QUESTION: I’m using a Norfolk Island pine as a small Christmas tree. What do I need to do to keep it looking nice, and how do I care for it when the holidays are over?
Norfolk Island pine provides a nice alternative to the big tree at Christmas, especially if your space is small or your decorating is simple. It’s best not to load it down with large, heavy ornaments that could break the feathery limbs. Use lights sparingly, if at all, and remove them as soon as you can after Christmas is over.
When it’s time to change it from a Christmas tree to a houseplant, place it in a spot (preferably in a cool room) that gets bright, indirect light – a south- or west-facing window is good – and give it a quarter-turn once a week to encourage it to grow straight up.
The biggest threats to Araucaria heterophylla (that’s the tree’s botanical name) are dry soil and dry air. Keep the soil consistently moist, but don’t let the pot sit in water. Increase humidity in its environment as much as possible. A daily misting could go a long way toward keeping the plant healthy. If the air remains too dry, the Norfolk Island pine responds by dropping its needles, and once they’re gone, they don’t grow back.
Houseplant specialists suggest using a balanced fertilizer once a month in summer, and be on the lookout for pests. Spider mites and mealybugs are drawn to this plant. A cautionary note about placing it outdoors: it’s a very tender plant, and will be damaged if the temperature falls below 40 degrees.
With care, a Norfolk Island pine can last for many years. They grow very large in their native South Pacific environment, but in a home, the tree usually grows, over time, to about 6 feet.
Water in winter
Landscapers know this, but we casual gardeners may not remember that even though it’s winter, the garden still needs water. Pay special attention to newly planted trees and shrubs, broadleaf evergreens (which continue to “breathe” even during winter), pansy beds and perennials that you planted in the fall.
Mulch keeps soil from drying out too quickly, but if the weather is cold but very dry, the soil will eventually dry out.