University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


Contact: Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

If you want to invest in a houseplant with a future, buy a Norfolk Island pine. It requires minimal care, and because it grows slowly, will remain small and attractive for many years indoors.

To be honest, the Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) is not really a pine at all. It's a narrow-leaf evergreen plant with many short needle-like leaves arranged along the stems. The side branches radiate from the central stem at a wide angle giving the plant a layered look.

This coniferous (cone-bearing) evergreen is a native of Norfolk Island, which is located between New Caledonia and Australia in the South Pacific. It can reach a height of 200 feet and a diameter of nine or ten feet in its native habitat, but don't worry, it takes many years for it to achieve those dimensions.

For best growth and foliage quality, keep this plant in as much light as possible, preferably a spot within four feet of a large south-, east-, or west-facing window. The plant should receive about 200 foot candles of light a day. A foot candle is the amount of light given off from a candle when measured from one foot away. (A reading lamp is usually 40 to 60 foot candles.)

If you must keep your plants in a slightly darker location, compensate for the lower light levels by keeping the room light on for longer periods of time. Generally, 16 hours of light will be effective in keeping the plant in good condition for several years.

Norfolk Island pines will be at home in most temperature ranges suitable for people. Avoid extremes, both hot and cold. In the winter, a temperature of 50 to 55 degrees F at night is the minimum this plant can stand without injury. However, it will do better if night temperatures are about ten degrees cooler than day temperatures.

Soil around the roots should be moist, but never wet. Wet soil, as well as age, may cause the lower limbs to drop off. Remember, soil moisture, pot size, pot type, plant size, average room temperature, room lighting, and humidity all will influence the amount and frequency of watering required.

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