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Not just for Christmas

Garden centres and other retail shops often offer Norfolk Island pines during the Christmas season. They are potted live plants and they often have been decorated with a few holiday decorations or put in an appropriate holiday container. However, this particular plant is meant to be used as an attractive indoor foliage plant year round. If it is cared for properly it will be a beautiful addition to the indoor landscape.

The Norfolk Island pine – araucaria heterophyllia – can grow up to 65 metres in height in its native habitat and are often grown in conservatories and glass houses where they can become quite large. As a houseplant, however, this particular pine rarely exceeds two metres in height due mainly to its roots being confined to a relatively small space, and partly because of the less-than-ideal growing conditions provided by most indoor environments.

Norfolk Island pine is a very slow-growing plant, and its horizontal branches radiate from the main stem and are arranged in tiers, making it a most attractive specimen. The short 1.5-centimetre prickly needles are bright green and thickly cover the branches. Norfolk Island pines require good light – some direct sun, and if they don’t get enough light the branches become elongated and droopy and the shape of the tree will be less attractive. If located in poor light the distance between the branches will be greater, exposing long lengths of bare trunk, which also will make the plant less attractive.

The plant should be watered freely in the spring and summer and less often in the winter, depending on how much direct sunlight the plant receives. A heavy clay pot is most suitable simply because the Norfolk Island pine tends to get top heavy and if the pot isn’t substantial enough, the plant may topple over. Alternately, it could be planted in a plastic pot and then be slipped into a heavy container which will keep the plant anchored.

A soil-based planting medium is recommended over a peat-based one. The pine will grow more slowly in a loam-based soil, but it will have a better shape. The planting medium and the pot in which it is planted must have excellent drainage, which can be accomplished by having an abundance of drainage material in the bottom of the pot as well as a drainage hole. The Norfolk Island pine naturally loses its lower branches over time, but this process will be accelerated by poor light conditions.

Norfolk Island pines are trees with their roots confined to the space in a relatively small plant pot. Therefore, regular feeding every two weeks or so, using a soluble fertilizer during the spring and summer, will provide the plant with the required nutrients. Repot a Norfolk Island pine every two years. A plant will usually come in a five-inch pot, and can be gradually moved up to a six-inch pot and then to an eight-inch pot over a period of four or five years.

Home gardeners are rarely successful at propagating Norfolk Island pines since cuttings are extremely hard to root and seed very difficult to obtain. Norfolk Island pines are most often purchased as healthy young specimens from a reputable garden centre.

– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba

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