During the last few years around Christmas time, I have noticed more and more stores and garden centres selling decorated Norfolk Island pines as an alternative to the traditional Christmas tree. This idea appeals to those who have limited space and live in accommodations that will not accommodate a regular-sized Christmas tree.
Using a potted Norfolk Island pine as a Christmas tree also appeals to those with mobility issues or to those folks who simply no longer want to be bothered erecting and decorating a traditional Christmas tree. Although no longer able or willing to put up a Christmas tree, there is that lingering desire to have some sort of Christmas tree and this idea might fill the bill.
Usually these Norfolk Island pines are decorated with very lightweight decorations with some sort of light tree top decoration on the top. The decorations must out of necessity weigh very little as the branches of this house plant are quite pliable and not that strong, so any heavy decorations would cause the limbs to bend and the effect would be lost — and they could damage the branches themselves.
Even though the decorations are lightweight, remove them as soon after Christmas as possible so that they do not cause the plant any undue stress. Take care to examine how the decorations were fastened onto the tree — hopefully they were attached in such a way that did not damage the branches or needles in any way.
Carefully remove the decorations; you may want to keep them to use next year. Then give the plant a good examination to ensure that it is in good condition.
Remove any broken pieces of branch and check for any sign of trouble, such as discoloured needles or needle drop. Check to ensure that there is plenty of planting medium in the pot and that it is still moist enough to sustain the plant.
The plant probably came in a decorative Christmas sleeve and you may have removed the sleeve and placed the pot into a Christmas jardinière. Now you will want to transfer the plant into a more suitable container that will complement its appearance — be sure to allow a place for excess water to accumulate beneath the pot in the container.
A Norfolk Island pine likes medium light so it will appreciate being placed in front of a sunny window during the winter. In the summer, some shielding from strong direct summer sun might be required.
Norfolk Island pines grow slowly so you should be able to get a few years out of the plant and use it for several Christmases before it becomes too large for the space. In between Christmases, you can enjoy the plant as an attractive houseplant.
The plant will need to be watered every week or so — allow the top of the planting medium to dry out somewhat but do not allow the whole root ball to become dry. Every time you water your pine, rotate it so that each side of the plant gets equal amounts of sun.
The branches of a Norfolk Island pine are tiered and rather soft so unequal distribution of light will causer the tree to become asymmetrical and less attractive. Do not fertilize the plant during the winter but as spring arrives, begin using a balanced 20-20-20 soluble fertilizer at half strength every three weeks.
As your Norfolk Island pine grows, do not be alarmed if a lower branch yellows and drops off. This is a normal occurrence and the lower branches eventually drop off and are not replaced with new ones.
Do become concerned if needles on all parts of the tree begin to yellow. This is a sign that the tree is not happy with the watering regimen or else the plant is receiving too little light.
Satisfying its basics requirements is not difficult and with limited effort, you can grow your Norfolk Island pine as a houseplant during the year, keeping it attractive and vigorous. Next Christmas season you will again be able to dress it up with a few holiday decorations to transform it into your very own, home grown Christmas ree.
Make it your New Year’s resolution to care for all of your houseplants diligently in the coming months.
Happy New Year!
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.