1, 10:"Out of the stump of Jesse, will grow a shoot - yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root. In that day, the heir of David's throne- will be a banner of Salvation for all the Nations." God's Peace to all! Merry Christmas, Mary

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