They can serve as both a Christmas tree and a pretty indoor plant afterwards.

By Mackenzie Nichols
December 15, 2020
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One way to keep the holiday spirit going all year round is to bring home a Norfolk Island pine to add to your festive decor. You’ve probably seen these small trees around at grocery or home improvement stores, perhaps done up with red bows for the yuletide season. Because they look like small Christmas trees, they’re perfect for this purpose if you’re short on space or if you just want to have a few extra trees around the house. And when it’s time to put away all your decorations, these pretty plants will still add welcome greenery to your indoor garden without requiring a lot of care from you. 

norfolk island pines
Credit: Helen Norman

What Is a Norfolk Island Pine?

Unlike the evergreen varieties of pine (Pinus spp.) you may be familiar with, the Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) isn’t actually related. In fact, it is a tropical plant, thriving in more temperate climates and originating from Norfolk Island close to New Zealand. That’s why they work well as indoor plants, and can be kept as a potted accessory in your interior design for years to come, almost becoming another member of the family. 

These small trees are always in demand around the holidays, but they seem especially popular this year, says Erin Marino from The Sill, an online houseplant shop that also has physical locations in New York and California.

“We're seeing people purchase Norfolk pines as gifts right now because of COVID-19. Maybe there are loved ones you're not going to be able to see this holiday season and this is a fun thing that you can send them and they can decorate it,” Marino says. Plus she’s noticed people buying the trees for themselves because they “want to explore a sustainable tree, or a tree that they'll keep past Christmas, and hopefully keep alive and enjoy for years to come.”

norfolk island pine plant red pot
Credit: Dean Schoeppner

Decorating Your Norfolk Island Pine

In terms of decorating your Norfolk pine, you may struggle a little bit with hanging heavy ornaments because the branches are a bit weak and flexible until they mature. If your tree came with red bows as ornaments on it, you may want to save those from year to year to decorate with. Shirley Barnes Beuth, a landscape gardener for Fleurs Inc. based in Wyoming, Rhode Island, suggests letting kids “make little ornaments that would be lightweight, like paper snowflakes to put on it.”

Young Norfolk pines can average 12-15 inches tall in their youth and grow slowly indoors up to five or six feet. That means they can serve as fun mantelpiece or tabletop trees, with or without ornaments, especially if you place them in decorative containers.

How to Care for Norfolk Island Pines

A Norfolk Island pine will stick around with you through the years if you make sure to water the plant only when the soil is dry and you keep it by a window where it can get at least a couple hours of direct light, then indirect light for the rest of the day. Barnes Beuth points out that temperature and humidity are also important to pay attention to. 

“[A Norfolk pine] doesn't want to freeze, certainly, but it doesn't like to have drying heat either. When heat comes out of the register, there's no humidity to it. It's just bone dry,” Barnes Beuth says. She suggests placing your potted plant on top of a large saucer filled with pebbles, then adding water to the saucer. This will evaporate and create a more humid microclimate around your tree. Plus, when you water your plant, this setup will help the excess drain away to avoid keeping the roots too wet. 

If you keep up with caring for your Norfolk Island pine, it will be a festive addition for the holidays and then you can add it to your plant collection to enjoy all year round. “I think that it's just a really attractive houseplant that doesn't get as much credit as the fiddle leaf fig or some of the other plants out there,” says Marino. “But it is really gorgeous as it matures.”

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