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Caring For Your Norfolk Island Pine
When grown as an interior plant, the trees form regular, symmetrical tiers of branches with short green needles. The plants reach 3 to 5 feet high under good growing conditions. They are somewhat touchy and moderately difficult to grow. To grow them successfully indoors, pay particular attention to watering. The soil must be kept evenly moist at all times. Water whenever the soil surface becomes dry. Overwatering is as serious as underwatering. When you're watering the plants, make certain to apply enough water to allow some to drain out the bottom and flush the salt from the soil. This protects the plants because excess salt in the soil will quickly burn the needles. Discard drainage water so plants never sit in it and reabsorb the salt. Plants require only moderate amounts of fertilizer. Excessive fertilization contributes to high salt levels, which are so threatening to the plants. Although the plants retain their needles year round, they usually start to grow in the spring when more light is available. A light dose of any houseplant fertilizer applied monthly from March through September is adequate to promote good growth. Small plants will grow well and need repotting each year to keep them actively growing. Each time you repot, use a container that is 1 to 2 inches larger in diameter than the previous pot. Increasing the pot size more than this provides too much soil. The roots do not fully utilize the water from the larger volume of soil, and overwatering and attendant root rot sets in. Use a high-quality potting soil with good drainage. Many commercial potting soils are more suitable if you add one-third clean washed builders' sand or perlite to the mix. Light is the most important factor in growing Norfolk Island pines. Remember, these trees grow naturally on an island in the South Pacific where light is abundant. The challenge is to get enough light on the plant without burning or drying the foliage. An east window is an ideal location. West windows should be screened with curtains or other materials to protect the plant from burning through the window. Supplemental lighting will help smaller plants grow better. Plants with inadequate light become elongated and develop irregular, unattractive shapes and drop most of their needles. They also appreciate humidity, so add moisture with a humidifier or by using a pebble tray. Keep the plant away from any sources of excess heat, including heat vents, stoves, fireplaces and television sets. The journey of these plants from a tiny South Sea island to your home is a reminder that there are no true houseplants. To grow them successfully, you must provide conditions similar to those on their beautiful island home. Adequate light, sufficient moisture, moderate temperatures and high humidity all help the plants flourish. Norfolk Island pines will become a favorite part of your collection and will be particularly appropriate at Christmas as the only true indoor Christmas tree.