What winter-bound northern gardener doesn’t love a tree that grows indoors?
That may explain the popularity of Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla), an easy to care for, textural plant that can grow to indoor-tree size over several years. Many people get Norfolk Island pines as a holiday gift because they have the look of a Christmas tree, but these plants are great year-round. The needles are soft to touch and a pretty, mellow green color. It’s a soothing plant for any room.
First, a clarification: It’s not really a pine like the ones that grow all over Minnesota. It is a type of conifer that went extinct in the Northern Hemisphere when the dinosaurs did. It still thrives in the Southern Hemisphere and is native of Norfolk Island, a small island directly east of Brisbane, Australia, and north of New Zealand.
In their native habitat, the trees grow on cliffs and can get up to 200 feet tall. That is not likely to happen in your living room, however! Under good condition indoors, a Norfolk Island pine will grow to 5 to 8 feet tall in about 10 years. I’ve had my little tree just over a year (yes, it was a holiday gift), and it’s about 3 feet tall, having added at least 6 inches in height in the past year.
Norfolk Island pines like lots of light—place yours within a few feet of a south-facing window, if you have one. If not, situate the tree in the brightest room in your house. To promote even growth, you may want to rotate your tree every two or three weeks. Like most easy houseplants, Norfolk Island pines prefer a well-drained soil and don’t like to be over-watered. If the tips of the branches get brown, it’s a sign to add water. They like humidity, too, so it’s a good idea to spray your plant every couple of days or place it in a room with higher humidity.
They do not like an overly cold room—if you turn the heat down to 55 overnight, your plant will be chilly. It does not need a lot of fertilizer from fall through spring. In spring, give your pine a dose of houseplant fertilizer every six to eight weeks until August.
To encourage more growth, consider moving the plant outside for summer. Wait until all danger of frost (or even temps in the 40s) is gone. Move the plant to an area where it does not get intense sun and is protected from winds. Summer is also a good time to repot your little tree if it is getting too big.
Looking for other easy-care houseplants? Here are five great choices for beginning gardeners.