Sunday, November 27, 2011
Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.
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My friend, Barb Hughes, gave me a Norfolk Island Pine for my birthday a year ago, and in the 13 months that I’ve had it, the plant has grown several inches and retains its beautiful good looks. I can’t really take the credit for that, though. My husband agreed to take over the care of this plant so that I wouldn’t kill it with my tendency to forget to water and then to over water in compensation.
This plant, known by its botanical name as Araucaria heterophylla, is native to the South Pacific, so obviously is not suited for outdoor growing here in the mountains of Colorado. Norfolk Island is a small island that is part of the Commonwealth of Australia between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. In its native environment, the pine is glorious. The tree can grow to a height of more than 200 feet and have a trunk as wide as 10 feet across.
In our homes, this plant tends to do best in an environment that is bright and cool, away from drafts and drying heat. If it is placed near a window that gets just a few hours of direct light, the plant will appreciate being turned every couple weeks so each side receives some sunshine.
Norfolk Island Pines require regular watering, generally once the first inch or two of soil dries completely out. Then water until it runs out the drainage hole. Don’t allow the roots to sit in water, or you’ll damage the root system and kill the tree.
These plants don’t require much fertilizer, maybe just a weak solution during peak growing times in spring and summer.
After you’ve had the plant for a while, you may notice some of the needles on the lower and interior branches turning brown and falling off. This is normal aging. However, if the die-off is excessive, check that the plant isn’t sitting in a drafty area or being underwatered or overwatered.
If you have a small space or don’t want to put up a big Christmas tree, Norfolk Island Pines make a wonderful living holiday tree for your home. Attach a few small bulbs and spray a little glitter, and it’s all decorated for the holidays.
Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.