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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, December 23, 2017 1:00 am

Norfolk pine best indoors

Ricky Kemery

Question: I am thinking of giving a Norfolk Island pine as a gift this Christmas. Does the tree grow well around here?

Answer: Many folks see this cute tree in garden centers or grocery stores. The little tree is not hardy for this area and must be grown as a houseplant. Indoors, the tree must be grown under the right conditions to do well.

According to the Missouri Botanical garden, Norfolk Island pine is native to Norfolk Island off the coast of Australia between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. The flag of this Australian territory actually features the Norfolk Island pine. The tree typically is found on basalt sea cliffs and interior rain forests. It can grow very large in its native sub-tropical habitat, reaching 200 feet in height. It was discovered on Captain Cook's second voyage (1772-1775) and was subsequently introduced into cultivation in 1793. It is now widely planted throughout the world in subtropical regions. It is common in Hawaii, parts of southern Florida and parts of southern California up the coast to the San Francisco Bay area.

Despite its common name, the plant is not a true pine. Norfolk Island pines are members of a pre-historic incredibly diverse and widespread plant family of conifer–like-species.

The genus name comes from the Araucanian Indians of central Chile to whose territory Araucaria is also native.

Scientific research by NASA showed that Norfolk Island pines can remove harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from the air, purifying it and making it safer for you and your family to breathe

Norfolk Island Pines can be a bit finicky when grown indoors in our area. When caring for indoor Norfolk Island pines, imagine rocky soil and sandy shores with excellent drainage and full sun. Keeping these trees healthy and happy for the long run requires good light and drainage. These plants in my experience do best when temperatures are cool (between 50 to 70 degrees). They prefer bright indirect light and prefer higher humidity levels. This is not a plant to place near a heat vent indoors.

Norfolk Island pines don't appreciate soggy soil. Instead, fill a saucer with water and rocks or gravel, then place the potted plant on top making sure the pot is not sitting directly in water.

When Norfolk Island pines appear in holiday stores, they're in the resting period of their annual growing cycle. Do not overwater or add fertilizer during this winter rest period. In the spring, one can add fertilizer. I prefer to add a 1/4 strength liquid soluble fertilizer to each watering.

Always check the soil by hand before watering your plant. Let the soil dry slightly about an inch deep, and then water thoroughly, until water runs out the container's drainage holes. Always empty the saucer completely, so the tree never sits in water. Norfolk Island Pines can reach a height of 20 feet or more in the house so make room for this exceptional and unusual subtropical tree.

The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Saturday. Kemery retired as the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County branch of the Purdue Extension Service.